What is it with the Pokemon clones? It seems like every time I turn around, the Game Boy Advance has yet another 'new' RPG with Pokemon elements in it. Invariably, these games all feature some unique variation on the 'gotta catch 'em all!' motif of the Pokemon series, but really, how many more of these games do we need?
Atlus apparently thinks the gaming public needs at least two more-which is witnessed by the fact that they've recently released Robopon 2 in two versions. Ring version, which features fewer battles and a more streamlined gaming experience, and Cross version, which is much more battle intensive. Both games are direct sequels to the GBC Robopon title, and the collecting obsessed amongst us will have to buy both carts if we want to own every possible Robopon in the universe. If nothing else, it sure is a nice way to double your profits on a title.
And while it may seem like I'm in an incredibly bitter and cynical mood as you read this-I'm not, really. Robopon 2 is actually pretty decent. It's incredibly derivative of the Pokemon games and its traditional to a fault, but it's still an entertaining way to kill some time while this summer's RPG drought continues with no end in sight.
A Tale Well Told…Sort of.
Robopon's writing team won't be winning any awards for their effort here. The game tells an incredibly simplistic and contrived story that begins immediately after the end of the original Robopon. In fact, it even sort of replays the ending of that title to set the stage for what's about to happen.
Our intrepid hero, Cody, has just defeated the evil Dr. Zero and earned the rank of Contender 1 (which is sort of like ultimate badass in the Robopon world). Upon returning home, Cody learns that he's been chosen to represent his island in a Robopon tournament on the mainland. No problemo-Cody's a Contender. Unfortunately, on his way to the tournament, he realizes that he forgot to pack his Robopon. No big deal-they'll just turn around and sail back to get them…what's that? There's a giant storm that keeps them from sailing back the way they came? I see…
Unable to return to get his Robopon, Cody must start from scratch. Not only does he reach the mainland without his allies, he's also got Dr. Zero to contend with. Like a slasher film villain, it seems that you just can't keep Dr. Z down. All of this sets up a quest which will have the player traveling through time, fighting low-ranked Robopon trainers in order to regain your rank, completing various fetch quests, and finding batteries in the hopes that you can spark bigger and better Robopon. Of course, you'll have the ultimate showdown with Dr. Zero along the way, too.
The story is the game's weakest link by far. The plot is so laughably absurd that I quit paying attention at the halfway point (and frankly, I probably should have quit sooner-when the main character conveniently forgets his most vital objects on his quest, you know you're in for a real doozy of a game). Honestly, the tale's only here to serve as a way to get the player from one town/fetch quest to the next. Robopon 2 isn't concerned with telling you an engaging tale-it just wants you to spend loads of time finding all of the batteries to create new Robopon. That's fine if you're into the whole collection thing-but if you like a story to go with your game, then you might want to steer clear of this title.
Fortunately for Robopon 2, the shoddy story is overshadowed by the gameplay-which is engaging, if a bit traditional.
If you've played one turn-based RPG in your life, then you're ready to jump right into Robopon. As Cody, you'll navigate a world map that's dotted with towns and dungeons. Towns have all sorts of goodies-shops, quests, lowly Robopon masters to battle, and so forth. Dungeons are inevitably where the townsfolk will send you to continue your quest. They're filled with monster Robopon (or maybe they're just wild…) who you'll have to battle.
Battle is an incredibly traditional turn-based affair. Your Robopon line up on one side of the screen, the enemy on the other. You then take turns attacking, using items, etc. When hit points reach zero, that Robopon is scrapped and no longer usable (until you can revive it with a program or take it back to town).
Winning battles earns the team experience points and occasionally items and cash. Earning experience will allow your Robopon to level up and grow stronger. Eventually, you might be able to enhance your robots-making them into a new class.
Robopon come in three different classes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Building a balanced party is important if you wish to see the end of the game. However, two of the classes seemed essentially useless for much of the game. Arm Robopon seem to be the way to go since they can equip weapons and software, both of which make them a force to be reckoned with in battle.
Along your journey, you'll be able to find and buy batteries. Batteries come in many different varieties and can be combined to create new Robopon. Experimentation is a key component of the game, because the majority of combinations will yield Robopon that you don't want (like those crappy gear things). Save before sparking-that way, if you get a Robopon you don't want, you can re-load and try a new combination.
About the only major gameplay flaw I noticed was that the random encounter rate was extremely high. There were spots in the game where you couldn't take three steps without encountering a battle and that quickly became tedious. I had flashbacks to Beyond the Beyond on a few occasions-and as anyone who's suffered through that knows, that's not a good thing.
Finally, the game features a link mode option wherein players can link up their GBAs and swap stuff or create new Robopon. This is a nice feature that will save some gamers from having to buy both versions just to get the exclusive Robopon in each title.
So, the gameplay as a whole is solid, if a bit traditional. Cross version seems to feature an abundance of random encounters, so if you hate fighting every few steps while trying to explore, you might want to opt for Ring version instead. At any rate, the game doesn't re-invent the wheel, but it does enough things right to make it entertaining.
Much like everything else in the game, the visuals in Robopon 2 are serviceable but unlikely to leave you gasping in amazement.
Towns look nice-not unlike the 16-bit RPGs of the SNES era. There's some interesting colors and architecture to be found, but unfortunately, that's the high point as far as the game's graphics go.
Character models are a little deformed and honestly almost reminded me more of 8-bit era games than anything. Robopon are small sprites with little detail and a real lack of frames in their animation. This is particularly noticeable in any of the game's numerous battles. Spell effects are just as simplistic.
There's not much else to report here. The graphics are serviceable, but definitely of lower quality than a lot of the GBA games currently on the market.
This is another one of the categories where the game becomes better than average. The game's soundtrack is a lighthearted and simple affair, but it complements the mood of the game quite nicely. It's fluffy and not at all serious, but it works.
Unfortunately, like most fluffy and lighthearted tunes, it's ultimately forgettable. Still, while it's there, you're not likely to mind it.
Sound effects are basic, but nothing so bad that you'll wince every time you attack. The GBA doesn't have the best sound processor around, so you'll have to keep that in mind while playing.
Overall, the sound and music are decent. You won't play the game with the volume turned down.
ConclusionsIn the end, Robopon 2 is a game that players will either love or hate. Maybe hate's too strong a word-it's a game you'll either love or feel indifferent about. Fans of Pokemon-inspired games will find much to like in Robopon 2. There are robots to make and customize and catching them all will take a fair number of hours. Add in the link features and you can increase the play hours significantly. However, those of us who aren't into the whole Pokemon thing will no doubt find Robopon 2 to be an average title that aims lower than it should but hits the mark. While a lot of the categories are average at best, the gameplay is fun enough to keep even those of us who don't care about finding all the robot combinations interested until the end of the main quest.