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Bakugan Battle Brawlers (Wii) artwork

Bakugan Battle Brawlers (Wii) review


"Entrenched fans should approach Bakugan: Battle Brawlers with all these changes firmly in mind. This isn't a rote recreation of the live game they've come to love, and it's missing that game's more evolved mechanisms. But they should also approach it with an open mind. The basic changes create a more dynamic experience."



Bakugan combines the components of successful anime-fueled enterprises like Pokťmon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Beyblade into one tidy package. The simple strategy game features not one, but two types of collectible cards. It has armies of little plastic toys. It even requires that matches occur in a specialized arena. Viewed through the prism of this merchandising bonanza, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers, the video game, appears downright economical, providing the chance to virtually purchase a multitude of Bakugan and accessories with one down payment. The software offers a more compelling reason to play, however. By increasing the interactivity, and thus the strategy, of its real-world counterpart, Battle Brawlers becomes a game that anyone can enjoy.

That pitch is helped by the fact that the video game sticks to Bakugan's most basic rules. The main pieces are gate cards, ability cards, and of course, the ball-shaped Bakugan themselves. Players begin the game by placing one of their gate cards face down on the field. They then take turns rolling their Bakugan into the arena, with the baseline objective to land on one of those cards. (In the live game, these cards are magnetized; the sphere will stop and pop open into its true monstrous form upon passing over one.) When two enemy Bakugan land on the same gate card, they battle for possession. The victor is the one with the most G-power, a number determined by the interaction of all three components: gate cards may contain bonuses or traps, ability cards help the holder or hinder the opponent, and the Bakugan's inherent attributes may trigger some effect. The first player to collect three gate cards off the field of play wins the match.

Battle Brawlers brings this world to life as only a video game can, and it begins in the arenas. While the standard square is still available, all the rest capture one of the game's elemental themes. In the Pyrus stadium, streams of lava flow over the field, deducting precious G-power from anyone unfortunate enough to roll over it. Meanwhile, molten geysers will shoot you up in the air, and where you come down, no one knows. The Aquos battlefield is surrounded by a flume; when you finish riding the rapids on one side, it'll arc the Bakugan over to a companion slide on the other. Obstacles like this add an element of chaos; it's very possible to tumble into an abyss, forfeiting your turn. However, these treacherous paths are also lined with G-power boosts and ability pickups, so there's a lot of motivation to take the risk.

Of course, in a real game of Bakugan, your control over your piece ends once it leaves your hand. The key to these elaborate settings is that you don't simply watch your ball suffer the consequences of inertia. The Wii remote grants you an adequate, yet finite, amount of steering with your Bakugan. Tilt it left or right, forward to speed up, or back to hit the brakes. Pressing the down button will even reverse its direction on a dime. It introduces a level of control that the real game could never achieve, one that makes it tempting to cruise all around the arena, even though running out of gas is another way to lose your turn.

The drastic change improves the game by removing a bit of luck from the proceedings. It makes it easier to land on the gate card you want, while bending around ones you want to avoid (although you can't see the identity of other players' gate cards on the field). However, that doesn't mean the outcome is completely predictable. In fact, Battle Brawlers introduces competitive minigames that allow players to boost G-power before a battle. Timing battles are like primitive rhythm games. Shaking battles prompt you to vigorously waggle the remote in different ways. In shooting battles, medallions pop onto the screen, and the players scramble to pick them off for points. In a game where winners are usually determined by simple arithmetic, these wrinkles add a skill-based wildcard to the contest.

That's not the only shooting, either. Instead of having all the other players idle during another's turn, Battle Brawlers lets you target the active user's Bakugan. It's a little like firing small puffs of air. In theory, these can't greatly alter the route; if it's rolling along you can't prevent it from turning in a certain direction. However, it is possible to drastically change the trajectory if you land a blow at the start of a jump. A safe leap into a zipline of powerups can quickly transform into the fiery end of a turn, and there's nothing the thrower can do about it. It can be really devious, even unfair. The computer doesn't use this tactic, so you have a huge advantage in the game's story mode.

The story is where you'll unlock all of this game's 106 Bakugan. As in the real-life version, many of the lower-level monsters are simply palette-swapped between different elements. However, you'll eventually work your way up to controlling the franchise's signature creatures. There's a Delta Dragonoid II, whose mighty roar emits a laserbeam that will cripple his enemies. The fierce Tigrerra leaves claw marks on the screen while cutting down opponents. The outcome of each clash is decided before these hulking, cel-shaded forms ever appear on the screen, but it's exciting to see their brief moments of action nonetheless.

You'll see their usual partners as well. Bakugan's anime arm follows the benevolent Battle Brawlers' quest to save the world through dramatic matches. In this game, though, you do not play as one of those Brawlers. Dan, Runo, Marucho, Julie, Shun and the rest of the cast still appear, both as friends and opponents. You, however, take on an original character partnering with an original Bakugan. The main crew is only playable in the battle arena, where you can conduct all kinds of multiplayer battles: one-on-one, two-on-two, and battle royales.

Entrenched fans should approach Bakugan: Battle Brawlers with all these changes firmly in mind. This isn't a rote recreation of the live game they've come to love, and it's missing that game's evolved mechanisms: like trap pieces or clear, translucent, and pearl Bakugan. But they should also approach it with an open mind. The basic changes create a more dynamic experience, making it exciting whether you're playing with grizzled veterans, complete newcomers, or just by yourself.

Rating: 8/10

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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (December 20, 2009)

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