Version tested: 3DS
Like its ever-growing roster of critters (there are now more than 600, if you're counting), Nintendo's Pokémon series is a monster-sized gaming franchise with a growing number of forms.
Super Pokémon Rumble is the latest spin-off developed by Nintendo-owned studio Ambrella, creators of Hey You, Pikachu! for the N64, Pokémon Dash on DS and Pokémon Rumble, a bite-sized downloadable game released into the wilds of Nintendo's WiiWare service.
For players who dabbled with the original Rumble, this latest iteration will be instantly familiar, albeit with the latest hundred or so Pokémon species that arrived in this year's Black and White DS games added in.
Instead of playing as a human, collecting Pokémon to fight and trade, you play as a set of wind-up Pokémon toys in a world inhabited by your Mii avatar and its friends. Within this world, your Pokémon collectibles come alive and live out grand adventures, battling and befriending others. It's best not to think about this logic too much.
At its core, Super Pokémon Rumble is a straightforward button-mashing action game that ditches almost all of the main series' strategy and puzzle elements. You control your Pokémon toys directly, and for 90 per cent of the game players will simply use the 3DS' circle pad to move and the A button to attack.
Combat is little more than facing your opponent and bashing A to launch an attack appropriate to your Pokémon's type. Fire breeds launch flames, electric monsters zap and grass varieties, as usual, get the short end of the stick and are left to attack with a gust of wind and some leaves.
It's not entirely brainless: the series' standard rock-paper-scissors mechanics remain (fire beats grass but is weak to water, etc), and your Pokémon can also learn a secondary move, dealt via the X button. Downed opponents drop coins which can be exchanged for these extra attacks at Move Tutors, and seemingly randomly leave behind a toy form of themselves so you can continually add to your party of mechanical monsters.
But it's because your roster is ever-changing that secondary moves are largely redundant. You can't level up your Pokémon toys, but rather can only replace them with identical, higher-level models, meaning poor Oshawott lv. 23 who just saw you through that jungle level is now going down the back of the sofa, since you've picked up Oshawott lv. 25.
It helps keep your Pokémon line-up fresh, but reducing each automaton to a name, number and single attack makes for a very featureless army. Underneath each fighter's metal shell, behind the small collection of battle animations, each will do the same thing, more or less just as well.
And they continue to do so, level after level. There is scant variety across the game's landscapes. Each environment is a short, featureless and linear map you must button-mash through with a larger, stronger boss battle at the end. After every couple of levels you will then fight in an all-on-all arena-based match.
This is the structure of the whole game, the narrative of which includes a threadbare storyline - something to do with healing fountains running dry and the threat of your tin toys turning to rust - which is entirely forgettable.
If this was not a Pokémon game there would be little worth recommending and Nintendo has clearly wheeled out the talismanic Pikachu and friends to sell what is essentially rather bland fare - not to mention getting a Pokémon game out on 3DS in time for Christmas.
That it has the Pokémon license attached is the game's saving grace, and no doubt there will be some Pokéfans still eager to catch them all over again. The game includes almost every Pokémon ever, from Red and Blue's Bulbasaur to the latest varieties found in Black and White, meaning completists will be kept busy for quite some time.
Areas can be replayed to capture more breeds and assemble an enormous Pokédex, while the game keeps the Pokémon series' most important mechanics - the ability to fight and swap your Pokémon with friends.
There's no option for download play, but pals with their own copies of the game can join you in battle over local wireless. There's also an enjoyable StreetPass offering, where you can view, battle and collect Pokémon from other real-world players.
Super Pokémon Rumble is, at best, a simple and straightforward addition to the Pokémon saga, but in no way a match for its main series brethren. Comparisons with Black and White are inescapable considering just how much Nintendo crammed into their DS cartridges and how slim an option this 3DS title is in contrast. Likewise, apart from the game's multiplayer features, little has been added from WiiWare's Pokémon Rumble. At around a tenner, that games makes for a far more attractive purchase.
5 / 10