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Bakugan: Battle Brawlers (Xbox 360) artwork

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers (Xbox 360) review

"Bakugan: Battle Brawlers manages to accomplish more than expected from a licensed product. It injects life into the game by taking normally mundane aspects, like throwing the Bakugan, and making them a focal point. By daring to reshuffle the game's fundamentals, Battle Brawlers is transformed into a more interactive experience."

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers isn't the Bakugan you know. It's better. This game is able to build on the basics of these cross-marketed collectibles, adding on interactive elements to the simple tabletop contest. In real life, the Bakugan is on its own once it leaves your hand. In Bakugan: Battle Brawlers, there are now ways to aim, throw, and steer your spherical piece around elaborate arenas. Old strategies won't be enough. This is a new, unique Bakugan experience.

Of course, the foundation of Bakugan remains recognizable. Players begin each battle with three gate cards, three ability cards, and three of the ball-shaped Bakugan. Gate cards are placed face down in the arena, and then players take turns rolling their Bakugan towards these prizes. (In the live game, the gate cards and Bakugan are magnetized; the sphere will pop open into its true monstrous form upon passing over one.) When two enemy Bakugan land on the same gate card, they fight for possession. The victor is the one with the most G-power, a number calculated by the interaction of all three components: each Bakugan has a starting value, gate cards may contain bonuses or traps, and ability cards help the holder or hinder the opponent. After some simple arithmetic, the winner claims the gate card, and the first player to collect three such cards wins the match.

Bakugan: Battle Brawlers' first rebellion against the basics actually comes in the form of original characters. Before any hint of battle, you must customize your avatar. He'll team up with a distinctive Bakugan, a dragon-type named Leonidas, and together they become the heroes of this story. Dan, Runo, and the rest of the cast from the anime are still around. They show up in tournaments as opponents, they'll play pick-up games in the park, and each even hands out their own helpful hints. But only the new guys can conquer the villain that arises in this game.

As soon as battles actually begin, though, the structural changes become apparent. It starts with the different types of throws. Instead of simply tossing the Bakugan into the field, a player can choose to launch a sphere attack, a power shot directed at an opponent's Bakugan. If the thrown Bakugan hits its target while airborne, it'll knock off a certain amount of the target's G-power. If it deducts enough points, the offensive player can score a KO, claiming the gate card without a fight. Each Bakugan can even achieve its own limited-use special shot based on its elemental affinity. For example, the Subterra Quake will cause tremors that decrease the G-power of all surrounding enemy Bakugan.

The other players possess a seemingly meager defense against such power. Instead of sitting idle, they can shoot at the threat and try to knock it off course. Nothing overtly drastic; it's equivalent to trying to blow the Bakugan out of the way. A well placed strike can pick a projectile off a power path, but since the controller can be used to steer the Bakugan, it's not going to stop someone from rolling onto a gate card altogether.

That is, until you consider the scope of the magnificent arenas. The regular playing surface is just a circular area enclosed by a wall, but Bakugan: Battle Brawlers brings the world to life. The Aquos stadium is surrounded by water slides; when you finish riding the rapids on one side, the turbulent wash will loft the Bakugan over the arena to a companion ride on the other side. In the Ventus field, tornadoes circle the center, ready to fling you off in directions unknown. The Subterra rim has quicksand that pulls you toward the edge. These additions make it exciting, unpredictable, and definitely dangerous. The Darkus arena allows you to leap into the mouth of a dragon, navigate over its back, and then free fall back down to safety. Dropping two-hundred feet, a small course-correction is the difference between landing in the center of the arena or flying out into the ether and losing a turn. That little puff can be powerful after all.

So why take the risk of roaming all over the terrain? Simple. These fields are littered with bonuses like G-power boosts and powerups that can cripple your opponents. Things like reversing the directional controls on their next turn or transforming the visuals into a swirling haze. These are gamechangers, and you really can't win without going after them. In the real world, Bakugan requires straightforward strategies. Battle Brawlers complicates it by taking these normally mundane aspects, like throwing the Bakugan, and making them a focal point.

And the twists in the simple strategy don't stop there. At the moment a battle is finally lined up, minigames provide a last ditch effort for players to boost their G-power. Timing battles work like a primitive rhythm game. Shaking battles prompt you to vigorously waggle the analog sticks in different ways. In shooting battles, a ring of medallions pop onto the screen around a central point, and the combatants push the stick in the right direction and pull the trigger for points. These wrinkles add another skill-based wildcard to the contest, but they're also the reason why the 360 version is not the superior incarnation of the game. These offerings are a notch below the ease of the Wii's execution, which take advantage of its controller's motion sensor for shaking and pointing capabilities for shooting.

Unfortunately, every console missed out on one of Bakugan's central principles. This is a social game, never meant for only one player, yet no version has an online multiplayer component. Every one-on-one fight, tag team clash, or battle royale has to be local, filled out with real-life friends or computer AI.

Despite that missing piece, Bakugan: Battle Brawlers manages to accomplish more than expected from a licensed product. It brings 106 Bakugan to life as their hulking, cel-shaded forms roar and claw to stamp an exclamation mark on a well-earned victory. It lets you star in an original story, rather than rehashing events seen in other media. Most important, it dares to reshuffle the game's fundamentals, transforming Bakugan: Battle Brawlers into a more interactive experience.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (January 23, 2010)

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