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Review #380

Bakugan: Defenders of the Core
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Now Productions
Genre: Third Person Action
Release Date: 10/26/2010

One year and one week ago, Activision released Bakugan Battle Brawlers across all consoles. The game, developers by Now productions stuck exceptionally close to the actual collectable board game while mixing in the characters of the anime in an entirely new adventure where you, and your Bakugan Leonides (eventually Omega Leonides) joined up with Dan and his friends to stop Masquerade and other bad guys. Mark, Aaron and I reviewed the Wii, DS and PS3 versions respectively and surprisingly, even with very different gaming tastes amongst us, we all highly enjoyed our time with the game. Hell, I even earned the platinum trophy for the game.

Five months later, Activision released a DS-only sequel called Bakugan Battle Trainer. Aaron reviewed it, but he really didn’t like it, citing how the game was nothing like the first and/or the collectable tabletop game. Now seven months after that, it’s time for the third Bakugan game in a year. Like Battle Trainer, Defenders of the Core eschews the actual Bakugan game and just uses the anime characters. Is this a recipe for failure yet again, or does it turn out the odd numbered Bakugan games are the good ones?

Let’s Review

1. Story

In the first Bakugan game, we had a nice little story that was easily accessible to anyone, including people who had never heard of Bakugan before playing. Every character was introduced, the rules of the game and basics of the anime world was explained and you had a fun little story involving a brand new Bakugan made just for the video game named Leonides. Leonides proved to be pretty popular with Bakugan fans and so it would have made sense to continue his adventures and to make another easily accessible game.

Well, that didn’t happen.

Instead we get a game based on the second season the anime, New Vestroia where nothing is explained and the gamer is just thrown into the adventure. If you haven’t seen a single episode of the second season you will have no idea who most of the characters in this game are (only three return from season one) and you will be pretty lost. Besides that your character (who is brand new) is accidentally teleported to an alternate universe where you don’t exist and a group of bad guys (Whose origins, motivations and personalities are never explained) named Vexos have taken over the world and are trying to destroy the Earth’s Core. Vexos has also somehow removed everyone’s ability to “brawl,” which is to huck a metal ball that turns into a Bakugan, except yours because you are from an alternate reality and so their brawl draining machine or whatever doesn’t work on you. Not being from this world also allows you to see the spirit of the Earth itself, Abyss (who should be named Gaia, but hey, alternate reality) who asks you to save her from Vexos. The game then just goes from you randomly running through levels to reach a landmark where you then battle. Repeat 15 times and you have the game.

So to say I was underwhelmed by this is an understatement. First the game is totally inaccessible to people who haven’t watched the second season of the anime. Second, the game’s plot has too many damn Macguffin’s in it. You’re the only guy that can brawl. Vexos wants to destroy the core of the Earth for no reason. It just borders on stupid. Third, there is no character development. In the first game there was a nicely written story with some excellent characterization. Here characters just say a line or two and then it’s on to either a map level or a battle. The game’s plot assumes you are extremely knowledgeable about each character and then gives you nothing storywise save “Go to point A and battle.” Finally, once again, you can’t play as a female brawler so Now Productions comes off pretty misogynistic. To make matters worse, the only female character on the good guys team falls trappings to every cliché in the book. She gets herself captured, she’s incredibly stupid, she falls prey to the bad guy’s evil plan and she forgives the main bad guy at the end of the game for TRYING TO DESTROY THE WORLD AND ALL HUMANKIND. Simply awful.

Unless you are the biggest Bakugan fan ever who has all the toys and can recite episodes of the anime by heart, you’re going to see the plot of this game for what it is: totally uninspired drivel written to justify a crappy rushed out game that just uses the Bakugan license and characters. It’s pretty bad from beginning to end and if the game didn’t have the Bakugan branding, and was just a generic action game, EVERYONE would hate it.

Story Rating: 3/10

2. Graphics

Bakugan: Defenders of the Core is a pretty game to be sure. The human characters and Bakugan alike look like they’ve stepped directly out of the anime. Now I can’t say that I like a lot of the specific Bakugan designs (The first game had more Bakugan to choose from and better looking ones) or the apparel the kids are wearing in this, but the game does look like an anime, and since that’s the intent, I’m cool with it here.

There are a lot of cut scenes in the game and again, they look good. There’s a fun “Voltron” like scene at the very end of the game that I adored, even if the end result was far less impressive than what I had hoped. By that I mean, I didn’t like the eventual gestalt design, but the animation sequence was fun.

