Pokemon Rangers: Guardian Signs is the third in the Pokemon Rangers installation. It's all about the Pokemon Rangers; a group of individuals whose sole duty is to make sure that relations between Pokemon and humans are going well and that Pokemon aren't being mistreated. An altogether perfect set up for a role playing game involving Pokemon. Throw in some bad guys called 'Pokemon Pinchers' who have a secret, nefarious plot that includes kidnapping Pokemon from their homes and you're all set for a great game.
The game starts you off by allowing you to pick your Ranger, a male or female, as well as naming them. Then it begins you in a flying sequence, following by a swimming sequence. I was a little confused at first, because I had thought that the majority of the game took place on land with you capturing Pokemon, not avoiding blast attacks and chasing down silly creatures who've stolen your handy dandy 'Styler' device, your main tool in the game. Not to worry too much though, the mechanics they introduce in the beginning do get revisited. Not too long after this I was treated to the main core of the game, the islands of the Oblivia region. Through a series of tutorials it was explained to me how I needed to convey my feelings of trust and friendship to the Pokemon around me in order to get them to help me.
Now, I have to say this. Stop snickering. No, really, stop snickering. Pokemon is a series designed more for a younger audience, it just so happens that a lot of adults like it to. So back to the trust and friendship part.
Capturing Pokemon is done relatively easily, by drawing circles around them on the touch screen. The 'styler' leaves a blue tail behind that's only so long and it has to be a complete circle that encloses them, so you have to make small enough circles to make it close completely. Each time you make a circle, it conveys some of your 'feelings' to the Pokemon. Your goal is to do this quickly, while avoiding the panicked Pokemon's attacks on your styler tail. Every successful attack reduces the styler's health, which of course means game over if attacks reduce it down to nothing. Over the course of the game you have the chance to upgrade your styler, making it easier to capture the Pokemon. And each Pokemon you capture has a purpose; there are objects in the game map that only certain Pokemon can interact with, so you use the ones you've captured to clear objectives and continue with the story. And you can use your captured Pokemon to more easily convey your feelings to potential new Pokemon friends by calling on their help in a fight.
This game also includes several Legendary Pokemon who are bigger, badder and harder to capture than the regular ones. Once you've conveyed enough of your feelings of friendship to them, they show you their 'Sign'. By copying it into your styler, you can then draw it again later and call on that Legendary Pokemon's help to complete objectives. Need to clear a bunch of rocks that are blocking the villagers' paths? Call a Legendary Pokemon! His dash attack can clear that right up. Need to use a broken bridge to go back and forth between islands? Call up another buddy and he'll jump right over that bridge until the villagers can get up and fix the bridge for you.
Overall, I found the gameplay mechanics to be very simple and easy to learn. There isn't much difficulty in learning to draw a circle; the challenge comes in doing it quickly and without getting the line broken by attacks. I found myself carefully waiting to see what the Pokemon's attacks were going to be and trying to draw around them if they happened to leave dangerous puddles or objects that would hurt my styler. I enjoyed being able to capture them quickly and with a minimum of damage. And while moving around the game field, I had a good time running around and capturing at least one of every kind of Pokemon that I saw. After all, once they're captured, their information gets stored in your glossary. And the next time you have an obstacle that needs a Pokemon to assist with it, you can click on any of the nearby field Pokemon and find one that has the skill you need to help you, so long as you've captured it before and recorded its data.
Granted, you can only keep seven Pokemon on your person at a time, but it wasn't too hard to juggle them. What made it easier was that every time there was a game created obstacle in front of you, the Pokemon you needed were not that far off. If I saw that I needed someone with the 'Cut' skill at a rating of 2, all I had to do was go back and explore the last couple of screens. Guaranteed I'd find at least one type of Pokemon there that had that skill for me that I could use, if I didn't already have one that I was carrying around with me. And when I started to learn the signs for the Legendary Pokemon that needed to be drawn by hand, I found that those weren't too bad either. Some of them were even pretty helpful beyond their main purpose; for example, the first Legendary Pokemon that you get, Raikou, is very useful for moving around the screens faster than your Ranger can walk.
So, I'm plodding along, playing my game and enjoying myself, when the inevitable happens. I'm sucked into an in game cinema with the characters. At first, my reaction was to just read what they had to say, soak up any useful information they had and move along. After the sixth or seventh cinema, it started getting really annoying. And after the fortieth or so piece of cheesy dialogue I wanted to gouge my eyes out anytime a cinema came on the screen. Now granted, this is a kids game. This is a kids game, this is a kids game...can you see that this started to become a personal mantra to remind myself not to go completely nuts? But after a while it got harder to remind myself of that. The game is totally to blame. Them and their little girls who demand that you give them three requests and three more when the first mandatory three are done. And for some reason, they have this strange obsession with constantly and obnoxiously pointing out old people. What's going on with that? I like old people! They've got great stories and are fun to poke in the sides 'cause they're squishier than they look.
But the game did have some pretty catchy music. It was repetitive but I was doing enough in the game that the theme music being played changed as I moved from exploring to fighting. As a matter of fact, some of the music is playing in my head right now. Good times for the little people who live there and tell me what to do. Game graphics were not that bad either and were actually pretty nice to look at. They were very bright and cheerful and nicely rendered for a 2-D game. It was easy to identify elements on the screen and I never had any problems with the graphics not doing their job, say for example, causing me to confuse two different types of Pokemon because of poor rendering.
However, the game did suffer from constant tutorial syndrome. Because your Ranger has their styler damaged in the beginning of the game, there are a lot of functions that are not opened up at first. As the game progresses, they become accessible and usable. As each feature opens up, you are treated to a cinema type tutorial that explains how to proceed with each new technique. To be fair, the player goes for decent stretches without getting a new cinema, but I found them to be constantly popping up just as I was getting back into the gameplay experience after having dealt with cheesy cinema. The need to explain new game mechanics is appreciated, but I'm not sure the right balance was stuck between explaining it to the player and keeping the experience interactive and immersive. There's a lot to be said for learning how to do things in game as opposed to reading about it in an instruction manual, but after a certain point it becomes tedious and annoying to constantly have to learn some new technique in what should be a fairly simple game.
Guardian Signs also includes a multiplayer mode which is fairly simple. Your ranger goes onto a specialized designed map where the sole goal is to capture specific Pokemon within a time limit in order to escape the dungeon that they're in. I found this mode to be pretty straightforward, making for an interesting side diversion from the main game.
Overall, I enjoyed the game experience. There were way too many cinemas and way too much cheesy, pointless dialogue from the other characters, but by golly if you can get past that then you've got a surprisingly addictive and engaging game. Improving your capture scores and finding all of the hidden Pokemon make it so that there's some replay value to the game, making it a worthwhile purchase for fans and non-fans alike, once they've trained themselves to ignore the annoying bits.