The gaming landscape of today is significantly different from what we saw even ten years ago. Back in 2006 people were still flipping out over The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion offering a $2.50 Horse Armor DLC option. Dozens of critical opinion pieces were posted about how this would ruin the industry. Hundreds of angry gamers proclaimed they wouldn’t be buying Oblivion because of this greedy, money-grubbing practice. The time had finally come: everyone would stand up and push back against the corporate greed that was ruining our beloved hobby!
Of course, this is 2016, so we all know what happened: gamers, as gamers always do, went out and spent money on the game that they swore they’d never buy; the industry learned that nickel-and-diming people was a completely fine way to do business and could make developers and publishers very rich indeed; everybody got fancy mobile phones and someone figured out that it would be easy to nickel-and-dime them as well; and now, depending on who you ask, the industry is either a steaming crater of its former self or more inclusive and welcoming than it’s ever been.
I mention all this because we’re about to check out Pokémon Rumble World, one of Nintendo’s first forays into the “freemium” business model that dominates mobile gaming, which is now available in a convenient physical format that makes some odd decisions when it comes to the game’s monetization.
Chances are you’ve played some iteration of Pokemon Rumble before. If you haven’t, imagine a Zelda or Diablo-style action-RPG boiled down to its constituent elements, then slap the Pokémon license on it. It can’t be overestimated how much streamlining is done to the action-RPG formula in these games; your most significant strategic decisions will boil down to using the Toy Pokémon with the highest attack value and, if you’re feeling saucy, matching them up against the right foes using the traditional Pokémon rock-paper-scissors type chart. There’s a pretty wide array of moves available, but the lion’s share of them are identical close-range smacks that vary only in elemental type. Your Pokémon also don’t level up or evolve, so you’ll improve your stable of toys by finding better ones, even if that means replacing a Pokémom with an identical copy that has slightly higher power.
You’ll run around with your stable of Toy Pokémon beating up anything that stands in your way, earning a new Pokémon every so often for your troubles. Continual play leads to more powerful Pokémon, allowing you to keep playing, which will allow you to keep finding more powerful Pokémon…and so on and so forth. There’s essentially no plot or guiding force other than the push to find more powerful Pokémon and complete your collection. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and for many players it could be more than enough to keep them going, but don’t go into this one expecting a deep and involving RPG experience.
As mentioned, Rumble World is interesting from an industry standpoint because it was originally released as a free-to-play title supported by microtransactions. We’re talking about the physical release here, and the primary way in which that differs from the digital release is in the way it addresses those microtransactions. You’re paying an up-front cost, so you’d expect anything having to do with the freemium business model would be removed, right? Well, sort of.
Removing all the microtransaction stuff would leave a pretty giant hole in the game, y’see. It would be like taking the random draw element out of a mobile game or the pompousness out of a walking simulator. You might be able to stitch that up, but it would consume valuable time and development resources. Instead, Pokémon Rumble World chooses a slightly unorthodox route: it gives you a massive chunk of freemium currency right off the bat, appropriately around $30 worth. Any option that was locked behind freemium currency still is, but the “prices” are low enough that this should keep you going for the foreseeable future. The game also doles out even more currency on a regular basis, so it’s hard to imagine ever running out.
While this works on a technical level, it does leave Rumble World feeling a little strange, like it desperately wants to sell you more currency but just can’t. It’s like a sad puppy, really. Sorry, Rumble World, I wish I could toss you five bucks. The game even retains the time-gating aspect from the free-to-play version where the hot air balloons you use to travel to stages need to be re-inflated over time. Normally you’d have to wait or pay some freemium currency, but Rumble World cuts the cost down to something like a penny per balloon, so you’ll never need to worry about waiting.
Rumble World’s presentation is typical for this series; everything is super-adorable and simplified. No fancy attack animations or incredibly detailed Pokémon here, things are kept simple in order to maximize the number of enemies that can be on screen at once. Playing the game is simple as well, since you’ll rarely need to do anything but mash one button to hack and slash your way to victory; in fact, in Rumble World the default is auto-attacking when you walk into enemies, so you might not even need to do that!
All in all, Pokémon Rumble World isn’t the new RPG epic we all like to see from this franchise; for that, we’re going to have to wait for Pokémon Sun and Moon later this year. It is a decent enough hack and slasher, though, and with this physical version you don’t have to worry about loading up on freemium currency. If you’re looking for a good time-waster for short commutes or whatever, you could do a lot worse than Rumble World.