It’s ironic that a game whose villains are motivated by capitalism was clearly made with nothing but a quick paycheck in mind.
For years, licensed video games based on popular franchises had a reputation for a near-universal lack of quality. Shovelware was the norm, and the dregs of Metacritic were filled with the likes of Charlie’s Angels, Superman 64, and a whole slate of Harry Potter video games. These low-effort rush jobs disappeared in the early 2010s as mobile gaming proved to be the better platform for them and budgets for console games grew larger, which makes Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia feel like a retro throwback to the good old days of cheap cash-ins. It feels out of place nowadays when games like Jedi Fallen Order, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and even Square-Enix’s Avengers are mediocre at worst and game of the year contenders at best. I struggle to imagine even the most hardcore Bakugan fans getting any satisfaction out of Champions of Vestroia.
The gameplay is a mess of contradictory systems that effectively boil down to playing whack-a-mole. Everything in battle revolves around a form of energy known as BakuCores. These appear randomly on the field and must be collected by running over them to pick them up and throw them at your Bakugan. The field is incredibly wide, so BakuCores regularly spawn off-screen and your AI opponent will always instantly know where they are as soon as they spawn. Theoretically you’re not entirely at the mercy of RNG since midway through the game you’ll be able to equip Brawler Abilities that are meant to give you an edge in battle. In practice, these Brawler Abilities only serve to make battles more tedious since your opponents also get access to them, and often the best counter to an opponent’s Brawler Ability is that same Brawler Ability. The crowd control abilities that stun and slow down opponents are beyond frustrating when you get hit by them since they can last for as much as 10 full seconds. The magnetic ability that greatly increases your pickup range only serves to make the AI’s prescience even worse.
Once you’ve got those BakuCores, you’re meant to spend your energy on your Bakugan’s abilities, which are pretty similar to the attacks and status-affecting moves you’ll find in a Pokémon game. The animations for these attacks greatly disrupt the action of collecting BakuCores and serve to make the already lengthy fights drag even more than they already did. Thankfully the optimal way to play is to completely ignore the abilities, since Champions of Vestroia negates their viability through the existence of the Team Attack.
The Team Attack is a near-guaranteed one-hit KO against the vast majority of opponents in the game; in my entire time playing, there were only four or five Bakugan that were able to withstand a hit from the Team Attack. It’s activated by maxing out the energy of all three Bakugan on your team and then spending it all at once in a huge burst of damage. Since every ability you can do during battle costs energy, it’s impossible to use the Team Attack unless you’re hyperfocusing on it, completely ignoring any other strategy. And you should be hyperfocusing on it! There’s no restriction on when you can use it, and once I started exclusively focusing on this strategy I never lost another fight for the remainder of my playthrough. I cannot imagine the logic that went into designing the Team Attack, since it invalidates all possible strategies that could come with the different abilities you can collect through the game.
The fights are long, boring, and practically pointless, but they still manage to be the most exciting part of the game given the barebones story and quests. The story is Saturday morning cartoon writing at its worst: a vague evil corporation is stealing energy from the Bakugan planet of Vestroia, and it’s up to a group of children to stop them. Dialogue never tells you anything except exactly what you need to know to continue the story, and sometimes it doesn’t even tell you that much. One main quest had me ask around town to see if anyone had information on the recent earthquakes that were rocking the city, and one of the mandatory NPCs I had to talk to just said “You hear that sound?” That’s it. That’s the entire conversation.
It gets even worse further into the game as the main story devolves into fetch quests that require you to trek all the way back to a previous area just to pick up a single item to deliver back to an NPC. Sidequests don’t fare much better, with such memorable tasks as “find all 40 coffee cups around town”, “talk to my three brothers who are all wearing red shirts,” and “play tag.” And just in case you were worried there would be some variety, just about every sidequest is repeated several times over the course of the game. Yes, even playing tag.
My Bakugan journey was ultimately cut short about eight hours in when I completed the Oldtown section. I was prompted to return back to HQ, but the metro line - the sole method of traveling between areas - would only let me go to Zydeco Beach. Once I got to the beach, the metro line still wouldn’t let me go anywhere else, and wouldn’t even let me return to Oldtown. My game had soft-locked, and I could no longer progress through the game. Since the game exclusively relies on autosaves, my entire playthrough had permanently come to an end.
There are many bad games where you can tell that there was passion and heart put into making something great, even if they didn’t ultimately succeed. Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia shows a distinct lack of passion not just from its poorly thought out gameplay and shoddily thrown together story, but also through its astounding lack of polish. Gameplay would frequently freeze before animations could play, key NPCs could be hidden behind level geometry, and you can even move around the map some 10 seconds before a loading screen finishes; I guess any speedrunners out there should take note of that. It all culminates in a game that feels like it was made as an excuse to put a box with the Bakugan name on a shelf in Wal-Mart. Champions of Vestroia is a total failure. If you’re not already a Bakugan fan, there is absolutely nothing for you here. If you are a Bakugan fan, then you deserve a game that respects your time and passion more than this.