If you’re a Bakugan fan, the first videogame from the franchise in almost 10 years is likely music to your ears.
Switch-exclusive Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is a brand new adventure based on the popular franchise. If you’re unfamiliar with Bakugan, think Pokémon – but instead of capturing and training cute pocket monsters, here you’re brawling with giant beasties. Though just like Pokémon, when they’re not in battle they fit neatly away into a small sphere. Practicality and all that.
In the game, you take on the role of a new Brawler – the name given to those who train Bakugan. You get to create your own character, although the character creator is rather barebones. Aside from a few hairstyle choices, there isn’t much freedom. You do collect new pieces of clothing as you play, though, allowing for more customisation as you progress through the game. But that’s by the by. What you look like isn’t important; the ultimate goal in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is becoming, well, the champion of Vestroia. And to do that, you’re going to need to fight a lot of Bakugan.
There’s a decent narrative that runs through Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia, although it’s pretty basic. It unfolds mostly through conversations with NPCs, but it’s enough to keep you interested as the story moves forward. It’s a shame there’s no voice acting, though, and the written dialogue isn’t always of the best quality. It’s basic and uncomplicated – this is a game aimed at younger players, after all – but that’s no excuse for the frequent poor grammar. It just feels a bit lazy.
It’s not enough to put you off though, and it helps that Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is a nice-looking game. Its bright and colourful environments really pop on the Switch’s screen, and every area is a pleasure to explore. Each area – from the town centre, to the school yard, to a construction site and a beachfront – has its own unique feel, and although there isn’t a great deal to do in any of them, there are plenty of NPCs to chat to and numerous side quests to pick up.
Those side quests are often repetitive in nature, but they do add some welcome variety to the gameplay. You’ll have to find items dotted around an area, for example, or go fetch an item for a character. Yes, it’s busywork, and the fact you have no minimap makes finding your target more difficult. You’ll have to flick between the game and the map page to check where you’re heading, which is irritating. But even with that annoyance, you’ll likely be glad to engage in a side quest or two; they at least offer a reprieve from Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia‘s often relentless combat.
It’ll come as no surprise that combat is the focus in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia; this is a Bakugan game after all, all about training and brawling with your huge monster friends. It’s just a shame that brawls are woefully dull, can drag on far too long and, often, come at you thick and fast.
It’s rare you find yourself fighting just one opposing Bakugan; typically you’ll have a team of two or three to take down, which means one combat encounter can last a long time. There’s very little to combat; as the Brawler, you need to run around the battle arena picking up hexagons of energy from the floor. Collecting them will power up your Bakugan, and once it has enough energy, you can activate one of four abilities. By default, a Bakugan typically has two attack abilities, one defensive and one debuff, though you’ll earn new abilities as you play, allowing you to customise each Bakugan’s loadout.
What skills are available to you make little difference to Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia‘s flow of combat, however. Regardless of how powerful your Bakugan are, or what skills they have equipped, you’ll still find yourself running tirelessly back and forth to pick up energy. It gets incredibly boring, fast. And it’s compounded further by cheap AI enemies who’d rather spam a healing ability or block buff than try to attack you, making battles even more dragged out.
When you have a full team of three Bakugan, you do have a special ability that you can activate once per battle. You’ll need to fully charge the energy of each Bakugan – that means collecting enough energy without activating any abilities. Once all three are fully charged, you’ll be prompted to press ‘A’, which activates your team ability. It does a huge amount of damage to your opponent, but the fact you can only use it once per battle means its usefulness is limited.
Battles often also come at you too frequently in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia. It’s expected in tournament battles, sure, but there are numerous occasions where you’ll need to battle a series of NPCs while exploring the world. A chain of three or four opponents, each with two or three Bakugan each, means you can be in battle for upwards of an hour. That’s a long time to be doing little else other than running backwards and forwards, occasionally tapping a button to activate an ability.
Sure, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia may be aimed at younger players, but that’s not an excuse for dull game design. Simple gameplay does not have to equal boring and repetitive. The desire to distinguish combat from the likes of Pokémon’s more straightforward turn-based commands makes sense, but at least that’s faster-flowing and more engaging. There’s just not much fun to be had in running from one energy hexagon to the next.
If you’re a fan of Bakugan, there’s no doubt you’ll get a kick out of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia. It’s a great-looking game, and seeing those huge beasties in battle for the first time is quite a thrill. But the game’s dull and repetitive combat quickly loses its excitement, and the fact you’ll be looking forward to completing a mindless side quest simply to get a reprieve surely tells you all you need to know.