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Review #314

Bakugan Battle Brawlers
Publisher: Activsion
Developer: NowPro
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: 10/20/2009

Well, it’s finally here. Bakugan Battle Brawlers has finally hit the video game world after being one of the biggest toy and cartoon crazes of this decade. Not since Pokemon had a fad from Japan taken the US by storm. Although Sega actually invented the toy line (As you’ll even see in the opening credits of the game), it took Activision to turn the toy line/board game into a video game, showing once against that Sammy Sega might just be the stupidest video game publisher on the market, giving up a chance for guaranteed millions of dollars, if not more.

Of course, this is a licensed game, and how often do those turn out very well? Still, Activision had to know that making a bad Bakugan game would give this franchise its first black eye on the market and god knows neither they nor NowPro (the developers) would want to be responsible for that. As such, Activision went all out and got the voice acting cast from the cartoon and the American story editors and localizers to ensure this game fit in not only with continuity of the anime, but so that Bakugan fans in all shape and sizes would be eager to exchange their (or their parent’s) money for digital gaming goodness.

So how did Bakugan Battle Brawlers turn out? Was the end result a game that Baukgan fans and newcomers to the game/anime/what have you can be happy with, or has Bakugan gone the way of Digimon where it just couldn’t churn out a quality video game experience?

Let’s Review

1. Story/Modes

You have two made modes in Bakugan. The first is Battle Arena, where you can play with up to three other friends (or computer controlled opponents) in one-on-one, tag battles and battle royals without it affecting your character in Story Mode. This is the only way multiple human players can face off against each other. Sadly Bakugan doesn’t offer online play, which is a real blow to how good this game could have been, but it thankfully doesn’t make the game any less fun to play.

Story mode is the heart of the game and where you’ll be unlocking characters, playable Bakugan, arenas and trophies. In Story Mode you’ll be making your very own protagonist. The options are diverse enough that I was able to make a pretty accurate Shad Gaspar from WWE’s Cryme Tyme tag team, but I eventually went with more of a punk for my protagonist. Unfortunately for the girls reading this, you can only make a boy character, but maybe the sequel will offer up something more.

What’s really cool is that your character isn’t just some unnamed silent main character which can be found in a lot of RPG’s, especially ones from several generations ago. No, your character has a full fledged personality, voice actor and story to tell. This is far better than I expected and I really loved seeing my character interact with everyone from Dan to Masquerade. I’m not a big fan of the anime, but I’ve seen most of the episodes and so I knew all the characters I was interacting with, and also what Bakugan element they tend to use and what their main specific Bakugan was. That helped a lot at the beginning of the game and those early battles.

Your story is not just about your main character (who you get to name) but of Leonides, a Bakugan Dragon who can be of any of the six Bakugan elements, but you have to pick it at the beginning of the game and it stays that element for the whole story. I chose Light, but the game’s default is fire so you can be like Dan. Together with Leonides, you and the rest of the Bakugan battle Brawlers seek to discover why Leonides arrived on Earth so much later than the other Bakugan, why he’s kind of a dick to everyone but you and of course a sinister plot that can affect both the human realm and the world of Vestroia, which is where Bakugan hail from.

If you’re a fan of the anime, you’ll no doubt love the attention to detail and characterization given to everyone in the game. However, the game doesn’t even try to explain the characters, the history of the anime up to this point in the game or the various factions, rivalries and so on. Pretty much anyone can pick it up as the game goes along, but it’s clear that this was made for the anime fans first and foremost and that everyone else that might play this game is little more than an afterthought.

Even though i don’t really care for the anime, I had a lot of fun with the story and characters of Bakugan Battle Brawlers and really liked how it felt like a solid tie-in between the video games and the board game. This might just be a great jumping on point to people who have been curious about either. It’s also ironically the cheapest way to get started with Bakugan as you don’t have to buy all the collectable figures or the DVD’s which are still only on Season One.

Story Rating: 6.5/10

2. Graphics

I was kind of surprised when I first learned the game was going to use cell shading style graphics instead of the Japanimation that the cartoon uses. Even so, the characters and visuals look remarkably like the cartoon, just with a video game twist. I really enjoyed seeing the cast and crew of Bakugan come to life in this format and although the graphics are by no means the best that I’ve seen on the PS3, it’s still a pretty next generation title.

