Pokemon Rumble U Review: I’m Only in It for the Figures

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pokemon rumble u

Title: Pokemon Rumble U
Price: $17.99
System(s): Wii U
Release Date: August 29, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Nintendo (Ambrella)
ESRB Rating: “Everyone” for Comic Mischief and Mild Fantasy Violence

I want my money back, Nintendo. Pokemon Rumble and Pokemon Rumble Blast gave me high hopes forPokemon Rumble U. I mean, the first game was good, the second was even better, so the law of natural progression would suggest that the third game would build upon gameplay elements included in the two previous entries to create the best adventure yet. Except that didn’t happen.

Instead of offering the variety of multiple areas to explore and collect toy Pokemon, while also getting the chance to take part in major arena battles against boss Pokemon and their armies of minions, we get a tepid arena battler with 649 Pokemon and 21 stages. While that may sound impressive, all non-NFC figure Pokemon are largely expendable and useless, and having 21 arenas doesn’t matter much when they all tend to look and play the same.

pokemon rumble u

Toy Shop?

Pokemon Rumble U has the weakest story in the series, which is really saying something. The Pokemon Rumble series isn’t known for epic adventures, but at least previous installments offered some motivation. In Pokemon Rumble, we were trying to help a Pikachu and his friends become the strongest toy Pokemon ever. In Pokemon Rumble Blast, we were trying to restore the toy Pokemon world, and save it from evil elements.

In Pokemon Rumble U, we watch Pikachu, Oshwatt, Snivy, and Tepig work their way back to the toy store. Story segments are less than exciting, as most offer an opposing boss pokemon starting an area by saying something like, “Toy store? No, I don’t want to go back there.” Then, the group and their growing horde of toy pokemon fights the boss pokemon and its minions in an arena battle. If you’re lucky, a toy pokemon may randomly join you after it is defeated. Once the boss has been beat, it’s on to the next area.

pokemon rumble u

There should be something more than this.

Unlike Pokemon Rumble and Pokemon Rumble Blast, Pokemon Rumble U focuses solely on arena battles. The previous two games offered some variety. Players could explore various levels, which looked like areas from the main Pokemon games. Toy pokemon inhabited these areas, and this was the prime means of recruiting new party members for the epic boss fights in the Battle Royale arenas.

Pokemon Rumble U is a series of Battle Royale arena fights. There may be minor visual variations in each spot. You could have a different series of goals, like befriending X number of pokemon, which reward you with another toy pokemon if met. An arena challenge may occasionally be timed or require players to protect a fort, but it all comes down to the same gameplay basics. Up to 100 toy Pokemon will appear on screen, and your team of four toy pokemon must beat them all up to win.

This proves to be quite tedious, as most areas must be replayed at least two or three times. If you have a NFC figure, that’s because you’ll need the coins from replays to upgrade the character. If you don’t, it’s because you’ll need to repeatedly challenge the same arena in the hopes of acquiring stronger toy Pokemon. Each match gives a general idea of how strong a toy pokemon would have to be to have a chance of winning, and if you don’t have a figure that strong in your inventory, you’re out of luck. If a character is strong enough, then winning is as easy as repeatedly mashing a single attack button until every opponent is toppled.

Especially since the single player game works against you. If you have three friends joining you in local multiplayer for a Pokemon Rumble U match, everyone chooses which toy Pokemon will be used in the ensuing battle. If you’re playing by yourself, you only get to choose the character you’ll control. The game will automatically assign three other toy Pokemon from your inventory to the other three slots and the AI will control them. Since most arenas tend to feature Pokemon from a specific type, it could mean the game could send you into a match against fire types with a Bulbasaur, Oddish, and Snivy. It works against you.

I know it sounds pretty dismal, but Pokemon Rumble U manages to get worse. There were also hub areas in the previous games, where acquired toy pokemon could be improved, the game saved, and sometimes even NPCs were available for time-killing conversations. Pokemon Rumble U has no hub areas and no means to upgrade non-NFC figures. So the P coins earned from battle are useless, unless you have a figure or two. You just choose battles from a menu and continually plod forward through a dismal game.

pokemon rumble u nfc figure

But what about the figures?

As sad as it may sound, I believe Pokemon Rumble U‘s adorable and affordable toy figures are its saving grace. Not because of how they work within the game, though. No, Nintendo’s NFC is pretty convoluted. Instead of being simple, like Disney Infinity or Skylanders, it’s overly complicated. If you get a NFC figure, you have to hold it to the Wii U GamePad during the campaign to make it a playable character. Once it’s loaded in, you’re good to go. That part’s fine.

It’s when you have to upgrade the figure that things get overly complicated. Fighting matches earns you P coins, which can only be used to improve a NFC figure character. To do this, you have to save, leave the campaign, choose the NFC figure option from the main menu, and hold the figure over the GamePad to load it up. Then, you’re able to raise its power, change its moves, and alter its special trait. Once you do that, you have to hold the figure over the GamePad again, to save the changes. Then, you have to go back to the main menu, start the campaign again, and rescan the figure (again) to use the newly upgraded character. It’s a hassle, and I can’t see why Nintendo couldn’t have included a central hub within the campaign where all of these changes could have been made.

Which makes the Pokemon Rumble U NFC figures quite a hassle to use. Still, they’re the best way to breeze through this otherwise bland game, and make adorable room or desk decorations.

pokemon rumble u

Pokemon Rumble U is mediocre.

Perhaps I expected too much from Pokemon Rumble U. Pokemon Rumble Blast was a huge improvement over Pokemon Rumble, and I think I expected Pokemon Rumble U to sample the best elements of the 3DS installment, while improving the arena battles found in both games. Instead, I found tedious, linear adventure that demands players continually fight for newer, better Pokemon in a handful of locations that all blur together. Unless you actually buy one of the adorable figures, in which case the campaign mode must be abandoned after every area so one can return to the main menu and upgrade the figure’s abilities.

Which means Pokemon Rumble U‘s saving grace is its adorable figures. My best advice is, take a little over 1/3 of the $18 you were going to spend on the game and use it to buy two of the $3.99 figures instead.

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  • Tom N

    Just wanted to point out, you can pick all 4 characters you take in Single player mode. You still only control one, but it prevents the type mismatch you suggest, or even more importantly, allows you to attempt any challenges that may require specific pokemon/types are used/not used.