Bakugan and I have sort of an enigmatic history. I used to work at Target, in the toy department, and strangely, we never had Bakugan in stock. I’d work evenings, and every day I’d go in, I was told “we got Bakugan at 8AM, and they sold out in an hour”.
Intrigued, I took a morning shift just to figure out what in the world these mysterious best selling toy trinkets were. If you seek the answer, read on for my review of the hot new game!
Just to clarify, Bakugan is not a “psuedo card game”. I say that because most card video games have you using cards to vicariously battle, and they perform certain abilities that translate into actions on-screen. In Bakugan, the cards are literally thrown to awaken the creatures inside of them, and the story begins with “millions of mysterious cards from another planet raining down on Earth”. While the narrative might seem hokey, ultimately, the core of the series is about battling.
Bakugan is played by first throwing “gate cards” down on the ground: each of these cards has a special ability or modifier assigned to it, such as “fire creatures gain extra strength”. Players, in a turn based fashion, then throw their Bakugan balls, who travel around the arena, and ultimately must end up on a card, which will “activate” the Bakugan, and “claim” the card. If opposing creatures inhabit the same card, a battle ensues for ownership of the card; if two of your own creatures are on a card, you automatically win it. The first player who earns three cards wins the battle. Confused yet?
At first, I was boggled as well, but the learning curve on Bakugan is actually quite small. After a few quick and easy tutorials, without any prior knowledge of the game’s rules, I was battling like a pro. Before a fight, you can organize your deck (just like every other card game) and buy new cards or Bakugan at the store.
The fight sequence has three phases: throwing cards, throwing balls, and battling. When throwing, a “runway” of sorts is fashioned on the bottom DS screen, and all you have to do is “roll” your stylus up to launch your Bakugan; you can adjust your trajectory, including left and right movement, as well as jumps, with the d-pad. After the initial launch, your stylus is used to control the “after-touch”, allowing you to roll around the arena collecting power-ups, and eventually, land on a card.
I was surprised at how intricate most of the arenas were; it’s to the point where this phase is actually very reminiscent of the “marble madness” sub-genre. You can also swipe the bottom of the DS screen to move your enemies off course during this phase, as well as blow into the DS microphone to force them to jump; but you have to be careful, because your enemies can do this to you as well!
When Bakugan battle, the encounter is carried out through mini-games, and “ability cards” in your hand may further be used to complicate things. The mini-games themselves aren’t actually that robust, which is my main problem with the game. There’s a rhythm based “tap” game, a “trace the symbol”, “rub the symbol” (waggle), “pop the symbol”, and “spin the symbol” (Elite Beat Agents): all of which you’ll find on various DS mini-game collections. I would have personally developed about five more mini-games to make combat more satisfying, but the option to use ability cards mid-battle never really gets to the point where you’re overly bored.
While it may seem like a mini-game fest, Bakugan is built on strategy; especially in free for all matches. Knowing which cards to double capture, which gate cards to throw down where, and which cards to claim solo is key. You’ll also have to move about each unique arena, which is a game in itself, as each area contains it’s own traps, bonus items, and secret areas. Ability cards are also a unique addition to the game, as some cards even time warp the entire battle, forcing you to do it all over again.
Although you get some spiffy fully voiced anime scenes, the visuals are actually quite bad, especially on the ball-form Bakugan. You’ll see a lot of pixelation and lazy animations throughout. Luckily, the soundtrack is of much better quality (it sounds like it came out of Sonic Adventure), and the small amount of voice acting found in the game is quite good as well.
If the game was a series of one on one battles, it would get old. But instead, you’re given a healthy mix of tag-team (2v2) and free for all (three or four person every man for themselves) game modes. My favorite type of battle is easily the four person free for all, as entirely different types of strategic choices have to be made to counter your three opponents. You’ll also find a “hard mode” that adds rules to the normal game, as well as local DS multi-card play, which is really the way to go if you have a few friends who are willing to throw down on the title.
I was actually fairly surprised with Bakugan Battle Brawlers‘ depth. Despite being rough around the edges, fans of the television series (or the game) will adore it, and to any marble enthusiasts or strategy fans out there, give it a try.
Bakugan Battle Brawlers DS is one of the most pixelated games on the system. It's a shame, considering the actual creature designs are unique.
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While the battle mini-games could have used some work, moving your Bakugan ball around in various marble paradises is a blast.
Battle Brawlers' soundtrack fits the game exceptionally well, and the small amount of voice acting is solid, but the sound effects could use some work.
Despite the fact that there's an offline arena mode with NPCs, the story mode is only a 3-4 hours long. Unless you have other friends to play with, you won't be playing this one for a while after you tire from the arena mode.
Both fans of the series and newcomers will find Bakugan Battle Brawlers DS a surprisingly deep, yet rushed game.