Friday, September 20, 2013


Pokemon Rumble U

I'm of two minds about Disney Infinity.

On the one hand, it's an awesome idea.  If, when I was a kid, someone had told me that there was a video game where I could play as my favorite toy by putting it on this little magic disc, I would have been on board.  That is so unbelievably cool.  Add that to a game where all of the Disney and Pixar worlds combine and mix and interact, and you've got an event.  And let's be clear, I'm a big enough manchild that my teeth grind with jealousy just looking at this thing.

On the other hand, IT'S ALL ON THE FUCKING DISC.


It would be one thing if this was an expandable game.  Sure, why not, you buy a disc which is sort of a basic set, then down the line they develop new levels and characters and objects and everything, and you buy them in expansion packs.


They want you to purchase all of these fucking little toys in order to access data that is already there.  There's no function that these toys serve that is necessary to the operation of this software.  They're just a little thing you scan to prove that, yep, you paid the $13 for the Mater figure.

Maybe I'm approaching this from the wrong direction.  I've had it pointed out to me that this is basically something for people who collect the figures.  And I guess I can understand that point of view.  If you already covet little collectible character figures, then it's super cool to be able to do something with them besides line them up in a little display case or whatever.  I think the correct way to approach this is not like a video gamer, who wants to unlock everything, but like a child playing with toys.  I, at least, never really got the complete playsets that you'd see in TV commercials -- I'd get the couple of toys that really mattered to me, then I'd go to my friends' houses and we'd all play with our toys together.

The problem is I don't want the toys.  I don't want physical things that I have to store somewhere.  I'm not a collector.  Anymore.  As much.  Ahem.

I can't help comparing this to something like Super Smash Brothers.  I remember when the second game came out, it occurred to me that the appeal of the game really reminded me of when I was a kid and we'd all get together to smash action figures around and stuff.  Having a Super Smash Brothers game makes you feel like you're a kid who won the lottery and cleared off the shelves at the toy store.  You have all the figures and all the accessories and all the cool castle playsets and everything.  It makes you feel filthy with sheer acquisition.

Disney Infinity seems more like it was designed to remind me of what it was really like as a kid, to see all of these amazing toys and things on TV and store shelves, but to know that it wasn't for you.  You can look, but you can't touch.  That costs money.  They've taken this medium where you can create toys from thought and then they created scarcity.

Anyway.  Pokemon Rumble U.

The Pokemon Rumble U Review Starts Here

Pokemon Rumble U seems to take the polar opposite approach to the NFC figure idea.  Start with the fact that the toys are completely optional.  You pay the $18 to download the game, you can play the complete game.  Well THANK YOU.  It's almost like it's 1985 again and I'm buying a video game.

The basic gameplay involves collecting Pokemon toys and using them to battle other Pokemon toys in these little arenas.  A toy has two kinds of attack and stats and everything, but there's no "leveling up" -- you'll need to find more powerful toys as you go in order to beat the more difficult levels that you'll come across.  Which is fair enough, because you'll be collecting hundreds of the things without even really realizing it.

But if you bring an NFC figure to the fight, it's a little different.  You can spend points that you earn playing the game to customize your figure -- give it different attacks, raise its power level, and give it an attribute that gives a bonus to it and its friends.  The changes you make are saved to the figure itself, and you can then scan that figure into any Pokemon Rumble U game.

This is awesome.  When you scan your figure into the game, you're not just proving that you've paid extra for a premium character -- you're adding the character that you made.  You determined its attributes and you put in the time to power it up, and now it's yours.  My Torchic is one of a kind in all the world.  I've made it what it is.  That's a really powerful idea.  And while there are other ways that you could save and transport that kind of character data, there's something really awesome about putting it in a piece of plastic that's shaped like the character.  It's like I've brought the character I made into the physical world and I can carry it around and bring it places.  It's pretty appropriate for the Pokemon series.

And I love how well the NFC figures are suited to the theme of the game.  It's about little Pokemon figures that come in toy capsules -- you know, the kind that you'd get in those vending machines at the grocery store.  So the toys that you use to play the game come in toy capsules shaped like Pokeballs.  And, just like vending machine capsules, they're a blind purchase -- you don't know what you'll get until you open one up.  And if they cost 16 times as much as a vending machine toy, they're also larger, sturdier, and less likely to get thrown out.

The whole scheme is really so interesting to me that I'm almost willing to overlook the fact that the game itself isn't all that great.

You just run around in this tiny hexagon.  Enemy toys spawn, and you mash an attack button at them.  If there's any strategy, I haven't been able to fathom it.  It's repetitive and chaotic and sometimes slightly frustrating, because suddenly I'll be knocked out and I won't understand where the attack came from or what I was supposed to do about it.

Also, for some reason, the NFC figures are only sold at Gamestop?  I don't know if Gamestop cut a deal for exclusivity or if they were just the only retailers who had any confidence in selling Wii U accessories, but it's kind of lame.  I don't... I don't want to enter a Gamestop.  They are terrible places.

I doubt that this idea is going to go any further.  I mean, this is Nintendo we're talking about.  Even when they have an awesome idea that sells a billion copies, they only ever do one or two things with it, and then they drop it.  So maybe this is the one time we'll see the idea of using NFC figures as character data totems.  I wish that maybe it was attached to a more interesting game, but at least when we look back, we can say that one NFC game had the right idea.

(Note: I didn't bring Skylanders into this discussion because I don't know how it works and I don't really have much interest in it.  Maybe it lets you level up your characters the same way Rumble U does?  I'd hope so, that'd be cool.  I'd like to think that idea is the rule rather than the exception.)


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