Bakugan: Battle Brawlers Review
To be brutally honest, I have never understood the fascination that comes with “battling” with playing cards, nor do I have any intention of determining the root cause of said fascination. Therefore, I went into my review of Bakugan Battle Brawlers fully expecting to remain indifferent and utterly confused as to why some youngsters regard this as the be-all and end-all of entertainment. But while I certainly won’t be running out and buying a pack of such cards any time soon, I can now appreciate – to some extent – the lure involved with such a game. It’s not just about strategy but there’s also something very psychological to the whole thing; namely, the “possession factor.” You own the monsters on the battlefield and can take them home in your pocket when the combat has ended, so of course this would appeal to younger individuals. At the same time, Bakugan isn’t without its fair share of flaws and I can only recommend it to hearty fans of the genre.
The visuals consist of your standard anime presentation, with those big-eyed, big-appendaged characters that have dominated cartoons for the past decade and a half. There’s a great deal of color and I didn’t necessarily despise the character design; I usually detest this artistic type, but it’s not too bad in Bakugan. The cut-scenes are likely to resonate with those who enjoy these types of graphics, but the gameplay visuals are definitely lacking. I kept thinking that each Bakugan could’ve featured more detail and overall, a lot more flash and panache. After all, these creatures are the only things in the entire game that boast anything even remotely interesting in terms of graphical appeal. The rest is just a game board and some brief special effects that can only be described as generic. All in all, though, it’s a relatively solid effort that works, if only because we’re more focused on the card game at hand, rather than analyzing the backdrops.
The sound slips further back due to voice acting that hovers around mediocre (occasionally dipping to terrible) and sound effects that aren’t well balanced with the musical tracks. I’m used to the barely average voiceovers that seem to be standard in these anime-based games (maybe the campiness is part of the theme, I don’t know), but it always bugs me when the effects are literally jammed into my ears. The powers that be have to make everything targeted towards kids as loud and obnoxious as humanly possible, and that fact is clearly represented in Bakugan. I kept having to adjust the volume because there was always unnecessary insanity going on during gameplay; do we really need these ridiculous electronic “whooshing” sounds when someone throws a freakin’ playing card into the ring? It’s just overdone and annoying. Thankfully, the voice acting isn’t all bad – some of it’s even better than average – and the soundtrack, although it’s always drowned out, is also fitting.
It’s not like the game is lacking in content: there are a total of 35 Bakugans to toy around with, plus over 200 playable cards, 19 different human characters, 24 different levels and a grand total of 250 unlockables. In other words, the fans will have plenty to do, and it’s a nice touch to have varying forms of card combat; the Tag Team and Battle Royale options really opened up the strategy and added a lot to the overall depth. The story is basically pointless and about as lame as you can get, but what do you expect? That’s hardly the focus and you’ll find yourself wanting to skip story sequences in order to enter the battlefields faster. Obviously, this is where the game shines; the game of “Bakugan” has you considering many different factors, utilizing fast reflexes, and ultimately overcoming your opponent’s cards in order to win. Victory relies on obtaining three Gate Cards, and usually, these are received when your Bakugan takes down the opponent’s Bakugan.
But there’s more beneath the surface. The first step is to choose a card to begin play, and this will have an impact on your Bakugan’s performance once battle has begun. Some cards offer attributes based on element and some are even specifically for use with one particular Bakugan, and the same goes for the Ability Cards you can use before an encounter begins. As an example, one of the most powerful cards you’ll see early on is the one that ups Leonidas’ power by 200. Two Bakugans square off when on the same Gate Card, but you have to get your Bakugan there first: this requires you to toss out the creature in its ball form, and roll it onto the card. You aim, then use a power meter and the motion sensing in your controller to roll the Bakugan onto the card; if you can’t get it there, it leaves a wide opening for your opponent. Why? Because if you miss, all he has to do is toss another one of his Bakugans onto the card, and it’s his. No battle needed.
This process is a little frustrating and almost superfluous; it seems to take away from the strategy involved. Another problem – the biggest one that affects the entire gameplay – is that if you’re skilled enough with the mini-games, strategy doesn’t play as much of a role. When your Bakugans enter battle, you participate in a quick mini-game to decide the match; this can involve shaking the controller as fast as you can, rhythmically hitting your elemental sign as they cross the screen (similar to music-based titles), or using the left analog to aim and shoot at that same elemental symbol. See, you choose an element at the start (Fire, Earth, Wind, Water, Light, or Darkness), and this obviously has an effect on how you play. But if you’re really good at those mini-games – and it ain’t tough – even significantly weaker Bakugans on your side can emerge victorious. It sort of cheapens the entire experience, primarily because it doesn’t give you incentive to really be an intricate strategy master.
Furthermore, while the game itself features plenty of variations, there aren’t anywhere near enough mini-games, and really, I think they could’ve come up with a better way of deciding each outcome. The good news is that for all you collecting nuts out there, all that content will be appreciated, and you can visit the store in the game to snag more Bakugan and playing cards with the points you earn from matches. This is where that aforementioned “possession” element comes into play. But for me, it just felt like I was spending too much time doing menial tasks in battle; i.e., a lot of prep work for not much in the way of actual combat. And the balance of those mini-games isn’t right, either; you clearly had the advantage in some while the computer preformed far too admirably in others. Because of this, the difficulty would spike at weird times and it didn’t take long for me to become bored with the gameplay. I did have fun for a little while, though.
Bakugan: Battle Brawlers is clearly geared towards all those card battle fans out there, and probably shouldn’t be purchased by anyone who isn’t a fan. There are just so many unbelievable games out there right now, and to sacrifice any of those experiences for this one…well, like I said, you’d have to be a big fan. And for that demographic, I think Bakugan does deliver in some ways, although I’m willing to bet the purists won’t be too happy about the fact that reflexes and dexterity play too big of a role in the outcomes. In other words, it’s okay, but that’s where my praise ends.
12/8/2009 Ben Dutka