I've never been able to get Pokemon. I've tried, first through the cartoons, reviews and endless fan sites, and then by finally biting the bullet and playing through an entire game.
So when I had a chance to check out the first Pokemon coming to the 3DS, it wasn't exactly at the top of my list. But as I'm sure hardcore fans of Pokemon already know, Pokemon Rumble Blast 3DS isn't exactly a traditional gotta-catch-em-all Pokemon. It is, though, the sort of Pokemon I could comfortable sink into for a few hours at a time.
In Pokemon Rumble Blast 3DS, like WiiWare's Pokemon Rumble, players control their herd of toy Pokemon in real time, commanding them from a shifted, top down perspective in battle against enemy toy poke. The game includes more than 600 toy Pokemon to choose from, including those from Pokemon Black and Pokemon White.
Gameplay is pretty simple, and pretty familiar to fans of action dungeon crawler games. While a player can have a massive collection of Pokemon, they can only control one at a time. You shuffle your toy around the arena you happen to be exploring at the time looking for enemies, items and the exit to the next level of the area or the exit back to the game's Toyland world.
Once in battle, you can maneuver you single toy around dodging and laying down attacks with one of two button presses. Each Pokemon has unique stats and power levels as well as special attacks. There seem to be tons of attacks to choose from, shifting through the many Pokemon I had on hand during my time with the game.
One of the game's neat twists, literally, is that since these are toys, not creatures, you have to take the time to wind them up before you introduce a new critter while in an arena. Your current, perhaps weakened toy, just sort of hangs out on the screen when the new toy pops up. That new toy hovers above the screen as an animation shows a metal key winding it up. If your active Poke is hit during the transition you can't swap toys out and you take damage. This matter because you only have three "Wonderkeys" during your travels outside of town. Whenever a toy Pokemon gets knocked out (Pokemon never die, toy Pokemon never break), you lose one of your keys until your return to a town to fix them. If you lose all three keys; game over, man.
A big draw of the game is meant to be the natural collectability of the Poke toys. You're going to want to find all 600 or so of these toys not just to see what they look like but to see how their abilities will augment your toy fighting force. You can even evolve your Pokemon by collecting seven of the same type and trading them in for a single evolved version, I was told.
While I didn't have a chance to check it out, the game also includes two-player cooperative local wireless play. StreetPass lets you battle other players' collected toys and view customized Mii characters within the game.
While I enjoyed my time with Pokemon Rumble Blast because it didn't feel like the sort of Pokemon games I'm used to discounting, that might be the exact reason that the mammoth fanbase for this series may not find the game as much fun as what they're used to when it hits the U.S. on Oct. 24. (It's already out in Japan.)