Version tested: Wii
My Pokmon Ranch
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Wii Points: 1000 (GBP 7.00 / EUR 10.00 approx)
"LUMINEON is enjoying riding on STARAPTOR!"
Intrigued? Curious? Maybe even a little excited? If this sort of scintillating input-free feedback is all you require from your gaming then I heartily recommend you shell out the outrageous 1000-Point asking price for My Pokmon Ranch, a download that is really little more than a screensaver for Pokmon Diamond and Pearl owners.
While the title and screenshots deliberately evoke comparisons to Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing or MySims, what you actually get is closer to the Mii Channel. A channel, you'll recall, that didn't cost you a penny. So there's this ranch, run by an irritating whimsical maiden called Hayley. You fill it up with Pokmon that you've unlocked on your DS and she occasionally helps out by giving you toys or ranch upgrades. Transfer a thousand Pokmon betwixt Wii and DS and she'll give you access to Mew, that rarest of Pokmon, to take back to the real game.
This transaction seems to be the driving force behind this highly cynical offering - charge Pokmon addicts an extortionate amount for the dubious privilege of grinding their way to something desirable. Everything else in the game is there simply to give the impression that you've actually paid for something of value while you slog your way towards that goal.
Look closely and you'll realise that there's almost no actual interaction to speak of - you simply load it up and watch your Mii characters mingle with Pokmon characters. You can take pictures of them. Or wiggle the remote and make everyone bounce up and down. Such larks! Occasionally they'll all get together and do something to get your attention. The only amusement I found was watching Staraptor dropping my Miis from great heights.
Even though the game has its own short day-and-night cycle, progress towards unlocking any of the feeble bonus upgrades is dictated by the Wii's real-time clock. Hayley only dishes out the goodies every 24 hours, and seeing as these goodies include such basic features as being able to control the camera, it renders an already-thin experience all but translucent for those without the patience to literally wait for days and days.
If you don't have Pokmon Diamond or Pearl then, needless to say, this game is a complete waste of your time. Hayley gives you six Pokmon to start with, and adds another every 24 hours, but at this rate it takes an unholy amount of time for anything to happen. If you do have a thriving Pokmon collection ready to port over, the game is still almost entirely pointless since all they do is piss about in a field while you watch. In the long term it may help you fill the last few gaps in your collection, as eventually you can trade with Hayley, but it's still a long-winded and horrifically expensive way of doing so.
What's most galling is that an Animal Crossing style game with Pokmon - one where you actually did something - could be quite wonderful, and certainly more interesting and rewarding for fans. Had this been offered as a free (or at least dirt-cheap) bonus download for Pokmon DS owners, the sweet graphics and empty-headed concept might have been charming. At the same price point charged for the sublime LostWinds it's a brazen insult, and marks a new low in the exploitation of the Pokmon brand.
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Wii Points: 700 (GBP 5.50 / EUR 7.00 approx)
Perhaps it's deliberate that Pop, the game in which you infamously pop bubbles and little else, has been released alongside the infuriating non-game that is My Pokmon Ranch. In such company, this rather slender shooting gallery starts to look like a game with depth to rival even the mightiest RPG.
So, yeah, you pop bubbles with the remote. Hit them and you score points. Miss them and you lose time. Run out of time and it's game over. There's slightly more to it than that, of course. There are different icons in some of the bubbles - score multipliers, smart bombs, things that seem to make your target area larger - and you can grab, drag and inflate bubbles with a prod and a waggle. The ensuing burst will take out any bubbles of the same colour, so it's handy for building up those high scoring chains.
For the most part, though, it's a score-based game of keepy-uppy. Keep popping, avoid missing, see how many chains you can rack up. Up to four players can drop in or out at any time, and it's certainly the sort of instinctively appealing pastime that will play well with the wider gaming audience.
What doesn't appeal quite so much is the rather poor technical finish. Developer Nnooo has already issued advice on its website for people whose game locks up as it tries to access the Wi-Fi leaderboards and, after a few hours of problem-free play, I found that the game sent my remote all scatty. I replaced the batteries, tried it with other games - no problem. Load up Pop and the pointer judders, flickers and even vanishes like a boozy phantom. Rendering the game pretty much unplayable, all I can do is delete it, re-download and start over.
There's also the issue of price. Get past the "popping bubbles?" incredulity and the game does offer a decent amount of depth and no-frills gameplay, but I can't quite bring myself to see it as 700 Points' worth of fun. Not when I look at some of the games available on the VC for less than that, and certainly not when I look at what other console download services have offered for the equivalent amount or less. A cute game, a fun game, but not a particularly well-priced or thoroughly bug-tested game.