Picking up from where Pokémon Rumble U left off, Pokémon Rumble World ditches Wii U’s NFC experimentation and serves as another introduction to an addictive and potentially very profitable part of gaming on Nintendo 3DS: free-to-play, or, as Nintendo president Satoru Iwata calls it, free-to-start.
As the fourth iteration in the Pokémon Rumble series, if you have played any of its predecessors you should have some idea as to what to expect. In essence, Pokémon Rumble World places you in control of numerous Toy Pokémon as they go through various stages, battling other Toy Pokémon which, once defeated, will expand your collection.
There’s a basic premise wrapped around this, in that your Mii is living in a kingdom where they are suddenly summoned to see the King. He requests your help because he has been slighted by a magician, who recently made an impromptu visit to the castle and mocked the King for having less Toy Pokémon than him. Recruited to turn the tide, the King asks for your assistance to outmatch his newfound rival and lends you his trusty Pikachu to collect more.
Using Pikachu, and the Toy Pokémon that you gather, you will travel to the stages in Pokémon Rumble World by hot air balloons and this is where the game’s free-to-start aspect creeps in. After using a balloon, it is necessary for players to wait a certain amount of time before they can use it again. This ranges from a seemingly modest 30 minutes all the way up to 10 hours for different balloons as you progress through the game. To top that off, the stages that you fly to with whichever balloon are chosen at random by a roulette, meaning that you could go to a stage where you already have all the Toy Pokémon. There are ways to circumvent this though, by spending Poké Diamonds.
Poké Diamond act as in-game currency that you can purchase. You can spend them to reinflate balloons and later to have control over the roulette. In addition to that, you can use them, as well as standard coins to buy upgrades to your Pokémon’s stats, new balloons, outfits for your Mii and more. This does seem a bit money hungry, but you can obtain Poké Diamonds in-game as standard through StreetPass, receiving friends Miis online, doing King’s Challenge and so forth.
That said, Pokémon Rumble World isn’t a game that will be continually fleecing you, as you have a limit to the amount of Poké Diamonds that you can buy. Not just in a single month, but your overall total. You can only buy 3,000 Poké Diamonds using real money, which equates to less than £30. When you have purchased the total amount, you are also given access to two in-game items that reduce payments for reinflating the balloon and controlling the roulette down to just one Poké Diamond each. Whereas it also gives you a facility to give you 20 Poké Diamonds each day. This is the sort of free-to-start mechanics that, while still horrible for gamers, can be seen as having taken a more consumer-friendly approach. You certainly won’t be spending ridiculous amounts of money on it.
The gameplay in Pokémon Rumble World is rather simple. You have the Circle Pad and two moves that you get when you obtain a Toy Pokémon. These moves cannot be changed until much later in the game, and your Toy Pokémon’s strength can’t be increased – meaning that as your Mii ranks up, you’ll have to get stronger Toy Pokémon. The moves are controlled simply by pressing the A or B Button for each respectively. Pokémon Rumble World also deploys an auto-attack feature that makes things easier at the start of the game, but as you get through it, becomes more intrusive and so it would probably be best to turn it off. You can also get Mega Evolutions for the first time in the series, activated at the press of a button once you have bought the necessary Mega Stone for 5 Poké Diamonds.
As the goal in Pokémon Rumble World is to collect all 719 Toy Pokémon, the hot air balloon system and random nature of what bosses can be in the stage mean that it can soon begin to feel like a significant grind – especially when you reach a point where you only have around 100 Toy Pokémon left to get. Spending Poké Diamonds or using your free balloon trip will often leave you with no new species to show for it, which can be frustrating. You just can’t help but shake the feeling that the balloon mechanics are holding the game back, unnecessarily keeping you away from completion.
That’s not to say that Pokémon Rumble World isn’t fun, it really is. While it lacks depth and complexity, it’s good mindless fun. The stages take just a couple of minutes to complete, so you can pick up and play when on the bus or on a break – which is what you want with free-to-start handheld titles, even if it’s held back by the balloon mechanics.
Graphically, the game doesn’t look like a step up from Pokémon Rumble Blast – its 3DS predecessor. The models of the Toy Pokémon are still simplistic polygonal tin toy-esque Pokémon with which this series is associated, and the environments are pretty basic. There is a lot of variety though, and this shows with the Toy Pokémon that you discover there. You’ll go across treetops, in fields, on icy mountains or climb through a volcano. There are a few issues with frame rate and slowdown when too many Toy Pokémon are on screen, however, which comes as a surprise the simplicity of the art style.
The soundscape to Pokémon Rumble World is as equally simplistic. You have catchy music that may end up in your head afterwards. The beach melody is currently stuck in my head as I write this, but everything else is rather simple. The game has adapted cries from the main series for each Toy Pokémon, and the moves have basic sound effects. It’s nothing special, but it’s certainly adequate and fits the simplistic styling.
Pokémon Rumble World is an enjoyable game, without a doubt. It’s not necessarily a complex one, and while it’s not trying to achieve much new it’s still resoundingly fun to play. While non-Pokémon fans may find little to enjoy here, those that are will undoubtedly be trying to get all 719 Toy Pokémon.
It’s unlikely that Pokémon newcomers will stick it out to catch them all, thanks in part to the balloon mechanics and eventual grind, which without such complication would have inevitably achieved the opposite. It does feel like the free-to-start model holds Pokémon Rumble World back, and while 100 percent completion is perfectly doable without paying a penny it certainly feels like an expectation when you reach the higher ranks and levels.