IGN Review of Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia
Two years ago, Pokemaniacs got not one, but two, spinoff games to tide them over until Pokemon Diamond and Pearl were released. Both of those spinoff games, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and Pokemon Ranger, got sequels this year. Both entries into their respective series are nearly identical to their prequels, but Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia still stands as the more energetic and slightly more fun of the two. It just might not be fun enough to buy the same exact game over again.
This new Pokemon Ranger doesn't feel like a full blown sequel, more like a Special Edition of the first game, and fans are going to see a much more of the same. Shadows of Almia keeps the same theme of putting the player in the shoes of a Pokemon Ranger, someone that rescues and helps Pokemon instead of using them to battle. The Rangers recruit Pokemon in the wild to help them, while rescuing injured or endangered ones. The Pokemon are only kept for as long as they're needed, then released back into the wild.
Pokemon are befriended using a Styler, a device that lassos the Pokemon with a beam of energy (and conveys feelings of friendship and happy thoughts, it's all very scientific). Players use the stylus to quickly scribble circles around the critter they're trying to capture. There is a slight switch up this time around. Instead of having to complete a required number of uninterrupted loops, players now fill up a capture meter with every circle. The meter will go down if it is not continuously filled, but it does give players the ability to dodge attacks and avoid damage easier, as well as follow the quicker animals that tend to run around the screen. This does make capturing somewhat easier, though for the larger bosses there's still plenty of challenge trying to fill that meter up.
Scribbling circles on the touch screen is fun for a while, though it gets tedious. There are strategic elements, but it's all ultimately the same thing. The design was fun when it was new and original, but a lot of the magic has been lost. Still, for new players this is a fun and different gameplay element that hasn't been beaten into the ground quite yet.
Just like in the previous game your Ranger has a partner Pokemon that always stays by your side. Whereas in the first game players only got to choose between the identical Minun and Plusle, Shadows of Almia features 17 different partner Pokemon. Pachirisu, Kricketot, Starly, Munchlax, and Cranidos are just some of the offered partners. Players can only have one equipped at a time, but as they progress through the game they earn new ones that they can switch out. There's one Pokemon for every element type, so if there's any one element players always want to have as an assist move they have that option.
This time around the Rangers are investigating these mysterious machines that have hypnotized wild Pokemon. The evil Team Dim Sun (terrible pun, guys) has been placing them all over the region. Players have to destroy the machines using befriended Pokemon's skills. The game's storyline is extremely linear. Players will be presented with mysterious mission that nearly always end up being Dim Sun and the mysterious machines. They destroy them and report back. Repeat for most of the game. There are side quests which is a new addition to the series. By completing tasks for the townsfolk, players can upgrade their Styler and earn new partner Pokemon. The quests are optional for the most part, and they really don't offer anything new for gameplay. It's usually something like rescuing a specific Pokemon or clearing logs from the road. It's all the same things you do in the normal missions.
The only other major difference are the new locales, and it's here that the game actually feels different. Missions require players to travel all over the Almia region, and the first new area you explore is actually underwater. Your ranger goes scuba diving, meeting and capturing the various ocean dwelling Pokemon. It plays nearly identically to dry land, but it's a heck of a lot cooler than just going to various dry land areas.
There just isn't a lot of new stuff in this game, so returning players are going to be very familiar with it, which makes the absurdly long tutorial all the more tedious. There's no way to skip the tutorial because it's embedded in the story. It takes hours to finish up and the game doesn't really get started until that happens. If there were a bunch of new elements to discuss, more than just a mildly tweaked Styler control, then sure, school me on the ways of the Ranger. But I did this already, and honestly, scribbling circles around Pokemon is not a difficult idea to wrap my brain around.
And for Pokemon fans that liked the ability to download new missions over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, that feature is back. The previous Pokemon Ranger allowed players to actually acquire Manaphy for Pokemon Diamond and Pearl by connecting the two games and transferring data. It was a neat feature that, while an obvious marketing ploy, was a definite draw for beating the game. The developers brought that feature back, but it's still Manaphy that you get for doing it. You can also get a Riolu, but that's a Pokemon everyone gets during the actual RPG adventure, so it's just not particularly exciting.
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