Poachers are bastards. That's the basic subtext to the latest Pok√©mon Ranger game ‚Äď Guardian Signs. Poachers suck. They freak out the animals they're poaching, even if they're not killing them outright. You ever seen what powdered tiger privates cost? Compared to some Pok√©mon, tigers aren't even that rare. Imagine what powdered ukulele playing Pichu will set you back?
Here, the poachers are known creatively as Pok√©mon Pinchers. They descend on the archipelago known as the Oblivia region to steal Pok√©mon using their Control Gauntlets ‚Äď pink-ring-shooting contraptions that capture cute, defenceless little Pok√©mon and bend them to their nefarious will. If you know Pok√©mon games, you can imagine already what these hammy, cowardly villains are like. And you'll also be able to imagine that an adventure where you set out to thwart their dastardly plans might be a pretty cool one.
I have said it before and I will say it again ‚Äď Pok√©mon spin-offs are quite hard to review. They're not uniform. The core games are so good that you might expect all of the titles that spring up around them like mushrooms (as fans await the next colour in the rainbow) to be average at best. Well, actually, there have been some pretty cool spin-offs. Some people will tell you they spent a lot of time with their Transfer Pak when Pok√©mon Stadium came out for N64, for example. And I have pontificated before on the merits of Pok√©mon Snap (it's out on Virtual Console if you don't have the original, and well worth the 1000 points). But nothing will ever get close to the pocketmonstrously addictive mastery of the franchise's bread and butter.
Let's not go crazy: Guardian Signs is pitched very much at that younger age group. You might say that the original games were, too, but something about them just drove them into the mainstream. Our editor is in his 30s, and he's a Pokemaniac from way back [this is absolutely true - ed]. With this iteration of the Ranger series (there are two before it) I don't see that happening. That's not to say it doesn't deserve to be in your DS collection; just that I wouldn't want you saying you bought it because I told you to!
You play either as a chap or lass tasked with helping out the people and Pok√©mon of Oblivia. These Pincher cats are making life hell for everyone, and after a tussle in the sky with a couple of them, you find yourself half buried in the sand of one of the area's beaches. From here, the story and tutorials move at what is (almost) a frustratingly slow speed. I mean, you can see why the story takes on its simplistic, easy paced form; so kids can follow. But why the tutorials have to treat us all like Forrest Gump is a bit of a mystery.
Anyway, once you pick yourself up, it's time to get to work. You meet some locals, get asked for help, and your first mission is all on.
Rangers can catch up to eight Pok√©mon to help them out as they progress. Each time a Pok√©mon is caught (or, as the game puts it, you adequately convey your friendship), your character gets experience points (xp) and that Pok√©mon is added to your crew. Once you hit eight, you'll need to swap one out or do a catch-and-release deal with the one you just tamed. How do you catch them? Well...
You draw circles. Lots of them. This is a ‚Äúbattle‚ÄĚ in Pok√©mon Ranger: Guardian Signs.
The quicker you do them, without the Pok√©mon busting through or successfully attacking you, the higher the rating you'll get for that capture and the more xp as a result. You can use one of your Pok√©mates to get in the ring and help tame your foe, which is especially important for the antsy ones that won't stay still long enough. As in the core series, water bests fire - etc. So biff Cyndaquil in against a Sunkern, and you'll get yourself ahead. The game makes it clear that you can't hope you use your Pok√©mon to do all the work for you, so there'll be a lot of loops to draw. Really, things don't get much more complex than that.
Later, the titular Guardian Signs come into play, when you run across the legendary Pok√©mon. These will help you take down major obstacles, whether they be animate or inanimate, as you progress. The eight you have with you as you get about the place each have abilities aligned more or less to those in the core games ‚Äď cut, for slicing logs, for example; tackle, for... tackling. These will be essential for moving through the game, and balancing the ones you have in your team has a similar feel in terms of strategy to Pok√©mon Red or Ruby or any of the others.
If I have to churn out the obligatory graphics and sound paragraph, I will. Both seem to be closely aligned with the grandaddies of the Pok√©verse, which is probably very purposeful on the part of the devs. Graphics are ‚Äúlook‚ÄĚ, music is ‚Äúfeel‚ÄĚ, and before you know it you have something that has every chance of sucking in a few extra fans by virtue of its familiarity. That probably sounds quite cynical, but it's really not ‚Äď it means that gamers get a well thought out, home-y interface and music that sounds like it fits.
Pretty much everything in Guardian Signs ‚Äď once you master the combat ‚Äď is a simple journey of discovery. There's plenty to do, although the game is very linear in nature, and exceedingly easy. I suppose this goes back to the central point about Pok√©mon spinoffs; none of them are the best vehicle for Pok√©mon. The core series probably doesn't need the competition.
But, hey. It's cutesy, its cuddly, and for the young or true blue Pok√©mon fanatics it won't be a regrettable purchase.