Pokémon Rumble World, a game likely to rank a distant third in the eventual list of 2015’s best Pokémon games, has nonetheless impressed me in a few ways.

It might not be easy for a Pokémon Rumble game to impress anyone. They’re not traditional Pokémon games. Never have been. You don’t play as a plucky Pokémon trainer strategically conquering gym leaders and capturing wild Pokémon one well-considered maneuver at a time.

No way.

You are a toy Pokémon and you are playing a brainless beat-em-up that has the interactive complexity of a roll of bubble wrap. You are punching and pouncing on other toy Pokémon to collect them. Maybe, you are are wrapping your head around the idea that there is a(n amazingly named) Japanese studio called Ambrella that keeps churning these games out.

Advertisement

When you are playing a Pokémon Rumble game, you are playing My First Diablo. You are playing games that make that whole series about drawing circles around Pokémon look like four-dimensional chess.

You are playing games that you could probably control with your feet.

Ok, I think you get the point. The core gameplay in Pokémon Rumble World, even with the silly default auto-attack option turned off, is unimpressive and barely engaging.

And yet... and yet!..

There are some good ideas in this game!

Let’s reframe.

Pokémon Rumble World is best thought of as a light Pokémon-themed comedy that does some neat stuff with Nintendo’s Mii avatars and actually doesn’t bilk you of your money despite being full of microtransactions.

Join me in celebrating video games doing good things. Shall we?

Miis As Guest-Stars

You play the game as one of an ever-growing collection of toy Pokémon. Here, I’m playing as—and jumping as—a Frogadier:

You may play as a toy pocket monster, but you are always associated with a Mii, as is everyone else in the world who is playing the game. With minimal effort you can pull other players’ Miis and hand-picked Pokémon into your game. You can also grab Miis via Streetpass, although...

So far, I’ve only been pulling in Japanese players. Maybe I am the only person in the United States of America actively playing this game! I welcome my far-flung Japanese friends. Language barriers will not keep us apart. My game keeps a log of all the people whose Miis have been pulled into my game (it’s all asynchronous; we’re never actually playing together).

Each player has a postcard of sorts. Here’s Mr. Minecraft. He says hello.

Miis get pulled into your world.

They can show up as the game’s shopkeeper, as Tenma from Kyoto did:

You can cast them in the game’s key roles:

I replaced the game’s default king with Aya, a player from Nara, Japan.

I swapped out the default evil wizard for Mr. Minecraft...

...though that kind of gave away a plot twist a little later in the game when the chef who was serving me waffles turned out to be evil:

We did wind up battling. I crushed him.

Miis can support you, if you rescue any of them that pop up in the game’s battle levels:

Miis As Sort Of A Cheat

The meat of Pokémon Rumble World involves going to levels filled with Pokémon, beating them up, capturing some of them and then doing that all over again. You’re capturing more and more powerful creatures, and you’re grabbing different ones that are native to each level.

The trick is that you can’t manually select which levels you want to go to. You can narrow it down, by flying a virtual hot air balloon to regions that are themed off of popular Pokémon games, but once you get there you have to spin a level-select roulette wheel:

You can only use each of your balloons about once per half hour, unless you want to pay some in-game diamonds—purchasable for real money, if you’d like—to skip the wait.

Advertisement

The loophole to all of this is that you can walk up to some of the Miis who are visiting your game and accept their invitation to go to the specific level the Mii is associated with. If they’re associated with a level that is full of Pokémon that you need to catch, then you can keep re-visiting the level. It’ll cost in-game currency, of course, but at least you get some certitude.

Spending Limits!

The game has a real money spending cap. You can only ever buy 3000 diamonds, which would cost about $30.

Those prices aren’t bad and if you’re patient or lucky enough to get a lot of diamonds via Streetpass, you can skip buying them. Bear in mind you can also acquire diamonds by playing tough levels particularly well (though there’s a cap on that, too).

This morning, I bought 200 diamonds at a limited-offer rate. With tax that cost me $1.95, and I used it to buy a hot air balloon that would take me to an area full of Pokémon from Pokémon Silver.

I like that the game has a spending cap, because it suggests that the developers aren’t trying to hook a drip feed up to my wallet. I also like that I can’t splurge my way to the game’s best stuff.

You still have to play the game to collect Pokémon, to level up and to earn access to the king’s special challenges, which are turning out to be the best levels in the game (the most recent one was the aforementioned waffle mission which had me escorting my Mii through a Pokémon battlefield).

Advertisement

I can use the diamonds to buy a lot of cosmetic items that change my Mii’s outfit and the image of my Mii that I send to others.

I can’t spend diamonds on the in-game “P” currency that lets me add trees that empower my Pokémon.

You’re Never Locked Out From Playing

As with other, more player-friendly free-to-play games, you can always do something in the game. Even if your balloons are all still recharging and you can’t go and collect new Pokémon. you can keep replaying the king’s challenges, taking on their way harder “hard mode” variations and trying to earn gems by completing certain quest tasks. The more days you play, the more challenges you can go back to, the less likely you’ll find yourself out of things to do.

It’s a shame that the core combat isn’t interesting. Imagine, though, an actually-compelling Pokémon gameplay system wrapped up in this world of visiting Miis, comedic skits and daily quests. That’d be pretty good. And it could happen! The other “free-to-start” Pokémon game, Pokémon Shuffle, recently hit 2.5 million downloads, so I’m sure they’re going to make more free Pokémon games.

The new Rumble has its share of problems, but it’s also got some good ideas. The Pokémon people might as well build off of them.

Advertisement

To contact the author of this post, write to stephentotilo@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.