Reviewed on Nintendo DS
Every big franchise gets their own spin-offs after a while. Pokémon has done this multiple times as well. The console games like Stadium have a cult following, the Mystery Dungeon games are beloved by many and Pokémon Ranger.. doesn’t really get talked about that much? I mean, it did get a relatively positive reception at the time, but it’s no exaggeration that the series is kind of overlooked nowadays when comparing it to the other spin-off games. So today, let’s take a look at the first game in the Pokémon Ranger trilogy!
While this paragraph is usually dedicated to the history behind the games, well.. there is not a whole lot known about how Pokémon Ranger came into existence. It was revealed in the CoroCoro magazine in 2005 and a short teaser at the end of the eight Pokémon movie, but that’s basically it. Creatures Inc. got some help from HAL Laboratory in developing this game. Most likely the intent of the game was to experiment and show the customers what the Nintendo DS is capable of. What might come as a surprise to many people however, is that the game is not part of Generation 4 despite being released on the next handheld. This means that there are no Generation 4 Pokémon to be obtained either. Pokémon Ranger got mediocre reviews, favouring more towards the positive side fortunately which made it possible for two more games to be released in this sub-series.
You start of the game choosing your gender as usual. The player is from a foreign country and travels to the Fiore region to become a Ranger. This region is unlike the ones seen in the main Pokémon games, as there are no Pokémon Trainers to be found anywhere. Instead, Pokémon live outside with the humans in good harmony. If said harmony is broken, the Rangers come in to calm down the Pokémon. This happens early on as after the player meets the boss Spencer of the Ranger Base in a nearby city, either a Minum or Plusle is being attacked by a Houndoom depending on what gender you have chosen. Here is where you’re introduced to the gameplay and shortly after, you head off with Spencer to the Ranger Base. Either of the two Pikachu clones will become your partner Pokémon who will accompany you throughout the whole game. After a few missions Professor Hastings arrives at the base and wants to discuss something utterly secret so you have to go upstairs like the little kid you are who totally won’t be the hero of the story. This involves a super-secret Stylus that will be able to capture any Pokémon, even legendaries. This Stylus gets stolen when escorting the Professor back to his lab by the evil Go-Rock Squad. Now it’s your job to get it back and stop the evil team from.. doing whatever they want!
I must say that the start of Pokémon Ranger is.. rather slow. You’re basically on the hunt for the Go-Rock Squad the whole time and that’s it. And worst of all, it is not even known what their objective is. The easiest answer would be money but that’s not actually the case, and it keeps being a mystery for almost the whole game. Only until halfway in the game does the story pick up, and that is disappointing even for a Pokémon game. The team originally came off as an even worse Team Rocket, and only till we met the actual boss did I understand them more I suppose. It’s still not a good team mind you, but it’s something.
The region of Fiore is pretty small for Pokémon standards, with only four towns and cities. There are enough NPCs in every town but they’re literally just there for conversation and nothing else, so don’t expect them to randomly give you an item. You can later explore the areas more vividly the more the game allows you to do.. basically anything, so that’s cool. The story is basically one linear path to the end, as the true exploring starts with the post-game. You can quicktravel between cities after hitting a certain rank, but if you want to go for completion it’s better to wait till after the story for reasons I’ll explain later. There are diversities to take part in like the capture challenges, but aside from that it’s just story.
Unlike mainline Pokémon games where you capture and train Pokémon, in this game you.. draw circles around them? It sounds silly, so let me clarify. Pokémon do not have a direct owner as they live in harmony with humans. Therefore, you only capture them temporarily so that they can assist you in your Ranger tasks. These can be simple tasks like dousing a fire with a Water Pokémon, or shake a tree by having a Pokémon that’s able to tackle. Every Pokémon has a type and field move, which are both separate from each other. The types are used to assist you in battle, while the field moves assist you outside of battle by clearing objects. After taking advantage of their specialties, they are released in the wild again, able to be captured again later if you so desire. There are no random encounters and instead they walk around everywhere. They disappear after capturing them, but they respawn after you let them free.
When running into an enemy, battle between your B
eyblade Stylus and the Pokémon starts. Everything takes place on the bottom screen, where the enemy Pokémon is running around waiting to be captured. You do this by drawing circles around them a certain amount of times consecutively, shown when you first draw a circle around them. But the moment the line breaks you have to start all over again. The line breaks when the Pokémon touches the line, or when they actively attack the line. The latter does damage to your stylus so watch out for when it happens. If it’s too difficult to capture the Pokémon, you can of course flee like a coward by drawing one circle around it and then flee, but you can also use already captured Pokémon to give several benefits to your stylus. You can for example trap them in a spider web or put them in a bubble, and these benefits are especially effective when the opponent is weak to the type.
