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Bakugan: Battle Brawlers

Score: 86%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: NOW Productions
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Card Games/ Board Games/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

Do you remember the beginning of the inexorable spread of Pokemon? What about the launch of Yu-Gi-Oh? Trendy games and toys always have ardent fans under the age of 10 as their leading indicators, and so it's no surprise that if you ask a boy between the ages of 5 and 10 what card game they're into right now, you're just as likely to hear about Bakugan: Battle Brawlers as you are those other two. The appeal is obvious once you see what's involved. A combination of marbles and traditional collectible card games, Bakugan is a great idea on top of a great idea. The translation from toy to television has gone extremely well, and now we have the videogame. Having spent hours with the toys, cards, and show, we can say that Bakugan: Battle Brawlers for Xbox 360 is the best thing yet to happen to this franchise. It provides an awesome introduction to the game for those not yet aware of Bakugan and is a great way for fans to get deeper than ever before.

The benefit of playing on a powerful console is great graphics, and Bakugan: Battle Brawlers splashes out on the eye candy. It's impressive to see computer animation that so closely models the style of the show, with cut-scenes and transitions that look as if they're pulled straight out of Saturday morning. The music is rousing and the battle sound effects are... much like being in battle. Sure, things are over the top, but that's just how we like it. The effects during battle are the best part, whether watching the animation as your Bakugan transform from their marble form to their standing form, or watching the larger transformation as your Bakugan let their true nature explode as they fight it out. Suffice it to say that never in real life, never even in the T.V. show, have fans seen this level of explosive action in a battle. Amazingly, the great attention paid to detail in the game will only have brawlers more excited about rolling their real-life marbles against a friend.


And if you like playing against a friend in real life, how about the challenge of battling up to four other players in this all-bets-off setting? There's a nice Story Mode that will keep you engaged briefly and allow you to rack up some points for buying additional marbles and cards, but the real action for the long haul lies in Battle Arena mode. Here, you can engage in local contests with other players using the Bakugan arsenal you've racked up previously. The really fun part of these battles is that they go way beyond just simple cards and throws. Bakugan: Battle Brawlers introduces a few twists during play to keep things interesting, such as mini-games you can launch to increase G-Power beyond what may be possible with your Ability Cards. There are also a slew of hidden power-ups in each level that a skilled player will learn to unlock. Gaining the advantage in this way can mean the difference between winning and losing. Bakugan is a strange beast in one way, because it loads all the strategy into the time before the actual battle. By the time you've selected a gate card, thrown skillfully, and used your ability cards, it all comes down to who has the higher G-Power.

Beyond the battle action, you'll spend plenty of time in the store buying new trinkets; both parents and kids will love not having to stress about money during these shopping trips! Especially given the rush in popularity of the toys over the past year, it's likely that some kids have not yet had their hands on some of these in real life, making the game experience that much more exciting. For kids that have been avid collectors, playing their favorite Bakugan will still be a considerable draw. We liked the option to customize your character at the beginning of the game and any time after, through the My Room feature. Rest assured that you'll also find each of the show's characters in the game, with Dan playing a central role as your mentor, coach, and eventually your opponent. If it seems odd that we haven't mentioned the story much, know that it's because there isn't much story to mention. The show, like most others in this genre, is generally just a series of discussions leading up to a battle. Bad guys do bad things and good guys get in their way, and that's all you really need to know. Unlike other games where the cards have a good/bad bias, everything here is done according to element and Bakugan type. There are plenty of variations to keep you busy, and that's not including a wide array of cards and items you'll earn during battle. We're not sure this all takes the place of friendly brawls in the real world, but it's sure great for honing your skills in anticipation of those matches.


There may not be as much depth to Bakugan: Battle Brawlers as you'll find in some other collectible card games, but it does present a learning curve. The first challenge is getting used to special modes created just for the game. These take the form of mini-games you tackle while the other player shoots or after the battle has begun. Very twitchy and fun, these games prevent Bakugan: Battle Brawlers from feeling too sedate. There are also plenty of chances for confusion in the flow of battles, so you'll want to walk through the Tutorial provided before getting too far into the action. Learning the basics of battle gets you about 30-40% of the way there, but you'll pick up tips and tricks along the way by scanning virtual message boards and "networking" with other NPC players. Practice makes perfect, and you'll definitely want to take advantage of practice throws before you try going up against more advanced players. What at first seems like a very straightforward model - card, throw, card - becomes more complicated once you factor in elemental interactions, special ability cards, and special advantages conferred on players that know how to take advantage of each battle arena. Compared to other games that focus heavily on deck-building strategies, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers may feel thin, but it's intentionally a more fast-paced and accessible game for young players.

Game Mechanics:

Simulating the excitement of a game where you throw magnetic marbles onto metal cards isn't exactly the simplest proposition, considering we're talking about the Xbox 360 and not the Wii here. The developers did a good job of keeping Bakugan: Battle Brawlers fast-paced and exciting, even without motion controls. Aiming with precision during the battle is a natural fit for the analog sticks, followed by the Right Trigger to fire your marble, and then a return to aiming your roll after the throw using the Left Stick. Speed control is handled after the throw by using the Left or Right Trigger, and this proves to be a big part of the placement strategy. "Reading" each level as you would a putting green is impossible, so you'll want to shoot some practice throws and watch the effects of various special elements in the level, before taking on the real thing. During the battle, controls are straightforward, but the mini-games require you to use some twitch reflexes, especially during the so-called Power Battle that has you snapping analog sticks rapidly up/down or left/right. There's a refreshing lack of clutter on the screen, letting you focus entirely on the cool-looking characters in their element, using their cool-looking marbles and cards, and summoning actual Bakugan monsters, definitely the coolest thing this game has going for it.

Games like this are only as good as their source material, and we have to admit we weren't entirely sure there was enough "there" there to make a Bakugan videogame. Marbles are cool, and fun for imaginative play, but the dynamics of the card game are way simple in comparison to others out there. If you already love the game, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers on Xbox 360 is an awesome way to take it virtual with large style and excitement. If you're curious about the hubbub, we'd wager you might find the actual game a bit anticlimactic after a few hours on the console, and that's a real compliment. There's no replacing the excitement of collecting, trading, and battling Bakugan in the flesh, but this game does a great job of simulating those dynamics plus a few more that are only possible in the virtual world.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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