In Bakugan: Defenders of the Core you become a Battle Brawler, collecting giant and powerful Bakugan to help in your battle against the evil Vexos. Following on from last year’s Bakugan Battle Brawlers, developers NOW Production have released a new game, featuring real time button mashing combat and a whole new range of Bakugan to capture and control.
While pre-teen fans of the TV series will love seeing all the familiar characters and all the familiar Bakugan, the game is unfortunately disappointing in a number of areas. Visually it’s all pretty bland. While the characters look right, the environments are empty and very dated. Sluggish controls also ensure the combat gets difficult quickly, making it frustrating for even the biggest Bakugan fan.
In the original television series, seven children receive magical metallic cards from the mysterious world of Vestroia. These cards allow them to control the powerful Bakugan. Travelling to New Vestroia, the Battle Brawlers join the resistance to battle the Vexos who want to capture all of the Bakugan in the universe. Ultimately, the episodes come down to two battle brawlers calling up their Bakugan to fight and then playing various attacking or defensive power cards to try to tip the balance in their favour.
In Bakugan: Defenders of the Core you join battle brawlers Dan and Marucho in their fight to protect the Perfect Core from the Vexos. The first Bakugan you get is Neo Drago, a giant fire breathing dragon. With the face buttons you can perform strong and weak melee hits, long range attacks, and flight. Shields, speed bursts and targeting are all controlled with the triggers, while your chargeable power attacks are accessed with the d-pad. Essentially, Defenders of the Core is a bit of a button masher. And though the cards are still there, despite being a significant part of the television series and the previous games, they are only used here while preparing for the fights.
In the story mode you travel around in Marucho’s airplane to various international locations like the UK and China. While on board you can manage your collection of Bakugan, edit your look and replay earlier battles. Once you reach an area you can explore it, collecting core energy to upgrade you Bakugan’s attributes as well as finding power cards. These areas look and play very poorly. They’re bland (the typical cut-price effort that’s seen in so many games aimed at the younger market), very basic (in a bad way) and terribly out-dated. Jog through an area without being caught by guards or spotlights and you enter a battle area.
Before each battle you have to choose which Bakugan you want to use. Each enemy, as well as your Bakugan, has an elemental strength as well as a corresponding weakness. You choose which of your Bakugan matches up best against your foe. Once selected, the pre-fight screen also gives you the option to place holograms on the map to draw enemy fire away from your landmarks. This is important because the object of the battle is not only to survive the fight, but also to beat the continually re-spawning enemies before they destroy the buildings you have to protect.
So before the fight you might choose Wilda or Elfin depending on whether you’d prefer an earth or water elemental attack. Then you choose which battle cards to load for your Bakugan. While you can collect multiple cards for your Bakugan, only two can be active during a fight. You might choose a defensive shield and a range attack card, or just go all out attack.
The fights consist of chasing after the enemies and hitting or shooting at them until you charge up your power attacks. You destroy their crystal re-spawn points when you can, chase them away from your landmarks if the buildings begin to take damage, and hope that you last longer then they do. In the end Bakugan: Defenders of the Core is a basic button masher; the tactics, planning and playing cards make little difference. This is a shame because dealing the cards to counter opponent’s tactics is a big part of the television show.
The combat mechanics also have some problems. Targeting opponents feels very random, especially if there is one you urgently need to kill before it destroys your landmark. Also, moving around the battle area is very hard when you are always locked onto a target. So trying to pick up extra health or getting to a crumbling landmark can be very frustrating. Combine this with ranged shots that never hit their targets, sand and water that makes getting to the enemies difficult and shields that never seem to come up when you need them, and you have not only a poor looking game but a poor playing game as well.
Ultimately, Bakugan: Defenders of the Core is disappointing. But, I know a twelve-year-old fan of the series who absolutely loved it - for a couple of hours, at least, until they hit a big difficulty spike and went back to watching Naruto and Deltora Quest on the Cartoon Network. And that’s probably how it will end for all of us.