Overall the gameplay certainly works, though having to start all over again when failing kinda sucks. Not even mentioning that this form of gameplay isn’t necessarily pleasant from the touch screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a secret complot by Nintendo to sell more Nintendo DS copies to be honest, because I always play it on my old handheld for a reason. After finishing the game I didn’t see any scratches, but it did feel different from before. But what might just be the worst problem of this gameplay mechanic is when there are multiple enemies on the screen. Every Pokémon has different strategies of attacking, and if they just walk into your line you have to start over again. Not only do you have to take into account multiple Pokémon, but also their different timing in attacks. And capturing just one Pokémon before moving on to the others is not always the easier option either. It’s what makes Pokémon that are independently not too difficult to capture a big annoyance.
Your partner Pokémon has the same benefit as captured Pokémon, but follows a gauge underneath the stylus’ energy. If the gauge is full, you can use it at any time to stun all the enemies on the screen when hit by the electrical attacks. Over time you get more gauges which brings me nicely into the next segment, the stylus itself. For every capture you do, you gain experience. This experience can be increased by drawing more circles around the Pokémon than initially necessary, or capturing multiple Pokémon at the same time with one circle. A high-risk, high-reward system as to say. Gaining more levels will increase the health points the stylus has, as well as the length of the line you’re able to draw. The other way the stylus will improve is through Ranger Ranks. Every rank will allow you to use the benefits of other Pokémon types, carry more Pokémon with you at the same time and get more gauges for your partner Pokémon. The latter two sounds like a neat bonus for playing the game well, but the problem is that you get a new rank handed out after almost every main mission, so what even is the point to begin with? I guess it’s there to make you feel like you’re doing your Ranger job well, but don’t give it after literally every main mission in that case.
The other necessity capturing Pokémon has is to clear obstacles that are in your way, not unlike HMs in the regular Pokémon games. This is the main task of a Ranger: helping people out in need, or making the lives easier for them. There could be a log in the way for example, and instead of humans themselves clearing up the log they rely on Pokémon. Depending on how strong the obstacle is, you’ll need a Pokémon with higher power. You can click on an object to see what typing you need as well as the level required. There are three levels that you’ll have to keep in mind, and after you have captured a Pokémon it will show in the Browser (equivalent to the Pokédex) what power level they have.
I did mention earlier that completing the game is better to do after the story ends and I stand by that point. The post-game of Pokémon Ranger legit gave me more fun than I had in the main game. Before you finish the game, captured Pokémon could not stay with you when leaving an area, but that finally changes after beating the game. Every area can be re-visited and now you can take your Pokémon with you, discovering alternate paths and finding new Pokémon to finish up the browser which is obviously a requirement for completion. Not only that, but there’s an optional story after the credits which involves some legendary Pokémon, and also special missions involving even more legendaries. Let me clarify that I do not think that the main game is bad; I just think the post-game is much better. It’s not a long game to beat and complete either, as beating the game takes around 8 hours with completion about double of that. These were my times however, so times may vary for you.
The presentation for the game is pretty good. The graphics look well enough for an early Nintendo DS game, but most important to me is that every Pokémon have their own sprites, movements and attacks. And this is not just in battle, but also on the overworld. It might sound not all that impressive, but this comes from the time the Pokémon main-line games were just sprites that occasionally moved with animations shared across all Pokémon. And did you also know this game has an excellent soundtrack? No kidding, I absolutely love this soundtrack even though I forgot most about it until I returned. From the first town theme which is calming and relaxing to the battles which gets you more and more pumped up, this is a soundtrack I could list to at any time.
Pokémon Ranger has interesting gameplay going for it that I’m still not 100% sure what to think of. It’s not the most pleasant game to play on the Nintendo DS because it’s actually damaging, however slight it might be. Regular captures are fun and involve strategy, but when more Pokémon are on the screen it becomes more frustrating than not. The story progression is handled pretty poorly, but the post-game more than makes up for it. It also has a surprisingly good presentation with good animations and a killer soundtrack. My recommendation for Pokémon Ranger would be to play it and, if you enjoy the game, beat or even complete it. But if you don’t enjoy the game because of the gameplay, you might as well drop it. And with that, here is my final verdict for Pokémon Ranger:
Pokémon Ranger is able to be played on both the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii U. While I’m sure it works perfectly fine on the Wii U, I personally prefer playing it on the console it was made for. You can’t go wrong either way however. It isn’t very expensive on DS either, usually ranging from 15 to 30 bucks depending on where you get it.