All the way back in 2017, The Pokemon Company announced the latest entry in the Pokémon Rumble spin-off series, PokéLand. Intended for release exclusively on iOS and Android, this was effectively a follow-up to the Pokémon Rumble World 3DS free-to-play game released a year before. An alpha test of the game took place in Japan over the space of a few weeks after announcement and then the game was never heard or seen from again.
Until last week when it suddenly appeared on the Google Play Store in Australia, now called Pokémon Rumble Rush. The name may have changed in the 2 years the game has been MIA, but the rest of it looks pretty much exactly as it did back when it was called PokéLand. Quite what happened to the game to initially delay it, or why it’s suddenly roared back into life, we may never know. Much like – as of writing – we also don’t know when the game will actually be released worldwide beyond a vague promise of ‘soon’.
What we do know, however, is how the game plays. Thanks to the wonders of the open source Android platform, anyone with an Android smartphone can jump right in simply by installing the game manually. For anyone else, or those still waiting for the official release, here’s our official verdict on the game.
If you’ve never come across the Pokémon Rumble series before, the game’s visuals might be initially both off-putting and confusing. Debuting on the Wii as a digital WiiWare title, Pokémon Rumble’s core conceit is that all of the Pokémon in the game are actually wind-up toys given some sort of life. The simplistic design both feeding into that main idea as well as helpfully reducing the character models down to meet the file-size limits of WiiWare titles and the lack of sheer grunt in the Wii itself. A decade on, however, and it’s somewhat harder to justify as a stylistic decision.
In the game you assume the role of a member of an adventurer’s club, travelling across a series of islands to encounter, collect and battle hordes of Pokémon. The main gameplay sees your chosen Pokémon travelling down a linear path, defeating enemy Pokémon along the way by simply tapping the screen. If you tap and hold, your Pokémon will charge up their attack, and if you swipe across the screen your Pokémon will dodge enemy attacks, but that’s the grand extent of the game’s controls. Once you complete the tutorial, you won’t even have to do this much if you choose not to as your Pokémon will start attacking on their own, allowing you to get on with your day while your phone entertains your cat with flashy effects and bright colours.
At the end of each of these paths is a boss Pokémon, which effectively just means it’s bigger and hits harder. Once defeated, you’ll see a screen detailing all the Pokémon you’ve randomly collected on this stage, including possibly the boss Pokémon itself, as well as some coins for your trouble and possibly some Guide Feathers and/or some Ores. The Guide Feathers allow you to select a new location on the map to try and find new Pokémon with. These are somewhat rare, though you can endlessly replay the last three levels you’ve discovered and can usually pick up a couple relatively quickly that way if you need to. You can also tap on any balloons flying across the map to try out a level that another player has discovered, allowing you to potentially find new Pokémon without needing any feathers. You’ll even be joined by the other adventurer’s Pokémon as an AI companion for the level.
Ores meanwhile are effectively the game’s loot boxes. When you earn one, a Magnemite will pick it up and take it away to a screen where you can select it to be refined. This refining process, in true free-to-play style, takes real-world time to complete. Though you can, of course, use one of the three in-game currencies to speed things along. You can only store three Ores at once, so you’ll either have to discard some or spend to clear some space if you want to keep playing. Once refined these Ores will give you a bounty of Gears – the game’s upgrade system – as well as upgrade kits to level up your Gears.
These upgrade Gears come in two forms. The first is a simple upgrade gear that, depending on the quality of the specific Pokémon in your collection, you can attach up two two of per Pokémon. These will add modifiers to your Pokémon’s CP (a single number describing their overall stats, much like in Pokémon Go), their health, or buffs to specific Pokémon types or attack types. A combination of collected upgrade kits and coins will allow you to upgrade these gears to higher levels for bigger gains. Summon Gears, meanwhile, are considerably more rare and when attached will summon a specific Pokémon to deal a considerable amount of damage as a charged Ultimate attack. The tutorial will provide you with a Ratatta with a powerful quick attack, for example.
Even if the game didn’t literally play itself, it still wouldn’t really be a difficult challenge. Although Pokémon types do have the usual effects, they also don’t really matter until the margins for victory become pretty small. The game’s bosses require you to grind out collecting Pokémon up to a minimum CP limit before you can challenge them, so progression is more a point of waiting until you’ve finally collected enough Pokémon to get that far, rather than the actual challenge of battle. Once this curve plateaus, the shortfall needs to be made up for with upgraded Gears, which effectively just means grinding for Ores and ultimately, spending money.
All that said, though, as far as free-to-play games go, the game is actually pretty fair. If you’re playing the game in 15 minute increments on the way to and from places you’ll never find yourself unable to actually do anything – as can often be the case in certain F2P games. Extended play will absolutely require either sacrificing Ores or eventually spending real money to avoid wasting them, but that’s a fair point at which to decide whether you should spend money on a game you’re putting so much time into anyway.
If you’re very much into the collecting side of Pokémon, the game certainly doesn’t disappoint in providing plenty of opportunity to scratch that itch. At present, there are only a selection of First Generation Pokémon in the game, but the previous game on the 3DS – using the same models, animations and attacks – features Pokemon all the way through to the Fifth Generation. Once the game has finally rolled out worldwide we should have a better picture about what kind of updates to expect down the line, but you can absolutely expect to see more Pokémon added to the game in time.
In short, it’s a decent enough free-to-play game in a series that has never really been that inspiring in any guise. If you enjoyed wasting your time ultimately doing very little by playing Magikarp Jump when it came out 2 years ago, or you’ve collected everything available so far on Pokémon Go and need to keep your Pokémon collection addiction going in the meantime, then you’ll probably get everything you’ll need to out of Pokémon Rumble Rush when it arrives on iOS’ App Store and the Google Play Store soon.
A fairly unremarkable entry in a fairly unremarkable series of Pokémon spin-offs, Rumble Rush does at least provide a commute-friendly time-suck without putting up too many classic free-to-play barriers to get in the way.