At first glance people new to Bakugan might wonder why the Bakugan kind of well, weird in their pre-battle form. That’s because these are what the toys look like. The anime also explains that this is how they look on Earth as well unless they are battling. Now you know. I was actually impressed with how well the Bakugan spheres actually looked like the toys, right down to how they unfold on the cards. This was really well done and a nice nod to the fans of the toys.

The actual Bakugan battles are quite nice looking. I enjoyed the how colourful and detailed the battlefields were, even if they were like nothing you could ever do in the board games with all the lifts and waterfalls and the like. This really made the video game stand on its own and the backgrounds and arenas are by far the best looking bits of the game.

If there is any real downfall to the visuals it’s that most of the game isn’t animation. Oh sure, you’ll get cut scenes with the characters movie and even poses after you win or lose a battle, but a lot of your interaction with other characters are based on static images with words going across the screen as the voice actors speak those same lines. You’ll also have to deal with the same few animations for every character constantly being reused and rehashed. If you’re just whipping through story mode, this won’t be too annoying, but it can get pretty tiring when you’re in the Park trying to earn money, raise your ranking or earn trophies. Your Bakugan will always have the same battle animation when a battle starts. Yes, only one. Each has about two of three different attack animations, which is bit better, but there’s also only one “this Bakugan loses” animation, so you’ll see these a lot of course you’ll be seeing them only from your opponent’s perspective, but more on that later. The distinct lack of variety with what’s animated of the screen does tend to detract from the visual quality, but thankfully you can skip through nearly all the standard repeat scenes like you can in a lot of tactical RPG’s.

Bakugan fans will almost certainly love seeing their favorite characters and Bakugan in high definition graphics, even if they might be wishing what they were seeing was more in line with the cartoon rather than cell shading, while newcomers will probably find the graphics pretty but quickly repetitive.

Graphics Rating: 6.5/10

3. Sound

As mentioned earlier, all the English voice actors from the anime reprise their usual roles here, which no doubt enhances the game for any and all Bakugan fans. Everyone does a good job with their lines, and it’s the inflection and emotions that the actors use that really help to save the script at times. What IS unfortunate though is that none of the music from cartoon series has made it into the game. It’s all new backing tracks. The score isn’t bad, but the game sort of loses something when it doesn’t have the backing of the J-Pop bands like Psychic Lover, Za Bon and Elephant Girl that did the anime.

Other than that, you got some pretty generic sound effects and battle noises. It’s nothing bad, but nothing really interesting or memorable. Of course, the board games sound effects is a ball rolling on a mat so it’s certainly better than that!

Again, the game is really geared towards the anime fans primarily, and said fans will be happy with the voice acting as the actors brought their A game instead of phoning it in for the video game spin-offs. Still, the lack of the actual J-Pop bands and their replacement by generic background tracks can be a let down.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

With the actual Bakugan your goal is to roll metal balls onto a mat. If the ball lands on a magnetic card that has been placed on the mat, then it will transform into a monster. When two opposing Bakugan land on the same card, a battle breaks out. The winner gets the car and the first player to get three cards wins. Of course there are variations to this, but that’s the gist of it.

For the most part, the video game version of Bakugan Battle Brawlers captures the feel of the collectable game quite nicely and then adds a bunch of new things to it. To be honest, I actually preferred the video game version at times, especially with the new battle arenas and additional power ups placed into the game.

Each player starts off by laying down a gate card (the card mentioned earlier) and it is on the opposite side of the arena from where your player is. Later on you can lay other gate cards, but only one at a time and is has to be touching another gate card. Then you pick which Bakugan you want to use this turn and fling it after aiming with the left analog stick and cranking up the power with the R2 trigger. Here’s where the game starts to differ from the video game. After throwing the Bakugan you can steer the ball for a limited amount of time by holding down the R2 button and then using the Sixaxis motion to guide the ball. This is a lot of fun and one of the best uses for Sixaxis I’ve ever seen, but I have to admit I had a few problems at first. See, the way I naturally hold a joystick is also the position you hold the joystick if you want your Bakugan to come to a screeching halt. Oops. So after swearing a bit, I adjusted how I held the Dual Shock 3 for the remainder of the game and never had a problem afterward. The motions were really well done, but I can’t deny that if you play on the straight up board that mimics the board game that a LOT of challenge is lost. It’s really easy to guide the ball to where ever you want.

