Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia

Nintendo is an odd company, which likes to give out odd messages. For instance, they happily advertise two-to-three year old Wii and DS games in the run up to the holiday season, while ignoring recent worthy third-party efforts and even their own games (see Disaster: Day Of Crisis). They alienate the hardcore base with tosh like Wii Music and yet they severely understock their big DS hope for the year in Europe, Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Hell, they’ve even managed to anger Greenpeace!

These are changing times, and Nintendo is certainly a different company from the one they were just three years ago. But for the last ten years or so, they’ve always had one thing that has remained absolutely steadfast in this crazy old world of ours: Pokémon.

This is Nintendo’s gold mine, where every new release costs them about as much as my lunch money does, yet is guaranteed to make enough revenue to completely rebuild both Afghanistan and Iraq ten times over. It’s a franchise that got them through the dark days of the N64 and GameCube era, amassing an army of the devoted.

Firstly, though, if you’re a Pokémon fan than this review is useless to you, because chances are that you’ve already bought a few dozen copies of this game. If you’re not a fan, then I actually doubt that you’ve even bothered clicking on the link provided, so yes, this review is also useless to you. Thanks a lot, Nintendo, for making me feel utterly redundant.

The concept here is pretty much the same as in any of the other Pokémon spin-offs. But for those that have actually bothered to check this article out (thanks for the hit mum!) the idea is simple.

You’re a ranger — a school boy ranger of course (a JRPG is not a JRPG unless your avatar hasn’t hit puberty) — and you get to choose between being a boy ranger or a girl ranger, whose job it is to rescue the little buggers, as opposed to capturing them to do battle (which was surely part of the appeal of Pokémon in the first place, despite overtones of animal cruelty). Along the way you can also aid or save endangered Pokémon, and once you’re done with them, kick them out and get newer, better ones.

It’s all very cruel, and I’m not really sure what message Nintendo is trying to convey to the little ‘uns, but as a grownup it seems to me like they’re saying “hey kiddies, ignore all that crap about how a mutt isn’t just for Christmas.”

Capturing the Pokémon involves drawing loops around them, via the use of a stylus, which supposedly makes the Pokémon experience feelings of happiness and friendship. Every loop drawn fills up a capture meter, and once said meter is full, the Pokémon is now your “friend”, to use as you see fit.

Surely, after almost four years of the DS being on the market, even the big N must realise that drawing circles on the screen is only fun, like, maybe twice? If the company that invented the DS can only muster a touchscreen technique this simple in one of their premiere franchises what kind of message does that give out to everyone else?

Why shouldn’t we just beat the little things to a pulp, I mean once we’ve captured them we hardly treat them accordingly do we? Let’s not convey messages of friendship and love when in actuality our intentions towards the Pokémon are far worse than I’m actually allowed to write here.

Accompanying you like a fly sticks to shit is a companion Pokémon — there are 17 to choose from in total, you earn more as you progress, with the ability to swap around as much as you like. Each has their own elemental power, so if there’s any particular attack that fits your fighting style there’s bound to be a Pokémon for you. This adds a nice bit of strategy, and more importantly variety, in between all the awesome circle drawing.

However, you as the ranger have competition in the let’s see how awfully we can treat the Pokémon stakes. The dastardly Team Dim Sun have been placing mysterious machines all over the region, hypnotizing feral Pokémon and making them behave all strange-like. I’m guessing this is because because Team Dim Sun finds it funny to see innocent animals behave like beasts, because the story sure as hell didn’t give me a better reason.

It’s your job to beat the living daylights out of them using your gimps and showing them that there’s only one Pokémon pimp in town. There is a new addition in the form of side quests, where you chat with distressed townsfolk, eradicate the cause of that stress, and earn new Pokémon. The problem here is that the side quests are nearly identical to your main objectives, which again does nothing to break the cycle of repetition, nor motivate you to actually attempt them.

And let’s not forget to mention the seemingly never-ending tutorial that went on for so long that I genuinely feared that I’d miss the opening of 2012 Olympic Games. Not only is it inescapable, but it also neglects experienced Pokémon players who already know the ins and outs of the series and just want to get on with it.

The biggest problem facing Almia (aside from being void of any entertainment) is that it was actually released two years ago (not literally), but the changes from its predecessor are so incremental that the term ‘palette swap’ is the only way to describe it.

Pokémon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is just one big confusing mess. It clearly exists as fan service yet ignores its following and makes no effort to thank its groupies for years of devotion. It has an unnecessarilyy massive marketing blitz behind it, which has come about at the cost of other, more worthy games. It hogs shelf space in stores, where one would hope to see a certain professor. It does nothing worthy of credit to justify its existence, yet it feels omnipresent. Much like Wii Music, it’ll sell loads, yet is completely unworthy of commercial success or your attention. In short, avoid it like a raging, anthrax breathing, nuke-toting dragon on steroids.

RATING 3 / 10