Bakugan Battle Brawlers was an anime in Japan that managed to pick up enough of a following to merit a localized U.S. release in 2008. Along with that came a tabletop game, a hybrid of card games like Pokémon and miniatures like HeroClix. It's a fairly unique game, but I used those two as examples purely to illustrate the title's use of cards and miniatures, not because they play in an identical fashion. The toys and game have gained quite a bit of popularity lately. I've seen the local toy aisles packed to the brim with Bakugan merchandise, from card packs to figures, and there have even been little carrying accessories and shooters to propel the ball-shaped Bakugan figures around the playing field. My girlfriend's nephew recently became a pretty big fan of the show and the game, so I've had a little hands-on experience with how the game works prior to playing Bakugan Battle Brawlers on the Nintendo Wii.
In the tabletop game, each player has a set of magnetic Gate cards that he uses on a square playing field. The magnets are tied into the actual Bakugan figures or toys, so when a Bakugan (in ball form) rolls over the magnetized card, it springs to life, mimicking its animal form that's usually depicted on the card artwork. If you manage to roll a Bakugan onto a card, it'll stay there until one of the following events occurs: Your opponent tosses a ball, and if he lands on the same card, then you battle it out; you manage to get a second Bakugan on the card without your opponent contesting you, and you win the card (first to three wins the match); or you expire all of your available Bakugan, you opt to make a Bakugan stay behind for an extra round, and it goes unopposed, so you automatically win the Gate card on which it's located.
Most of the fun doesn't come from winning by the latter two options, though; you get the most enjoyment out of battling your opponent. If he or she manages to get an opposing Bakugan onto the same card as you, you'll enter a battle, where you'll need to compare a G-Power number. It's not quite a number-versus-number situation, as the Gate cards can offer bonuses, depending on Bakugan and their attribute type, which are mostly tied to colors. For instance, a Gate card might offer up +120 to G-Power for Bakugan with a red attribute, and if you match that, you'll add in that number to your overall G-Power. The idea is that you want to bring Gate cards that correspond to the attributes of the Bakugan you plan to use. It's a pretty simple strategy, but it adds a little additional depth to an otherwise simple match-up. Along with the Gate card bonuses, there are other card types in the deck — some provide bonuses to your Bakugan, some hinder your opponent — and you can put certain cards into play to affect the outcome of the match. There seems to be a good variety here, so you won't be seeing the same cards repeated in every match.
The video game, Bakugan Battle Brawlers, plays out in a pretty similar fashion, allowing for some more video game-specific elements. When an opponent tosses out his Bakugan, you can aim the Wii Remote at the screen and use it like a pointer. You'll constantly hit the A button to "shoot" the opposing Bakugan to throw it off course and make it difficult to steer around the arena floor. Steering also allows you to manipulate the path of the ball by holding either the A or B button and moving the Wii Remote up, down, left and right. If you hold it down, you'll be accelerating, while up causes it to slow down. Occasionally, the arena will hold power-up items on the floor that you'll want to roll over, along with secret areas and other devices, like a trampoline, that can help you hit the desired Gate card. Fun little additions like this make the video game a little livelier than the Bakugan card game, and it gives fans a reason to pick up and play Bakugan Battle Brawlers over the traditional method.
Of course, it wouldn't be much of a licensed game without some sort of story mode attached. I admit that my familiarity with the characters might be lacking, but I brushed up on a few episodes prior to the review, and the game seems to contain much of the core cast from the show. The story line plays out like this: One day, a bunch of cards rained down from the skies, and kids picked up the cards and began to play, thus developing the game of Bakugan. The show and game follow the core group of players and their battle against the evil Hal-G. In this game, Hal-G accidentally sends two Bakugan — the evil Vladitor and Leonidas, who you'll be paired up with — to Earth. Your character is player-made and not a part of the core group, but you'll run into them at various points and even battle it out in tournaments.
Most of the game is spent in Bakugan battles, either in one-on-one story matches or the more involved tournaments that have you going up against a series of opponents. Along the way, you'll earn in-game currency that can be spent at the local shop to buy new cards and Bakugan, which you'll occasionally need to do to make use of various weaknesses and elements that your opponents employ. It's not a super deep game to figure out; I didn't have much trouble with the difficulty or the core mechanics, so I'm not sure how well the game will the hold the attention of an older player who's not already invested in the franchise in some way. It does a great job of capturing the feel of the tabletop game, and I didn't have any notable complaints about the control setup or gameplay.
The story feels like something that you'd have seen as a TV plot, but since I haven't watched the entire series up to this point, I can't say for sure how closely it mirrors the franchise's story. It certainly feels like a Saturday morning cartoon, and it even fits the overall aesthetic of the Bakugan anime world. The actors from the show do all of the voice acting in the game, which helps to add a bit of realism, and it's certain to appeal to fans. As far as the overall quality of the voice acting goes, it feels a little bit stilted to me, perhaps due to the nature of the dialogue (short phrases, instead of entire episode scripts), but that's a minor complaint.
Visually, the game looks decent enough for a kids' title. It employs an art style that's taken directly from the cartoon, but the texture work and lack of detail in the environment is definitely noticeable to someone who expects a little more from his game visuals. At least the Bakugan designs are pretty neat to check out, but there's not a lot of animation involved with the extremely short battle sequences, so that's slightly disappointing.
If you were already a fan of the Bakugan anime and tabletop game, then you'd find something to enjoy in Bakugan Battle Brawlers on the Wii. The controls are easy enough to get into and simple enough to pick up and play. Having some understanding of the basic gameplay from the tabletop game will help you get quickly acclimated to the rules. There's enough variance between the video game and the tabletop game to make it worth checking out. However, if you're an older gamer like myself and you're not already invested in the franchise in some way, there's just not enough depth to the Bakugan Battle Brawlers gameplay on the Wii to keep you involved beyond the first couple of hours. The game doesn't evolve much after you master the basics, and while the addition of items and obstacles in the arena is unique to the video game, it's still really easy to overpower the CPU and finish the title in a short amount of time. This is definitely more geared toward the kids and core fan base than someone like me, so if you're not already a fan, you can safely skip this title without missing anything.
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