Bakugan Hands-On: Adding A New Spin to Pokemon

Part-transforming marble, part Pokemon card game, Bakugan has taken the world's children by storm over the past year. But how can you turn something so reliant on transforming toys into a successful video game?

Developer NOW Production's answer is to carefully capture the look and action of marble play, and spring-loaded toys in the game set for an October release.

The original Bakugan card game is essentially Pokemon with cards and toys. Players lay metal cards on a table and then shoot plastic balls, like marbles, at the cards. If they do it right the ball stops on the card and a little creature springs out. Then the game essentially become Pokemon, with players adding up the points for their creature, taking into account the modifier of the card, and seeing who won.

Moving the physical nature of the game from the real world to the digital was key to making the game work, but at least for the Wii version, it appears NOW has succeeded.

I spent perhaps a bit too much time, eventually getting kicked out of the room, with Bakugan on the Wii at Gamescom last week.

To play, gamers select three Bakugan creatures and then go into battle on a pre-selected playing field. Instead of just providing a flat space to play on, the developers created pinball-like tables with plenty of interaction and hidden modifiers and traps.

Gamers take turns using the Wii remote to toss the Bakugan marble onto the table, then they can maneuver the ball, Monkey-Ball style, around the playing field. This allows you to collect modifiers, but you also have to keep an eye on the gauge that shows how much time you have left before the ball stops moving. If you can get it back to the card before the time runs out, you're set, otherwise it's essentially a wasted throw.

If you and an enemy manage to land on the same card, then the game goes into the Pokemon-like battle phase, which, while nicely animated, is completely automated as well.

If you manage to land two of you critters on the card and the enemy lands none, you capture the card without a battle.
Capture three cards and you win that game.

While the game features 40 detailed, real-world, Bakugan that spring into shape when they land, and hundreds of cards to battle for, what really makes this game work is the modifier and trap-filled battle arenas. I think it also helped that the Wii's motion control made maneuvering those rolling Bakugan both challenging and fun. I'm sure the game will be fun to play on the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360, but the Wii will likely be the console of choice for this title.

I did manage to grab a few minutes with the DS version of the game as well and while it was fun to play, the Wii's remote-supported version was more fun.

I spent most of my time on the Wii version facing off against Wii-controlled opponents plucked from the Bakugan storyline. But it's important to note that Bakugan the game will come with it's own unique story, penned by the writers of the anime series. It will also include the ability to create your own avatar, one that offers a surprising amount of customization.

Finally, the game offers custom multiplayer matches, though I wasn't able to test that out during my time with the title.