The game offers two different stages and very different graphics for each. The first half of each stage is like Metal Gear Solid stealth missions for tots. They are all exceptionally easy, and you find yourself weaving through various cities to reach an end goal and collect ability cards and metal figurines along the way. The cities are far more detailed than I expected and I was quite happy with the visuals here. The second half of a stage is the brawling itself where giant Bakugan duke it out in the cities themselves, all of which can be destroyed. Again the Bakugan are well rendered and detailed, as are the cities. This is a very pretty game, but that’s all I can say that is positive about my time with it.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

I enjoyed the voice acting and music in the first game but was disappointed that the J-Pop songs from the anime weren’t used at all. Again, new generic music is thrown into this game instead of actual tracks from the cartoon. This is disappointing, but at least the title track for the game is pretty good. The recent of the tracks in the game are decent as background music, but ultimately forgettable.

Defenders of the Core uses all of the anime actors from the second season of the anime, but there are several problems. The first is that a lot of the actors phoned it in this time around. The second is that a lot of the new characters have horrible voices to begin with. Shadow, Baron, Ace, Spectra – the voices provided are lousy to begin with, so the phoning in just makes it worse. Finally, your allies just don’t shut up when you are in battle and you will grow to hate them all. Seriously. It gets worse when your characters keep screaming at you to do something that isn’t actually possible at that moment, “You should use an ability card” will be yelled at you almost from the beginning the battle starts. However, cards have to charge up by hitting opponents or being hit by them. Having to hear this suggestion when no one has even attacked yet will drive you nuts. Same with a lot of their other advice. “You should try shooting your opponent from a distance.” Well thanks for the tip jerkface, but I’m surrounded by three enemies who have unblockable shooting attacks so I HAVE to get up close! Oh man, words on a written page cannot describe the annoyance factor here.

So decent music tracks and some of the worst use of voice acting I’ve seen in a while. At least the game uses the actual actors from the second anime season, but when they are used horribly and they fail to put in a quality performance, things go south quickly.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

What I loved about the first Bakugan video game was that is basically took the actual tabletop game and turned it into a video game complete with some new map designs that wouldn’t be possible with the real game. This was a great idea and the end result was a fun game. You know what are some horrible ideas? Taking Shadowrun, an excellent tabletop RPG and turning it into a First Person Shooter for the 360. Taking Magic: The Gathering and changing it from a CCG to a RTS for the Sony Playstation. Taking Call of Cthulhu and turning it into a first person shooter where you kill Dagon with a rocket launcher. The running theme with all of these abysmal failures is that a tabletop game was turned into a video game, but everything save the branding and characters from said game was removed and replaced with something truly awful. Bakugan: Defenders of the Core is such a game.

Instead of being a nice game that collected tons of Bakugan for you to play with, the game not only scales back the total number of playable Bakugan (Down to twenty and that includes the evolutions!), but the game has decided to go the route of combining Tower Defense (an pretty lackluster genre to begin with) with the worst bits of the Godzilla game for the Gamecube and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. The end result is a horrible mess with unresponsive controls that sucks from beginning to end.

Okay, when battles start, you get to choose your Bakugan and up two ability cards which can be used in battle once they have charged. Your goal is to defeat your enemy as well as destroy any Vexos Crystals in the level. Their goal is to defeat you or destroy a landmark in the area. See? Tower Defense. Some levels give you the option of building a hologram tower which acts as a decoy to enemies so they attack that instead of the landmark you are protecting. Of course, enemies end up attacking whatever they are closest to, so the towers only work half the time. You should choose a Bakugan and a tower the same way you choose a Pokémon – making sure your choices are super effective against the enemy and not the opposite.

Combat is pretty dull and inoffensive at first, but as the game adds more opponents, crystals and eggs for you to attack, the game becomes a clusterfart of enormous proportions. The square button is your fast but weak attack and the Triangle button is your strong but slow attack. You can create combos with these two attacks but really, everything feels like button mashing. The circle button is your distance attack and you can hold down the button to charge your shot for a more powerful and unblockable shot. However said charge makes you stationary while charging and while firing so nothing is going to sit there and let you charge and shoot them. X lets you jump and holding it lets some Bakugan fly. Combin this with the R2 trigger to dash and that’s pretty much your game. It’s pretty shallow, combat is generally dull, and everything is pretty repetitive. However there are two controls left I haven’t mentioned and that’s because they are so especially bad, they deserve careful mention.

