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Bakugan: Battle Brawlers

Score: 79%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: NOW Productions
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Card Games/ RPG/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Let's start this off right. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never seen the TV series Bakugan nor have I ever played a card game like Magic: The Gathering. While both of these are important requirements to get the most enjoyment out of Bakugan: Battle Brawlers for the Nintendo Wii, I think I am enough of an experienced gamer to be objective. Just because Bakugan is aimed at the card-battle enthusiast, it doesn't necessarily prevent anyone new from joining in, it just means there is much more to comprehend as you play.

As soon as it starts, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers looks great. The animated style of the show translates well into the game. Characters show a range of expressions and each character model looks nearly identical to their TV series counterpart. All of the imprisoned Bakugan come to life with stunning detail as well. Normally, there would have to be a qualifier of some sort when talking about the graphics for a Wii game, but in the case of Bakugan, the style is simple and clean, which means it can use various tricks to make the graphics look their best, like pre-rendered backgrounds.

An off selection of soundtrack has me puzzled about Bakugan. In many of the Menus and cut-scenes, rocking guitar riffs wail in the background, but most often during battle, it is a strange pseudo-techno beat. I suppose given the nature of the anime, this shouldn't be that big of a surprise, but it is a strange transition from heavy and aggressive tones to frantic, thumping beats.

The voice acting is... okay. Bakugan isn't expected to blow their audience away with stellar voice acting, but it does serve its purpose. Most of the characters deliver decent lines of dialogue, but every so often there is still a cheesy, awkward pause that reminds everyone that it wasn't written to win any awards.


Gameplay:

If you haven't guessed by now, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers is based on the animated TV series of the same name. Take equal parts Pokemon and Magic and you have yourself the recipe for what Bakugan wants to be, a monster-collecting, card-based, mini-game adventure. (Exhales) There are many different elements of genres at play here. It isn't a concept that jumps out right away, but after a few hours, battling Bakugan actually becomes much easier to comprehend.

Bakugan are giant creatures that are trapped inside of tiny plastic balls. Young kids love to collect Bakugan to show off like the rich kid with a new bike. However, the imprisoned monsters are released from their ball when placed on top of a Gate Card. When the monsters were first freed, battling was born and so was the addictive craze of collecting more cards to modify the creatures.

The story of Bakugan: Battle Brawlers involves a great Battle Brawler named Dan, who befriends your created character and shows you the ropes of battling your monsters. A special Bakugan named Leonidas crashes from space before your character and the two of you become partners to help Leonidas fight a great evil. Of course, the best way to fight evil in the world of Bakugan is to host strictly regulated card battle tournaments for money. Most of the story, what little there is, comes from the tournaments throughout the adventure.

Each battle is fought in an arena where each person fighting has their own corner. There are three main game types: One vs. One, Two vs. Two, and a Four-way Free for all. Each type follows the same basic formula and rarely strays from the basics.

A grid appears over the play field indicating where you can place your cards. There are two types of cards: gate cards and modifier cards. Gate cards are played at the beginning of a match. After placing your gate card, you need to throw your Bakugan onto one of the cards to be unleashed. If the Bakugan lands on a card, then it "stands" and attempts to claim that space for itself. If two Bakugan from the same team "stand" on the one card, the card is captured and that team player earns one point. It is also possible to capture cards by battling an enemy Bakugan that is "standing" on the same card. The first person to three points wins the match.

If two rival Bakugan are standing on the same card, then a battle occurs where a quick mini-game is played which fills an attack gauge. Before each battle, there is a chance to play the modifier cards that are earned on the road to champions that will enhance the attack gauge and other stats. Some cards focus on attack power, others focus on defense, and particularly fiendish cards affect the mini-game in adverse ways. Once the modifiers are set, the actual battle takes place. The mini-games available during the battles are "Time Attack," "Shooting Battle," and "Shaking Battle," all of which last around 10 seconds and play just as they sound. After each battle, both Bakugan are retired from play regardless of who wins until the next round starts.

The simple battles of Bakugan are the meat of the entire experience and I actually started to enjoy them after a while. Your custom character earns money that can be spent at an in-game item store for new Bakugan, new cards, or to upgrade existing Bakugan in your collection. The store is located on the overworld screen, which is where the collection room, tournament brackets, and practice arenas can be found too. Keeping up with your card deck is crucial to getting better because the computer A.I. doesn't pull punches sometimes, and even though you have sank all of your money into maxing out one card, each match still has two other cards that can be played, so it wise to spread the upgrades evenly.


Difficulty:

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers is a game of skill. It doesn't seem that way at first, nor does it present any challenge in the early-goings, but as the rules become clearer, so does the level of strategy. Should you sacrifice an easy "stand" in order to collect power-ups littered throughout the arena? During team-ups, is it better to quickly remove cards by "double-stand" or to maximize the effectiveness by spreading out to other cards? I wouldn't have thought this at first, but Bakugan becomes a livelier, more animated version of chess the more I invest into it. Always thinking one or two steps ahead is a clever strategy, but the rapid-fire mini-games still require brute force and dexterity to win, which is unfortunate seeing how well Bakugan: Battle Brawlers appeals to strategy-enthusiasts.

Game Mechanics:

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers sacrificed an open-world and 3-D environments to achieve a deeper card system and better graphics. The lack of any actual character movement means that the entire game is Menu driven. By either pointing the Wii-mote at the screen or using the D-pad, players choose every action from switching hairstyles to the type of modification card to play. The only time that Bakugan: Battle Brawlers approaches a more interactive "game" experience are the mini-game battles. The "Shaking" battles for example, requires that the Wii-mote be shaken violently to play a game like reverse tug-of-war. Instead of trying to pull the center of an energy beam toward you, you want to push it toward the opponent, which eliminates them from the round. Similarly, the "Timing" battle has a series of buttons and motions that slide to the right and you have to press each button or action in sequence with the on-screen prompt. By pressing (A), (B), or shaking the Wii-mote, the timing sequences are like a rhythm game without any accompanying music to help keep the... well, rhythm.

It is easy to see why someone who is already a fan of the series will love Bakugan: Battle Brawlers. It makes many smart decisions to appeal to its audience and deliver the purest experience for its universe. I know the game is obligated to what is depicted in the series, but I would have liked to have seen more cards, more attacks, more Bakugan, more arenas, more everything. It feels like Bakugan: Battle Brawlers has somehow limited its scope and ambition for its first title. There is a lot of potential for the series and this game is a good first step, but not great one. If you are the type of gamer that finds spell casting and item collection fun, (and had enough interest to read this entire review,) then Bakugan: Battle Brawlers is for you, provided you have the right time investment.


-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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