My, how time changes your perspective on life. Back in grade school, Digimon Rumble Arena held a special place in my heart. It still does today; using tons of my favorite Digimon from seasons 1, 2, and 3 in all-out battle gave me a rush the turn-based work of Pokemon never delivered. But with age comes wisdom, skepticism, and realism. I’ll admit that my hopes for amazement with Digimon All-Star Rumble were mixed with preparation for the worst. And though All-Star Rumble isn’t “the worst,” it shows the franchise’s age, and not in graceful ways.
The essentials are the same from the original Rumble Arena: choose a Digimon, fight with it to gain energy, then digivolve into an ultimate form and unleash massive power. Considering the breadth of the Digimon universe, the inclusion of only 12 fighters instantly disappointed me. Practically any fighting game released in the modern era offers more than 12 fighters, and in this instance it means many fan favorites were cut from the roster. You can change a monster’s digivolved form after unlocking their Super mode, but this just makes the game incredibly unbalanced when fighting opponents who don’t have Super digivolutions. Roster issues especially hurt when compared to the game’s closest analogue, Super Smash Bros. and its constantly growing selection of usable fighters.
Unlike predecessors, All-Star Rumble goes for a full 3D battle experience, letting players roam around small stages featuring limited numbers of traps and obstacles. Many of the stages feel bland, ranging from a subway station with passing train cars to a generic cement platform with spike traps. Often times the excitement of stage-specific action enhances the gameplay in these kinds of battlers, but each stage feels like every other. Some levels with traps seem like they could be fun when playing with other humans, but the poor AI makes everything feel weak and antiquated.
For a game running on the Xbox 360/PS3, the AI feels like it was imported wholesale from the PS1 title. Character movements are predictable, particularly if you’ve digivolved and they haven’t (they’ll simply run away, often sticking themselves in a corner) Paradoxically, for a party-style battler, there are no campaign multiplayer battles, but even adding extra computer fighters to the mix doesn’t enhance the excitement. Combat itself feels stiff, rusty, and though each Digimon has its own attack combos, none of them require much precision. This may be because the game is designed for a younger audience, but again, when compared to the simple-to-play, difficult-to-master formula in Smash Bros., this game feels very flat.
All-Star Rumble contains some good ideas, but doesn’t generally manage to capitalize on them. Story-wise, the Digital World has been at peace for years, so long in fact that most Digimon have forgotten how to digivolve outright. Thus they decide to hold a tournament which holds a super-secret purpose…don’t look for any breathtaking story in the campaign; you’d be forgiven for passing on reading the dialog between fights. Before the main fight, each stage involves fighting through some generic baddies while collecting coins and digi-cards, special traits that activate based on battle conditions. There are over 200 cards to collect in the game; some restore health, while others penalize opponents and whatnot. If or when a card activates can be pretty random though, making it difficult to feel a drive to collect them or customize your loadouts for battle. Of course, maybe there’d be incentive to customize if any of the fights were challenging, but then the poor AI rears its head again…
The biggest problem with Digimon All-Star Rumble is that it’s hard to get excited about much of anything when playing the game. With a limited roster, poor AI, bland stages, and seemingly random digi-cards, there’s not much incentive to convince friends to play with you. I’ll admit, it’s possible that when played with multiple other human beings it might offer a little bit of fun, but I’ve gotta recommend that you all take your next virtual adventure elsewhere.