L2 is the block/combo break button. Pressing L2 normally creates a shield that should block attacks, Pressing L2 right as you are about to get hits should initiate a combo breaker, but this only works half the time. Same with regular blocking. I found you have to hold the button down to block, not just press it and combo breaking requires so pretty strange timing that is made worse by the fact a “press L2 now!” graphic comes up at a time far after the actual time you should have pressed has occurred. If you actually try to follow the prompt on the screen you will NEVER pull off a combo breaker. This is simply awful.

R1 is the targeting button. This is all fine when there are a few enemies on the screen, but when there are multiple, targeting begins to lag. I also found that even if you are standing right next to an item you need destroy at the beginning of the stage, that’s not what is initially targeted and it will turn out to be the last targeted item on the cycle. Awful. What makes targeting even worse is that you have a stationary camera that is always behind you and you can’t manipulate it at all. So let’s say there is an item behind you that you want to target, but instead the game has chosen for you to target something else on the other side of the map. You can’t even see the item behind you! If you try to move towards it, your Bakugan will move in reverse the whole way. Cycling to the item generally takes longer than moving in reverse, but moving backwards also means you can’t actually see anything in the direction you want to go. Laggy targeting and a fixed camera are two horrible decisions for any action game and to have both in the same game drove me nuts.

Now the game IS playable. I got an “A” or “S” rating on every level, including a “S” on the final boss, so the game is definitely beatable (and kind of easy), but the controls are so bad that you will hate the game with each passing level. So tell me now and Activision, why didn’t you just go with a REAL Bakugan game instead of this horrible engine?

Control and Gameplay Rating: 3/10

5. Replayability

Once you beat a level, you can always go back to it to get a higher rating and more core energy. Core energy acts as XP to give your Bakugan better abilities. This, like everything else about the game, is heavily scared back from the first game and there is far less customization. You can’t even pick a Bakugan’s attribute like you could in the first. Now once you beat the game, Story Mode is restarted. You get to keep all your core energy, upgrades, cards and Bakugan, but the second playthrough lets you access new Bakugan you weren’t able to use in the first go-around but that were useable in multiplayer mode. Again, the total Bakugan that can be unlocked is twenty, half of which are evolutions of the earlier Bakugan – far less than what you had in the original game. It’s not really worth it to replay the horrible story mode for a second time unless you are going for trophies.

There is a multiplayer mode in the game called “Battle Arena” that offers three forms of play. You have duel, which is 1-on-1 battles, Free For All, which is 2-4 Bakugan duking it out, and Destruction Battle, which is basically a story battle but with two human controllers. These options are nice except that A) the game sucks, B) there’s no online multiplayer which is what Activision STILL hasn’t put in after three straight Bakugan titles and C) split screen is done vertically instead of horizontally and so multiplayer battlers look and feel really weird, complete with mashed up visuals.

Unless you are going for trophies, there is no reason to replay Story Mode and unless you have friends that are going to want to play a third rate beat ‘em up/fighting/tower defense mash up instead of playing with real Bakugan, there’s no reason to play multiplayer mode at all. Both are dull and are completely out of touch with why people play the tabletop version of Bakugan in the first place. It’s nice that Now put some replay options into the game, but there’s a difference between having options and having GOOD ones, and the latter is something Defenders of the Core definitely lacks.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

Much like the gameplay, the balance in Defenders of the Core is horribly done. This is partially because of the awful camera angles that prevent you from seeing what is going on around you, partially because of the horrible AI in the game, and partially because the game’s requirements jump all over the place. We’ve already covered the Camera, so let’s talk about the other two.

Okay, the A.I. makes no sense to me. Sometimes the computer will attack you or your landmark and other times it just runs around like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s also supposed to always go after your hologram tower before the landmark but this only happens about half the time. A great example of the AI problems comes with how I got a perfect “S” on the last boss of the game. Instead of attacking me, he just kept to this corner of the game attacking this rock until he finally destroyed it. I just picked him off with charged shots than after he destroyed the rock, ran up to him used an ability card, got a 27 hit combo and that was it. No damage, no challenge. Remember, THIS WAS THE LAST BOSS. Things like this happen a lot. Bosses tend to be super easy and yet the rank and file Bakugan Trap cannon fodder give you more of a challenge due to numbers and trying to break your stuff. It’s horrible. It also doesn’t help that the last boss is specifically weak against the Bakugan you use for the final battle. It’s like coming in with Mewtwo to fight the Pokémon Champion and finding all he has are Grimer. LET+DOWN.

