Succeeding the block-matching delights of the game’s 2005 predecessor, Pokémon Link: Battle! continues to test your powers of puzzle deduction as it arrives as a notable Nintendo eShop addition for the 3DS.
That nine years has passed belies the addictive nature and endearing design of this somewhat fiendish puzzler, the gameplay having only seen minor tweaks in comparison to how it was, with players dragging and dropping Pokémon-faced pieces to match three or more. Doing so will create an attack that can damage a wild Pokémon leering at you on the top screen, soon allowing for its capture. The more combos that you can make, the more damage you do to the Pokémon. It’s that simple, really.
Since you’re matching cluttered Pokémon to damage and capture a wild Pokémon, you will have to consider the type of the Pokémon you’re using to start the combo, as well as that of your opponent. For Pokémon players, this will be fairly easy, but for those who haven’t spent countless hours with the franchise, this can be problematic. Thankfully, when you start a combo, an icon in the top left will tell you whether or not it will do more or less damage, dependent on the Pokémon-type’s effectiveness.
In addition to that, rather than prevent the Link Box from filling up as in the last game, this time the wild Pokémon will periodically attack you. As it does, the energy gauge on the Box will drop down, and the barriers at the top screen will start to fall apart. If a Pokémon can create a big enough hole then they will enter the playing field, blocking you from making even more combinations and seeing the entire scenario become ever more challenging. This can make things even more tricky, as the boss Pokémon of each stage will take up more space than that occupied by standard Pokémon.
There are 10 Zones with a variety of individual stages to work your way through, each having a specific Pokémon for you to capture, whilst those with hidden Pokémon have special requirements before they are unlocked. Which leads to a minor irritation with the game.
While many of such requirements largely see you tasked with capturing a Pokémon flawlessly or achieve a very high combo, others have some intricate conditions that aren’t designated anywhere in the game. Most can be worked out by seasoned Pokémon players, but others will require you hunting around online to discover, hoping that more skilled and thorough players can lead you in the right direction. This is a major issue if you’re wishing to capture all the 718 Pokémon in the game, and secure the elusive 100 percent completion rating.
That doesn’t mean that Pokémon Link: Battle! isn’t a fun game. The frantic gameplay is incredibly addictive, and many will want to return to previously completed stages so that they can capture all available Pokémon and tot up the highest score. Even though you may at times feel that the cut-off for the combo is too quick, there’s still an overriding desire to keep coming back.
The game is supported by a local multiplayer mode which has you work together with up to three players to capture all the Pokémon, whilst competing with one another for the best score. Whereas a StreetPass feature lets you register the other player’s favourite Pokémon in your Pokédex if you haven’t yet already obtained its data.
Graphically, the game isn’t anything to write home about. Whereas artwork for the Pokémon wondrously matches the anime’s cartoon aesthetic, as it’s a puzzle game there is limited graphical potential here. The backgrounds are static so as to not distract from the gameplay, and there are only 18 different attack animations with a single one for each Pokémon type. However, it can at least be said that the game makes ample use the dual screen quality of the 3DS fairly well.
The music is simple but catchy. While it seems basic, you will begin to notice it ramping up and getting tenser as your combos increase. Once you hit a combo of 50, the music suddenly shifts to have a pseudo-ethereal quality which somehow fits in with the increased tension.
Pokémon Link: Battle! can celebrate success as remaining to be the solid puzzle spin-off that it is. It boasts collecting features for the core Pokémon fans and a decent and well-varied challenge for genre enthusiasts. As the levels don’t necessarily take long this is the perfect pick-up and play puzzle game while you’re on your travels, or easily something that you can sink hours at a time into when at home.