With Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection kicking off the schedule back in May and BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle arriving soon afterwards, 2018 is looking to be the year for fighting games on the Nintendo Switch. It seems likely that there’s going to be at least one competitive fighter dropping each month up until the inevitable Super Smash Bros Ultimate closes the year out. We still have Blade Strangers, SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, My Hero: One Justice and Skullgirls 2nd Encore yet to look forward to, not to mention the very promising port that Dragon Ball FighterZ seems to be shaping up to be. So, how does a two-man developed indie game like Pocket Rumble fit in with all this ruckus? Well, very nicely as it turns out.
Originally scheduled to arrive last year, Pocket Rumble brings with it the spirit of the NEO GEO Pocket Colour to the Nintendo Switch. For those who have never heard of the NEO GEO Pocket before, it was a two-button portable device that had a slew of chibi arcade fighters, along with a rather decent Sonic game and a lovely little digital control pad that clicked in each of the eight directions like the microswitches of an arcade fight stick. The boys down at Cardboard Robot Games wanted to stay faithful to the excellent, yet under-appreciated device by crafting a two-button fighter with a lovely pixel art style and a soundboard ripped straight from the small handheld. The duo also wanted to make the moves for players as accessible as possible in an effort to create a fighter that’s very simple to pick up, yet deep enough to feel competitive amongst players.
In Pocket Rumble, you have a selection screen of eight fighters to choose from – each with their own distinctive play style and characteristics to brawl out with. The only attack buttons at your disposal are a light and heavy attack that can be combined with a simple down-forward, or down-back tilt on the stick to execute a special move. Your meter at the bottom of the screen is usually spent by combining both buttons together, while the actual movement of your character shares a very similar control system found within the genre. In theory, it all sounds very dumbed down even in comparison to the modern day fighter where command inputs are kept to a minimum. In practice, it works exceptionally well and fitting for a what this quick pick-up-and-play title is aiming to achieve.
This is thanks to how diverse each character plays in comparison to one another. For example, the simple double dash common in fighting games will allow the Shoto of the group, Tenchi, to short-hop back and forth in the conventional Street Fighter way to close the gap or make space for your opponent to whiff. Quinn, on the other hand, will use the same double forward and double back input to leap at a pouncing angle akin to his canine tendencies. The same goes for meter management too. Tenchi will build meter from special moves to throw out a Shinku-Hadouken style special, while the Terry Bogard of the roster, Naomi, builds meter by charging stock up to modify and enhance her move set. This trend is apparent with every character in Pocket Rumble noting that the only universal mechanic here is the input system itself. It’s a clever way of making each character feel unique, yet all gels perfectly well enough together to complement the action.
As far as features go, you have a traditional Arcade mode that you can pursue that throws a moderate challenge your way and a Career mode that acts as a sort of offline ghost data-ranked system where you face replicated actions of real people in similar fashion to Rare’s own Killer Instinct. Unfortunately, the Arcade mode doesn’t have a difficulty setting to raise or lower the challenge, and the lack of endings to flesh out the characters does make this particular mode feel a little shallow. As for the Career mode, I only really dabbled with it a bit due to the moreish hook of the online opposition. I noticed that the early competition in career was very easy to smash through, although, I’m sure the difficulty will increase significantly the more points you build.
Where the game will earn its longevity will be, of course, fighting real-world opponents whether locally with mates or the online matchmaking arena. Cardboard Robot Games has stuck with the tried and tested netcode of GGPO keeping the action fluid, with very little lag at a high percentage. Fights come in thick and fast from day one, allowing me to get plenty of bouts in where I would eventually beast my way into the top 100 – 58 was my highest rank. While the online is pretty bare bones regarding features, it effectively gets the job done to stay competitively addictive. You can also invite friends who happen to own the game too, and at £7.99 there’s no excuse for those who have even a slight interest in the genre.
Even though Pocket Rumble keeps things simple in both gameplay and presentation, there is some great attention to detail implemented here that the more mainstream titles can take notes from. Training mode gives you everything that you need to sharpen your tools, including the feature to access colour-coded hitboxes to provide you with an idea of attack range, vulnerability and invincible properties that your favoured character may possess. There’s also a tutorial mode to give you a brief but blunt rundown of each character and active bar under your health meter during gameplay to show your recovery time of each move. So, be sure to hold down that record button to settle disputes on who had priority.
Another neat little feature I saw to be a great addition is the win ratio between players. It doesn’t just display your win and lose count, it also shows a percentage based on overall rounds played. So if your opponent keeps pipping you to the post, at least the overall win percentage between bouts will narrow out a bit. The final cool feature I’m going to touch on is the ability to quickly swap a character between rounds if things aren’t going your way. Pressing both attack buttons simultaneously during each intermission will bring up the selection screen should you want to try and counter pick a character as a tactical push for success.
Pocket Rumble is a great budget brawler that will easily fill up break times between friendly rivals at work. Its loyalty to the visuals and sound of the NEO GEO Pocket gives it enough personality to proudly stand with its chin high on the Nintendo eShop shelf. Despite having a rather small roster, the characters themselves seem very well balanced to one another while maintaining their own identity and play style. It’s also good to hear the developers are promising at least one free extra character sometime in the near future.
On the whole, Pocket Rumble is a game that fits snugly on the Nintendo Switch due to its portable inspiration and simple control system. I would even go a far as to say that I would love to see it streamed as a side tournament at some of the bigger fighting game events out there. If you are in need of a competitive fighter without the complexities of the genre yet still manages to keep the mind games intact, then Pocket Rumble could very well be right up your street.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Chucklefish