With an overpowered team attack that seems to be the obvious solution to every battle, Bakugan's return to video games doesn't make a good first impression.
I didn’t know anything about Bakugan before getting my hands on the retail version of Champions of Vestroia, and now that I’ve had the chance to play the game’s prologue I still kind of don’t. The first Bakugan video game in nearly a decade makes absolutely no effort to introduce newcomers to the series with its complete lack of exposition. I’m sure there are some hardcore Bakugan fans out there that will not have this problem, but for the rest of you who saw this game as part of a Nintendo showcase and were curious about it, stick around because it only gets worse from here. I may have completely missed Bakugan when I was a kid, but Champions of Vestroia still made me feel nostalgic. It made me nostalgic for the licensed shovelware games based on beloved franchises that I played in my youth.
I won’t bother talking about the story too much because in addition to the lack of exposition, the game’s presentation is just kind of bad. To call the game’s opening sequence a ‘cutscene’ would be generous, and everything after that is some of the thinnest excuses to get you from Point A to Point B that I’ve ever seen. The first story quest is about traveling around a park to recover the torn pieces of a poster advertising the upcoming Bakugan tournament; a tedious mission due to the game’s total lack of overworld UI that forces you to frequently bring up the in-game map. After you’ve gotten that together you’ll fight a bully that’s blocking a shipment of ability cards from arriving at the local Bakugan shop and then finally enter the tournament yourself. That covers the entire story in the first two hours I was able to play for this preview, and while the very end of the preview hinted at something resembling a plot, unfortunately Champions of Vestroia has even bigger issues with its gameplay.
The actual Bakugan battles will take up the majority of your time in this game. You’ll go into battle with a team of three Bakugan, each equipped with four abilities and an elemental type. Each ability requires energy to be used, which is acquired by running around the battlefield and picking up glowing tiles called “BakuCores”. BakuCores appear randomly, and sometimes they’ll be obscured by the UI elements on screen, which effectively eliminate your peripheral vision. Off-screen BakuCores are indicated by an icon, but even these can be blocked by the UI, meaning the AI opponent that instantly knows where they are is always at an advantage—even though they'll occasionally handicap themselves by freezing in place while you’re collecting a BakuCore. Running around playing whack-a-mole may not have been so bad if there was a solid amount of strategic thinking to go into which abilities to use and when, but none of that matters. Abilities go totally out the window once the Team Attack is introduced.
The Team Attack can be used once you have a full squad of three Bakugan, which was about an hour into the game for me. To use a Team Attack, you must fully charge the energy of all three Bakugan, swapping between them to distribute the BakuCores among them. The reward is a massive burst of damage that results in a guaranteed one-hit-KO against any opposing Bakugan—or at least any Bakugan I encountered in the two hours I was able to play for this preview. Additionally there’s no limit to how many times you can use the Team Attack; as long as all three of your Bakugan are alive, you’re able to use it to completely sweep the battle.
The trade-off is that you must spend energy to use your abilities, meaning you’ll only ever be able to use a Team Attack effectively by laser focusing on grabbing BakuCores and doing nothing else. It is a worthwhile trade-off though, because I was able to steamroll through every single fight up to the end of the tournament with this strategy. The only time it didn’t win the match outright was when an opponent’s entire Bakugan team had an elemental advantage against one of my own, and even then by the time he’d defeated one of my own Bakugan he only had one left, giving me a strong 2v1 advantage. The Team Attack is so powerful that I can’t imagine using anything else. This came with one big downside though: running around the field collecting BakuCores was now the only meaningful gameplay in battle, and I’ve already explained why that isn’t a good thing.
I should reiterate that I was only able to play the first couple of hours of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia for this preview. It’s possible that from here on the battles get more complex and the Team Attack becomes a less viable strategy. It’s possible that the story gets interesting and quests get more engaging. Unfortunately I can only judge it based on what I’ve played, and what I’ve played is awful. You can look forward to hearing more about the game in my full review. For now, if you find yourself getting hyped up for a new Bakugan adventure, I’d strongly recommend you wait until we find out if things get any better from here.