We test out the videogame adaptation of the hottest kids' franchise since Pokemon, or Yu-Gi-Oh, or Power Rangers, or whatever the heck it is the kids are into these days.
It's like marbles meets Yu-Gi-Oh meets Pokemon, and it's okay if you haven't heard of it if you aren't under the age of 12. With one of the top shows on Cartoon Network and toy/collectible cards flying off Wal-Mart shelves, Bakugan's the hottest sensation with the younguns these days, and naturally that means it's got a videogame.
So, videogame adaptation of super hot kids' entertainment property equals complete garbage, right? Not entirely. The build I got to test out, which will be on display at Comic-Con starting tomorrow, wasn't all that bad. Mind you, unless you're into this show or are unafraid of getting weird looks from the GameStop cashier when you buy it, this might not be up your alley, but if it ever comes to having to sit down with your kid cousin to play a game, this could be one of your better options.
The weird thing is that, for a kids' game, Bakugan's not exactly easy to get your head around. The basic concept is you play as a character from the TV show (or one of your own design in the single-player mode) and use cards and these mythical creatures from another dimension who inhabit tiny plastic balls (yeah, I don't know) to battle your foes in giant arenas. How this translates into a game, then, is like a mix of collectible card battles, Marble Madness and Pokemon.
At the beginning of your turn, you choose a spot to throw your ball, which you then heave by swinging the Wiimote. At that point, you can steer the ball around the stage to collect power-ups and bonuses that'll help your Bakugan monster fight more effectively, though you have to beware environmental hazards and running out of stamina. It's kind of like Marble Madness or Monkey Ball, and the stages are actually pretty complex and challenging to get around, with teleporters, lava pits and the sort of stuff you'd expect to see in a Mario Kart track.
Once you've boosted up your Bakugan enough, it's time to get down to business and have them battle by carefully rolling your ball onto the same card as your opponent's. After much screaming out of what they're doing ("Gate card open!") and using ability cards for more buffs or modifiers, the monsters battle it out while you play a motion control minigame to try to turn the tide in your favor.
The combination of the ball throwing and maneuvering mechanic with this light strategy fare (I didn't touch any of the RPG elements where you can evolve and customize your Bakugan) was enjoyable, if a bit slow-paced thanks to the abundance of interstitial animations of characters doing silly poses or once again declaring what they were about to do.
There's also a story mode that lasts around 10-15 hours and features a new storyline not yet seen in the cartoon. You play as a character you design and have to take through the ranks to become the top ranked Bakugan player in the world. I can't speak on this from experience, but all the voice actors are apparently present for the game, and the cartoon creators have a hand in the development, so it should pass the average 10 year-old's credibility test.
As for your test of whether this will be a game worth playing, like I said, it really is for kids but so far seems to be a bit more than just designed to cash in on a hot trend. Bakugan Battle Brawlers is due for release in October with versions on DS, PS3, PS2 and 360 as well, so if you've got any kid nieces, nephews, siblings or cousins with birthdays around then, you might want to keep it in mind.