Now this changes after you win the Neo Cup. Then you start getting into boards designed just for the game with pratfalls, trampolines, telekinetic bubbles, waterfalls, springboards and more. When I first saw this I was like, “What the heck is this?” and I purposely flubbed my first shot on the Aquas board just to see how the computer played the board and how to use the power ups. After watching that and doing a few tests of my own, I ended up loving these new video game exclusive arenas, especially as there is no way they could work in the board game version of Bakugan.

Your deck consists of three Bakugan, three ability cards and three gate cards. You can customize this however you want by buying new of any of the aforementioned categories. You’ll start off with a deck geared only for a single colour, but I ended up playing a tri-color deck of Light, Wind, and Earth to get through things. Besides buying new items you can also upgrade your Bakugan to make it more powerful. I hilarious just raised Leonides repeatedly to see if brute power could dominate the game (which it did easily) and there were some battles he was at a power level of over 1500. The general range is low 200’s to upper 300’s by the way. Yay overkill!

Gate Cards raise each of the six elements’ power level when a fight starts, but it’s a different amount per element, so where you land is as important as who you use. As well, you can use anywhere from all of your ability cards to not using any of them when a battle breaks. It just depends on how big of an advantage you or your opponent has before you start laying down cards. After a battle, you gain Bakugan points, which act as money, and your rating also shifts. You start out at #999 and try to get up to number one.

The video game version of Bakugan also adds three new mini games to play for a battle starts up in order to give you one last chance to raise your characters power level. Now if two computer controlled characters fight each other, they don’t have to play these mini games, but you always will when it is your turn. These games consist of a DDR like hit the buttons as the right time to earn power, a target practice game where you aim at orbs and try to hit the ones that are the same as your Bakugan’s element, and finally you have a game that is just shaking the controls as fast as you can. There are three difficulty levels for each of these mini-games, both the difficulty setting and the game you’ll be playing are randomized to give you some sort of challenge, although to be honest, there isn’t much of any. This game is made for kids after all.

Basically you take these same rules and adjust them slightly for tag team matches or four way dances, Unfortunately the game lacks “Big Game Style” which is Bakugan slang for when players get six Bakugan and six gate cards instead of the usual three of each. That would have been fun to test out in this game. Maybe in the inevitable sequel.

The game plays exceptionally well, the engine is solid and although the game is actually light on strategy and you can just power your way through the experience, there’ s still something fun about the simplicity. Each of the new arenas you unlock really brings life to the game and as you progress the AI gets smarter and the CPU characters start using more powerful Bakugan. That’s always a bonus for those starving for a challenge from this thing.

I found myself pretty hooked on the game and there are so many different strategies to try out that range from out and out attacking your opponent and using critical strikes or one hit KO to trying more defensive ways to win such as using Stays (Getting all three of your Bakugan on three different gate cards) or Double Stands (Two of your own Bakugan on the same card), that kids will be able to play Bakugan Battle Brawlers however works best for their own style of play and still come out a winner. Nice!

The most important thing here is that the video game captures the play style and spirit of the board game and then makes it even better. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replayability

Bakugan takes a bit of a hit here for three big reasons.

I. There is no online component. It boggles my mind Activision didn’t force this on the developers. This is meant to be a social game after all. Because it’s most a single person game and you can only play with friends if they come over to your house, you lose all the meeting new people and making new friends aspect that has helped make Bakugan so popular in the first place.

II. There only about a dozen different Bakugan in the game. Sure you can pick ones with different elements, but it’s the same twelve guys with palette swaps save for each character’s “unique” Bakugan. This means you’ll be seeing a lot of the same things and customization is nowhere the level it could have been.

