The latest anime sensation is brought to life in a really solid package.
One of the biggest challenges a game developer can face is turning a real life game (board game, sport, card game, etc.) into a video game, and making sure it stays true to the original rules and appeals to both fans and newcomers, especially when it is a game as complex as Bakugan. It is the newest in a long line of monster-battle games inspired by the likes of Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh. Activision set out to capture the essence of the franchise, and they have done a good job despite a few issues.
Bakugan Battle Brawlers is a game that at first is very complex and intimidating, but once you understand the ropes it becomes very easy to grasp all of its technicalities. The objective of the game is to win three gate cards. When the battle starts, all players set a gate card on the field. Players must then throw their Bakugan (creatures that take the form of capsules) and try to land them on the card, launching them into stand mode. When another Bakugan lands on the same card, a battle ensues. Depending on what gate card the players set on the field, the Bakugan will receive point enhancements. The Bakugan with the highest point value wins the battle.
Like in many good monster-battle games, there are many other elements to be aware of. If your opponent fails to land on the gate card, and you throw another Bakugan onto the same card, you create a "double stand," automatically making you the winner (in some cases you can choose to move the Bakugan). Gates cards also play an important role during gameplay. When a Bakugan lands on a specific card it will receive a special boost. It is important to know what card to use on the battle arena. Before you can engage in battle, you are given the opportunity to power up your creature even more by using ability cards. Up to three cards can be used at a time, so it pays to arrange to deck before participating in a match and carefully using them.
The video game version of Bakugan allows players to take control of the Bakugan ball when it is thrown. When you select a Bakugan, you perform a throwing motion with the Wii Remote, then while it's in the air, you can press the A button. When you do, you can guide the ball through the arena by tilting the Wii Remote left and right. A flick of the Wii Remote makes the Bakugan jump, and pressing down on the D-Pad makes the Bakugan slow down, or land if airborne.
The battles take place in the form of mini-games. Depending on which gate card you land on, the battle will be one of three mini-games. In the timing mini-game, you press the A and B buttons or shake the Wii Remote to hit the scrolling notes; in the shaking one, you shake the Wii Remote vigorously, and in the shooting mini-game you point at the screen and shoot at your Bakugan's attribute icon. Successful completion of these mini-games generally means victory in the battle. A battle can be easily won by enhancing your Bakugan creature and being successful in the battle mini-games, but your opponent can mess you up during them. They can freeze time, halt the power counter, and many other things that will prevent you from winning the game.
If using gate cards wasn't enough, players can also activate ability cards that can affect the players during their turns, such as messing the screen so it makes it harder to view the field and affecting the flight of the Bakugan ball. These ability cards can also create status effects on the field. One example of this is creating a force field that damages any Bakugan that crosses it.
Battle arenas also play a big role in matches. The standard arena has no frills, but other arenas are based on the various Bakugan elements, and have obstacles that try to block the player from successfully landing a Bakugan stand. These arenas are also littered with power-ups and cards that can be used to strengthen your Bakugan before it even lands on the gate card. This, however, takes a lot of time and patience to fully navigate your Bakugan and getting as many power-ups as possible.
Bakugan Battle Brawlers gives players the opportunity of playing one-on-one, participate in tag-team battles, and partake in free-for-all matches with up-to-three other players. The game also offers many additional modes. In the Story mode, you'll learn more about the Bakugan mythology and its characters when you successfully complete matches in various tournaments. In between matches, you can go to the store and buy new Bakugan, upgrade the ones you already own, and buy even more cards. In the park, you can battle opponents you have already beaten and complete achievements.
The title is surprising with its robust package and presentation. Despite its licensed game moniker, developer Now Production did a great job of representing both the game and the anime series in a most impressive manner. There are a lot of things to do, especially if you are a fan of the franchise. The series' expansive collection of cards and Bakugan will make sure fans keep playing the game for a long time. The ability to create decks and upgrade their team can be very addicting. The Story mode is also moderate in length, with many battles and opponents. Even if the story feels superfluous, those that are into the characters and creatures will appreciate its presentation, and fans will enjoy that it is well acted with full voice acting and animated cut-scenes instead of just slides retelling the Bakugan storyline.
However, despite its tremendous qualities, there are some warts that slightly hinder what is an otherwise solid game. While the battle mini-games are a fun and clever way of recreating the franchise's epic battles, they get tiring after a while. The shaking mini-game, in particular, is absurd, thanks to the repetitive motion. There is also an issue with difficulty balance. As previously stated, there are many ways to strengthen your Bakugan so it can dominate in battle. The problem is that they can be too powerful because of ability boosts. It gets to the point where battles can be easily won if you just use the ability cards and win the battle mini-games. However, expert players will be able to create decks and strategies that prevent this from happening. Also, in the harder levels the AI has the tendency of overusing ability cards and status effects, especially early in the game. It makes the battle very cheap and annoying when it happens.
The visual presentation is one of Bakugan's best assets. The title features a colorful cel-shaded look that mimics the visual style of the anime very well. The creatures themselves also look stunning in their design and detail. The only issue with the graphics is that the arenas, while rich in their detail and design, are riddled with low resolution textures.
Overall, Bakugan Battle Brawlers proves that you can make an engaging licensed game with a great presentation and solid gameplay. Fans of Bakugan will surely get the most out of this thanks to gameplay that follows the rules of the original game closely while adding some interactive elements that make it fun. Newcomers are also likely to enjoy it even if they have never heard of Bakugan before. It does a great job of setting new players in, and turning them into Bakugan champions in just a couple of sessions. The mini-games could have been more relevant, and there are some cheap exploits, but these are small problems that don't ruin an otherwise great game.