Nintendo’s second attempt at free-to-play Pokémon captures the fun of collecting them all without bleeding you dry.
Unlike its free-to-play Pokémon progenitor Pokémon Shuffle, Pokémon Rumble World, out now for free on the 3DS eShop, doesn’t feel as restricted by its microtransaction hooks. Rumble World has way more to do and is a much fuller game, often feeling like a simplified sequel to the 2011 3DS game Pokémon Rumble Blast than a cash grab. To that end, Rumble World is the kind of game I don’t feel bad putting some money into. It feels like a $15 eShop game that you pay for over a period of time instead of all at once. It’s a design that I’m way more interested in, even though I did get sucked into Shuffle to a certain degree. Rumble World has a very simple gameplay loop that taps into my basic Pokémon-loving instincts, as it takes the process of catching them all and transforms it into a lighthearted dungeon crawler.
Rumble World is split across different levels that you access by using hot-air balloons. Each hot-air balloon, which is usually tied to a past entry in the main series, offers three or more locations that you can randomly adventure to. Each area has a set rotation of Pokémon you can encounter that changes randomly every time you go there. The levels are a few minutes long and involve your controlled Pokémon dungeon-crawling their way through real-time battles. For better or worse, you can only play each level once every few hours, though you can use the in-game currency Pokédiamonds (which you can spend real money on) to shorten that time.
As you fight the Poké hordes, you can capture some of the creatures and then use them in battle. Rumble World is much like the past entries in the series as it takes the basic concepts of Pokémon and translates it into a shallow, Diablo-lite adventure. You capture absurd amounts of Pokémon, sometimes several of the same one. However, that’s beneficial because Pokémon can’t level up in this game and each creature has a distinct move set. Letting go of your old Pokémon is a key part of progression as you have a limit (albeit one that can be increased to a very high level) to how many you can carry at once. It is indeed possible to catch every single Pokémon in this game.
There’s also a light story following a hapless king that you wind up helping out. The king sends you on adventures that feature multiple objectives and challenges and as you complete these adventures, you earn Pokédiamonds. There’s a limit to how many adventures you can go on in a day, but if you’re really averse to spending any real money, you can totally farm and replay the adventures to get enough Pokédiamonds to get what you want. You can also get Pokédiamonds from StreetPassing and interacting with players online, but since I was playing it pre-release, I didn’t reap these benefits that much. My favorite part of the adventure is that, as you pass by other Miis, you can "cast" them as different characters in the story. Currently, GameTrailers' Kyle Bosman is a princess in my game.
As far as the microtransactions go, you can, in theory, beat this game without spending a dime. That would require an insane amount of grinding, but it’s possible. However, the way the game is structured and designed makes it so you really don’t need to sink much money into it to progress. You can dip into all sorts of cosmetic bonuses, such as gear for your Mii, but the main use of the purchasable Pokédiamonds is to unlock more levels. As you collect more Pokémon, more hot-air balloons unlock for purchase that give you access to more areas. The balloons increase in price the further you go, but disregarding any Pokédiamonds you earn during gameplay, it would cost you around $15-20 to unlock everything. Basically, Pokémon Rumble World is a completely free game that you can buy additional levels for if you want to. While Pokémon Shuffle felt like it played into the most nefarious free-to-play ideas, Pokémon Rumble World seems to play into the better ones.
At this point, I’ve spent close to 10 hours with Pokémon Rumble World. I adore it because it satiates my desire to play a Pokémon game without dedicating 30+ hours to a full-length RPG. It’s very similar to how I play Theatrhythm Final Fantasy when I have the urge to play a Final Fantasy game. Much like Theatrhythm made me more interested in Final Fantasy than I have been in years, Rumble World made me interested in collecting hundreds of Pokémon for the first time since 2000. Even if there is a clear random element to what Pokémon you capture, it doesn’t bother me because the lighthearted gameplay is amusing even when I’m not making progress towards collecting them all. Pokémon Rumble World is similar to the past entries in the Rumble series but it’s totally free to start and, as long as you’re not terrible at it, won’t cost you more than if it were a full-price eShop game.