Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of AlmiaESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: The Pokemon Company/Hal Labs
Touch Screen Compatible
In Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia, you once again play as a Pokemon Ranger working to help people, Pokemon, and nature in general. These duties take place in a new area called the Almia Region. Starting out as a Student Ranger, you quickly earn the title of a full-fledged Pokemon Ranger. As you succeed in more and more missions, you will aspire to become the highest Ranger rank: Top Ranger. Along the way you meet and capture all kinds of different Pokemon. So how does this follow up to the first Pokemon Ranger (released in Oct 2006) fair? Read on.
The visual style of Shadows of Almia is very reminiscent of most other Pokemon titles for the DS. Virtually all the characters throughout the game are sprite-based in structure and have a distinct anime-stylized look to them. The games environments also look great having a pleasurable smooth look to them, despite not having the most technically impressing graphics as the DS is certainly capable of more. Shadow of Almia however does do a great job of creating some lush environments. The land of Almia is a very diverse place where you can traverse lush green meadows or in deep undersea areas. The level design is something that caught me a little off guard as there are plenty of interesting places to explore with little repetition and plenty of puzzle aspects for each mission or quest. Some new gamers may baulk at the simplistic looking title, but most veterans of the series really won’t notice anything different from the older games.
The sound and music selections in Shadows of Almia are also reminiscent of other Pokemon games. It tends to feature a cute little background score infused with some old school inspired sound effects. The effects that can be pretty wimpy at times and they are the tried and true pops, beeps, and boops that we all have heard before. Although the different Pokemon noises do sound a lot different than the cutesy Pokemon sounds in the anime, those who are familiar with the Pokemon series of games will undoubtedly appreciate the unchanged sound effects. While there is no noticeable voice work in the game, there is the odd grunting, yelling, or explosion scattered throughout the game.
Control in this Pokemon title is exclusively stylus-based. Gamers select their characters through the menus and move them around with just a tap or two on the touch screen. If you really hate using the stylus you can configure the game to use the d-pad and shoulder buttons in the menus. Either way is fine but you will have to use the stylus eventually to befriend the different Pokemon in the game.
Just like its predecessor, this game cannot be considered a true sequel to the older color-based Pokemons (e.g. Diamond or Pearl), but it ends up being a fairly enjoyable experience nonetheless. Just like in all the previous Pokemon titles you are able to use various Pokemon to complete several tasks. However, now you are no longer limited to just cutting of grass, flying, or pushing boulders around. Instead you're given access to a wide variety of creatures and/or beasts, each with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. You use them complete the various missions and quests.
Regardless of who you choose for your main character, you're soon allowed to pick your first companion Pokemon, a unique monster that will accompany you for the rest of your adventure. Unfortunately, the storyline is still rather typical of older titles in the series which is somewhat limited and very predictable after the first few minutes of gameplay. I suppose this opening mission is more of a tutorial as fortunately, later missions are less predictable.
On your quests you will have to use several different Pokemon, which you capture as part of the adventure to achieve certain tasks. If a huge boulder is blocking your path grab an Aggron to tear it down. If you need to climb up high for some herbs, use a creature like a Fearow to release them for you. There are several ways to achieve certain objectives, but since some monsters are only available as part of the storyline, fans of particular creatures may end up slightly disappointed at their absence.
There are more than 270 unique creatures available in this game, and despite this high number you will usually find yourself with very limited resources. Monsters such as Pikachu, Magneton, or Vulpix are fairly common, but you are only likely to find a single Squirtle or just one Charmaleon, during your adventure. It seems as if you have to travel back to where you once found them before to reacquire them, and in such a big world it becomes very impractical. I'd understand if it was some extremely rare or legendary Pokemon, then maybe the effort would be rewarding.
One of the new gameplay changes made to this series is that you no longer have to encircle a monster a certain number of times in order to make the capture. This time around the game introduces “styler” power and monster HP. Just like before, you still have to encircle a monster with your stylus in order to capture it, but instead of having to do it several times in a row, you now diminish that monster's HP for an amount which depends on your styler's power - once the monster's bar is filled you capture it. As one may suppose, this change would make for a terribly easy game. Fortunately the developers added a regeneration factor to your enemies, meaning that if you stop your encircling motion for some time the enemy's HP will start to steadily regenerate.
As you gain more experience and increase your character's level, the power of your styler will also increase, and while you initially cause limited damage it tends to increase as you advance further in the game. This rule is found in almost every RPG, but here it also leads to an enormous bug – monsters found in the first missions (such as Blastoise) end up being terribly easy to capture later in the game, and while it may only take you three or four circles to capture such a seemingly powerful beast, you'll probably find yourself wondering why you have a lot more trouble capturing a Sneasel. It has nothing to do with battle skills or hazardous strategies, and I think this idea needs a bit more work to make it fully functional.
Once you have begun to capture creatures you can use their powers in two different areas. Apart from their field usage, you can use their powers in the middle of battles with effects directly related to that Pokemon's type. For example, a Fire Pokemon can usually cause twice the damage, whereas a bug one allows you to throw sticky goo at your enemies, and ice monsters can freeze the enemy for a short amount of time. These are only a few examples. In order to succeed against the eventual boss battles that this game has to offer, you will have to master the unique abilities of each type of creature which of course tends to be easier than it sounds.
For those of you who complained about the lack of replay value of the first game, this one bears some surprises. First, quests have been added to the game, which work as small tasks that some inhabitants of the Almia region request. They are nowhere as tough as the missions, but they are actually fun and rather unpredictable. Some of the quests you will find are quite simple, like removing a natural barrier, or destroying three crates, but some of the later ones get tougher and ask you to capture specific combinations of monsters. This will take a while as you perfect your approaches, but it can be quite fun. By finishing certain missions and quests it opens up access to bonus content, like unique monsters or Guards, the latter increases your defence against particular elements. You will definitely have to earn your way through to find out what other goodies lay hidden.
If doing tons of quests gets too tedious, you can head online via Nintendo’s WiFi service and access what is called Ranger Net. Here you'll be able to download new missions from time to time, very similar to what happens in Professor Layton and the Curious Village.
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