Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia (PAL) box

The Pokémon series had before 2007 relied on one type of game with multiple instalments. While massively successful, by the time the Nintendo DS duo turned up things had gone a little stale. Since its introduction it has generated a lot of spin-off games that have been met with mixed results. From the original gameplay style of Pokémon Snap to the rather tedious dungeon crawler Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team/Blue Rescue Team. Since the main series has shown signs of age, Nintendo have decided to try a new direction and release sequels for some of those said spin-offs. While the sequel for the dungeon crawler was destined to fail, Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia shows an amount of promise. Is it a big flop, or the new glimmer of hope for the franchise?

Taking on the role of a trainee, your beginnings are as humble as your first day at school. Having recently been transferred to the area, you know nobody. During your term there, friendships made and connections are established between you and the Ranger HQs. Graduation with flying colours is the only way to move the story along, but pretty soon afterwards the arrival of the oddly named “Team Dim Sun”. Obviously they’re not Chinese food on legs infesting everyone’s pantry, but a group of mobsters who want world domination and something involving a large crystal being the key. For a game orientated at kids, the story is actually gripping. It helps that the emphasis isn’t on catching every creature in the game. It also helps that it is a lengthy one that spans over around fifteen chapters.

The Pokémon are confused... They hurt themselves in their confusion.

But essentially it is a Pokémon title at heart. There are still a whole host of creatures to catch for your needs. There are two differences however. The first is that not every creature is featured. The second is that instead of them being your loyal vassals towards fame and glory, they’re a one trick pony to help remove obstacles or assist in the capture of other creatures. The method of capture has also changed into a more involving practice. Instead of glorified cock-fights combined with throwing capsules at them, you have to run rings around them before they get so dizzy that they follow your command. They will resist your attempts to make their eyes spin by running at your lines or attacking them. Attacks are usually indicated by exclamation marks, but don’t think more of those punctuation symbols mean the attacks are more severe. It is entirely up to the creature what attacks it has and generally some of its more basic ones are harder to dodge. Thankfully you have critters of your own to assist in your endeavours.

There are two main types of Pokémon. Ones with “Target Clears”, which are essentially demolition guys on a serial rampage to destroy everything in your way. All the different types are represented on both sides, but their properties vary between creatures. For example, what would be known as the electric type in older titles are divided again to feature “Recharge”, “Electrify” or even some of the other sub-types that aren’t fully related to the creature in the older games. Incidentally, Recharge is the equivalent to curing yourself. Some abilities are for much bigger goals, such as being able to swim on rivers or fly. There is a small proportion of “Partner Pokémon”. While you can only have one with you at any given time, it is with you permanently and can be switched at the farm for another one. But don’t think you can just use its ability to assist the capturing of others all the time. You need to draw a certain amount of loops in order to charge up its motivation.

As a Ranger, your job is to help people and Pokémon alike. These can be done via the missions handed to you via the story, or the quests given to you by just about everyone on the planet. In the “Styler”, you can see where these people are who need your help. Once you take a quest or two, it becomes clear that some of the directions given are a bit ambiguous. A prime example is of one quest involving two creatures that ran into the forest attacking each other. The quest giver tells you it was beyond in the forest. What he doesn’t tell you is that it is very close by where they ended up and you don’t even need to switch areas. There is only one issue larger than this and that is that you can only accept one quest at a time. It is annoying when you go into one area to help one person out, only to have to go back to help someone else. Can’t Rangers multi-task or at least take notes? For quests you receive rewards that help either boost your defence or enhance the abilities of your machine, which to be honest is the only real incentive to do them all. Levelling up only does so much, so having damage prevention is a good call.

Battles are done by merely drawing circles.

Aside from the main plot and quests, there are a host of creatures to befriend and a few extra downloadable missions available from the internet. These add a certain bit more to the experience, but after completing the main quest it hardly seems like Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia has a great deal to offer after its in depth and lengthy quest to anyone but a hoarder. Sure linkage with Pokémon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum is a good thing for those games, but beyond that both titles don’t have a lot of replay-ability. In an odd twist of fate, instead of becoming bored with a game aimed at children, I have been left wanting more and being disappointed. If it wasn’t for the main story being half decent for a change then this would have left me more than a little downhearted.

It’s not often I get saddened by a waste of potential in a game. Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia on paper sounds like a game that could be a lot of fun and tell a good story. In practice it does a lot of things right, and is easily a game to recommend to someone young. As long as you can get the whole Pokémon stigma out of their head that is. But the amount of things that could have been included or done better is just too overwhelming to give it a whole hearted recommendation. In a lot of ways though, this is more an issue with the Pokémon franchise in general as there is only so much to do after the credits. So while a child might get a lot out of this title, the overall experience for everyone else is entirely forgettable, despite its positive points. That said, the re-invention of the series has proved that it isn’t just about “catch ‘em all” any more.