III. The computer’s A.I. isn’t very good and there’s no real reason to keep playing the game after you beat Story Mode unless you’re trying to get trophies or collect everything which well, nets you trophies.

I’m really disappointed here because replay value should have been this game’s biggest feature, but instead what you get is a fun and frantic game that leaves no real reason to replay unless you have a lot of friends over at your house regularly and you all love Bakugan. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing amount of fun playing this game and spent way too much time in the Park then I should have, but there is so much that could have and should have been done with this game for Replayability and quite frankly, NowPro dropped the ball.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Although there are three difficulty settings and your opponents will get new and more powerful Bakugan as you grow, the game is still undeniably easy. At times it’s a cakewalk. This is partially because of the added mini games. These things are so easy and give you such a boost in power that it’s hard to lose a battle unless you’re seriously dim with strategic games. At times I wish these could have been turned off, not only to give me more of a challenge, but so that it would feel more like the board game. The same could be said about the ability to steer your Bakugan. This is implemented really well and the controls are solid, but there is no doubt this makes the game far too easy a lot of the time.

At the same time, this game is for kids, so the game is obviously made for their challenge level, not mine. As well, I primarily play Tactical RPGs and bullet hell games, so the changes made for the video game are right up my particular skill set. It could very well be that younger gamers will have a harder time as will people new to any form of Bakugan.

There were only two battles I ever lost in my entire Bakugan Battle Brawlers experience and they were both tag battles. I should clarify that it is not *I* who lost the battle, but my partner. Sometimes they wouldn’t use cards even though they had three and the opponent had none while the enemy was only ten points higher than them power level wise. Sometimes they couldn’t make a shot the entire game. Sometimes they would keep landing on a card I already occupied. So on and so forth. Every tag battle where I had a computer partner was a glorified handicapped match. Yet I still only lost two of them in my entire time, post during Story Mode and in the post game.

Again, the game is not meant to be difficult. It’s obvious that once again, the game is meant primarily for the anime fans and that the main crux is to enjoy the story and get to play Bakugan against your favorite characters. It’s a $40 side story that you can play, and in that regard, Bakugan Battle Brawlers succeeds marvelously. The game’s is never a really challenge for older or more skilled gamers when you’re playing against the CPU but the game does shine when you’re playing against other people. It’s just too bad they’ve made it so hard for you to experience multi-player in this age of online gaming.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

The board game version of Bakugan Battle Brawlers has been hailed by the toy industry as the most original and innovative game in years. It’s won numerous awards and it’s been a phenomenal success. Although the video game won’t end up being as big as the game or the anime, it’s still quite innovative. I can’t think of ANY video game quite like this, and NowPro’s added elements really help the game to feel like its own beast instead of a quick cash-in like a lot of licensed titles.

Bakugan Battle Brawlers is something you have to really experience for yourself to understand and/or appreciate it. There’s nothing quite like this out there although the closest I can think of is that it’s like marbles with Warhammer figures and the collectability and randomness of Magic: The Gathering.

Originality Rating: 8/10

8. Addictiveness

I can’t lie. I’ve sunk over twenty hours into this game and I’m still going. I beat the game on my first go through and then started playing over just doing park battles to see how high I could get Leonides. Although the computer opponent is pretty easy, there’s something about this game that just screams fun. I suppose it’s like Tetris is that it’s simple and easy to go through, yet it’s hard to stop playing. The first time I played the game, I looked up after a bit and saw five hours had passed. That’s pretty impressive as I usually have to take a break an hour (or at most, two) into a game for something to drink, eat or just to shift around. Each time I turn the game on, it sucks hours out of me as I try to come up with new handicapped for myself. Can I win just doing Stays? Maybe just Double Stands? What if I only use Robotoids? Things like that. I can’t explain why any more than I can explain why used to play the hell out of the old RTS version of Magic: The Gathering for the PSX even though I hated the card game. I guess I’m just a tactics addict at heart.