The game requirements are also messed up. The third to last battle is the toughest in the game as you have to deal with a veritable onslaught of enemies, destroy multiple Vexos crystals, including one that is super hard to reach all while defending a single landmark and you only get one hologram tower to help you out. Also, you’re in NYC so the level is basically a maze. This would be a great last battle. But it’s not. You have two more after that which are insanely easy compared to the NYC battle and everything is just so anticlimactic and dull by comparison.

Everything is just out of whack with this game. The first few stages were fun but the rest of the game just dropped into “suck” territory and never managed to emerge.

Balance Rating: 3/10

7. Originality

This is the third Bakugan game in a year, so Activision and Now are really trying to squeeze blood from a stone here. It’s just a shame that the first game was so fun and the second and third have been…well, not fun. Since the game has gone from an innovative way of converting a tabletop game to a generic and badly done action game, the originality score plummets. Hell, this isn’t even the first “let’s ruin a tabletop game by taking out everything that made it popular in the first place” game of its ilk. I understand the wanting to go with the anime characters and their storyline, or even that on paper a real time battle between Bakugan sounds cool, but the execution is horrible.

Again, without the Bakugan license, this is just a generic third rate Godzilla game with some light tower defense bits thrown in. It’s an interesting idea for a hybrid, but that’s about it.

Originality Rating: 4/10

8. Addictiveness

I’ll admit, I was enjoying the game for the first few levels. I was willing to accept the MacGuffins and the alternative universe storyline, even though I would have preferred to see another Leonides adventure or some online multiplayer action. However the gameplay was mediocre at best from the very first stage and it just continued to get worse. Again, I kept with the game until I beat every level with an A or S rating, but I did it for the review and to warn both parents and kids to stay clear of this game – not because I was having any fun. I actually found the exploration bits before each battle to be the most fun in the game, and each other were like really simple stealth missions bits that anyone could get through.

I wanted to like this game, I TRIED to like this game, but when all was said and done I was just thankful it was over and I could move on to something else. This was just not fun and I only kept playing it because I agreed to review it. At least it’s short!

Addictiveness Rating: 4/10

9. Appeal Factor

Bakugan is still pretty popular these days, but when kids pick up a game that says Bakugan on the cover I would think they would want to actually play well, Bakugan and not King of the Monsters. We’ve already seen Now can do a great job of converting the tabletop rules into a video game, so why on earth did they go this route? The camera, controls, story and engine are all terrible and unlike the first game that was very accessible to people that had never touched Bakugan before, this game assumes you know everything about the New Vestroia saga and then some.

The only people that are going to like Defenders of the Core are big time Bakugan fans that are willing to overlook a huge host of problems in favor of the fact they get to smash entire cities with their limited choice of playable Bakugan. That’s a pretty small number sub-sect of Bakugan fans. This is simply a bad licensed game and the license alone brings in an audience, but few of those people brought in are actually going to enjoy wading through this thing.

Appeal Factor: 5/10

10. Miscellaneous

So what have we seen? Bakugan: Defenders of the Core is a “budget” game at “only” forty dollars, but it offers less content, less playable Bakugan and less fun than the first game that actually held fast to what Bakugan is all about. This game also lacks: the ability to play as a female character in case you are a girl gamer, the ability to play online (saddling you only with split-screen local gaming), anything remotely resembling an actual Bakugantabletop experience and a game that sucks is pretty badly done in every way except graphics. Ick.

The bottom line, this game is as shallow as it is poorly made. It’s as if Now Productions completely forgot what made people like the first game (and Bakugan in general) in the first place. Poor show here guys.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 3/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 4/10
Addictiveness: 4/10
Appeal Factor: 5/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10
Total Score: 39
FINAL SCORE: 4.0 (POOR GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Hey kids! Are you one of those gamers that enjoyed when they turned Shadowrun from a RPG into a FPS or one of those gamers that loved when Magic: The Gathering was made into a RTS instead of a straight port of the CCG onto the PSX? Then you’ll LOVE Bakugan: Defenders of the Core as it too takes out everything that made the franchise popular in the first place and instead gives you horrible controls, a stationary camera that hinders one far more than it helps, and some very stupid A.I. The only thing this game has in common with Bakugan is the use of the name and the characters from the anime. In nearly every way, Defenders of the Core is an example of how to utterly mess up turning a tabletop game into a video game.

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