Score: 7.5 – Nintendo Wii – $49.99
Bakugan. Two years ago, much like name like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and various other soon to be Japanese trends, the word “Bakugan” would have meant nothing to the average person, and especially not to any children or parents. Now, it is an obsession selling DVDs and tiny shape changing balls that play a game that could be described as a combination of Magic: The Gathering, the Transformers and marbles. Activision has taken this license that has become popular enough to earn itself a spot as this month’s McDonald’s Happy Meal toy and brought it in to the video game world.
As mentioned above, the Bakugan game plays much like a combination of a collectible card game and marbles. Players place cards on the field that contain magnets in them. They then take turns rolling their Bakugan, trying to land on a card. Players try to steer their ball towards the appropriate card while their opponent takes pop shots to divert the ball in the opposite direction in a shooting gallery style minigame.
When they do, the small Bakugan ball will pop open, revealing the monster inside. When two monsters land on the same card, their stats are compared and extra cards are played to enhance the power of the monster. The Bakugan with the highest total wins. This formula ends up translating really well in to the video game format.
Using the Wiimote, players literally pick up and throw their Bakugan towards the cards. Added to the game is the ability to steer their Bakugan to a specific point or to avoid various traps in the arenas. Once a battle begins, players will play various games to further strengthen their Bakugan. These games include a shooting gallery where players must shoot a symbol respective to the type of Bakugan they control or a vigorous shaking of the Wiimote in a tug of war against their opponent.
The shooting gallery can be challenging at times with the Wiimote as it can sometimes be inexact with its aim, a fault of the Wii and not the game mind you. The shaking tug of war, as simple as it is, ends up being very fun and will ultimately lead to a generation of children with overly muscular forearms due to its addictive nature.
The battle formats are simple. If two opposing Bakugan are on the same card, they battle. The one who has the highest G-Power after all bonuses and minigames have been applied is the winner and takes the card. If two Bakugan of the same player end up on the card, they capture it as well. The first to 3 cards is the winner. The game also features various multiplayer matches including a 2 on 2 tag team battle and a four player free for all as well.
Going through the game, players have the option of going through a story mode to build their Deck up, including purchasing new Bakugan, upgrading current Bakugan or purchasing cards. They can also choose preconstructed decks and use those in free play battle modes.
The story of the game feels like it has been ripped directly from the cartoon. This incidentally is a very good thing as writers of the animated series also put together the plot of this game where the player takes on the role of a rookie Bakugan Battle Brawler as he encounters all of the main characters of the series.
This allows young players to fulfill their dreams of actually meeting and teaming up with Dan as he makes his way through the Bakugan world, competing in tournaments or just against various foes he battles in the local park.
As expected, the game acts somewhat as a marketing tool for the Bakugan spheres that now populate toy and hobby stores. With the ability to see their Bakugan come to life, players will be clamoring to add those same Bakugan to their real life collections. During story mode, players even get to take their character to a store dedicated to selling Bakugan and their cards. The younger players of the game will be clamoring to make their way to stores to do the same when they see the easy of improving their collection on the Wii.
Graphics and Sound:
Bakugan: Battle Brawlers’ graphics are pretty impressive for the Wii. They are not mind-blowing Avatar level 3D but they do give a great feel as an expanded and improved version of the cartoon. The game takes a cell shaded approach that adds a level of detail that isn’t seen in the show. The animations are fluid and give a huge scale look to monsters that appear out of small marbles.
The only downside of the animations is how repetitive they quickly become. As some Bakugan appear in more than one of the colors, it is possible to have back to back battles against the same Bakugan. Their attacks and defeat animations are independent of each other and begin to lose their visual flair after just a few viewings.
The game’s sound design is very basic. Each attack has an indistinct sound associated with it and the ambient background music of the story mode is shortly interrupted by a faster paced battle theme. The highlight of Bakugan: Battle Brawler’s sound comes from the voice acting as the actual voice cast of the cartoon lends their voices again to their respective characters in the game. Back to the point of acting as a marketing expansion to the series, younger players will instantly recognize the characters both visual and vocally as the ones they have fallen in love with during the show.
So who is the right audience for this game? First and foremost, it is directed at the male age 4 to 10 demographic that has had their parents ransacking Toys R Us and various other retailers for the packs of Bakugan marbles over the past year. Kids who have been eating up everything from backpacks to baseball hats featuring the popular franchise will most certainly have this game on their Christmas list this year. And for those players, this game will not be a disappointment.
With constant nods to the animated series and rules that hold true to the actual table top game, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers is a faithful adaptation to the franchise. The added waggle games don’t do much for the game but they do change up the gameplay pace with each battle. Adding the ability to influence your Bakugan’s roll becomes a fun challenge to try and get the perfect roll.
But this game may hit the fringe of the hardcore demographic as well in small ways. Not to say every Halo or Call of Duty player will pick this up, but we are all geeks for a reason. We were the ones who bought Magic cards and were waiting in line years ago when Pokemon hit store shelves. For the hardcore crowd, this might be the perfect gift to give a little brother or cousin as it is a game that won’t be a bother to play along with them.
Easy to pick up and have a short fun experience, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers proves that just because it is a licensed property doesn’t mean it has to be a bad game. Instead, it shows how the little geek in all of us is still ready to come out and play.