If you’re a fan of Bakugan, board games, or strategy games in general, this video game will be a major time suck. Even if you’re not, you’ll be surprised how much you get into this game as we’ll see in our next section.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

A few nights ago friends came over for food and movies. However, they came over while I was playing Bakugan and watched me finish a round. Someone asked what the heck this one and if it was another horrible game I had to review. I said that it was indeed a game I had to review, but not a horrible one by any means. Another person asked to give it a try, so I logged out of Story mode, went to the arena and let people try that along with the tutorial. They were hooked. To make a long story short, what was supposed to me food and movies ended up being five hours of people playing Bakugan. Here’s the thing: these were not kids and nor were they even gamers. They were people ranging from their mid twenties to early thirties, all of which were professionals with a larger than median income. Yet they were all having a blast with two to four player Bakugan. By the end of the night people had their own favorite characters, human or Bakugan, and ended up adoring this thing. They were all pretty taken aback when I said this was a collectible tabletop game as well as a cartoon series, and at least two of them went home to Netflix the anime, even though again, these weren’t the type of people usually into that.

There’s something addictive and infectious about this game, especially for casual gamers that will let them have a lot of fun. It’s easy to learn, the rules are minimal and yet there’s a lot of room for customization (although not as much as the real game) and multiplayer is so enjoyable it breaks my heart all the more to know there isn’t an online component for this.

The bottom line is most people will have fun with this game, even if they’re not Bakugan fans already. It’s great for people who don’t game a lot and it’s a fun way for parents or anyone related to a younger child to start a bond with them. One of my friends has a nephew that is going to get some Bakugan stuff for Christmas now, which I suspect is an excuse for her to get some Bakugan for herself to play against her niece with. You’ll be surprised how many people enjoy this game for what it is, even if it’s not going to be anyone’s GOTY pick.
Appeal Factor: 8/10

10. Miscellaneous

I enjoyed my time with Bakugan and as it was priced below the average PS3 title, I feel I got my time and money’s worth out of it. However, I can’t empathize enough what a horrible idea it was for a video game based on a multi-player collectable board game to not have ONLINE MULTIPLAYER SUPPORT. Seriously, this is easily the worst decision I’ve seen this year and had Activision provided it, this could have been a truly great game for kids to play when they can’t get together in person. Seriously, what were those guys thinking?

It also would have been great to have been able to make a female protagonist because a lot of girls like Bakugan too. Only being able to play as a boy kind of died out two console generations ago. How much would it have cost to just have an extra voice actress read the protagonist’s line with a girl’s voice as well? I know it sounds silly for me to harp on this, but Bakugan has some pretty strong female characters in the anime and it would have been nice for the game to reflect that by letting little girls make one of their own.

I’m actually really looking forward to the sequel because I know they can fix a lot of these issues. This was a well made game but the next Bakugan video game needs to have things like more Bakugan to choose from, better A.I., Big Game Style play, and of course, online multiplayer support. Had all these things been in this game, it would have been a great game. Instead, it’s merely a fun one that everyone can enjoy once in a while, but it’s by no means a game people will play for weeks, or even days on end thanks to these issues.

Miscellaneous Rating: 6.5/10

The Scores
Story: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 3810
Miscellaneous: 6.5/10
Total Score: 66.5
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (ENJOYABLE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Bakugan Battle Brawlers is a fun little game. Even though Story mode is geared strongly for fans of the anime and everyone else will have to play a bit of catch-up, the game is highly addicting and it’s hard to put down the controller, especially if you’re playing with friends. The rules are easy to learn and its gameplay and different modes of play are enough to unite casual and hardcore gamers alike for brief periods of time. The game enlists both the writers and voice actors of the anime, making sure Bakugan fans will be delighted with this game. It’s not without its flaws though as Story mode can be painfully easy, especially if you decide to grind to level your team up. Worst of all, there is no online play for the game, and as this is based on a board game that is specifically designed for playing against other people and making new friends, this is almost a slap in the face to the spirit of Bakugan itself. Even with these two big flaws, Bakugan Battle Brawlers is at least worth a rental because it really is fun and besides, you’ll be able to feel a little younger understanding and enjoying what kids these days consider the big toy/game. I mean how many adults did you know when you were a kid tried to complete Predaking? Come ‘on – bridge that generation gap!

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