Pokémon Ranger Arrives on Virtual Console to Remind Us That Not Every Spin-off is Pokémon Go

Pokémon Ranger Arrives on Virtual Console to Remind Us That Not Every Spin-off is Pokémon Go

Without a multiplayer component, is there really much point to Pokémon?

Because apparently there's no such thing as too much Pokémon, Nintendo's Virtual Console update for this week consists of a single Pokémon DS title (I hesitate to say "classic") for Wii U: Pokémon Ranger.

Pokémon Ranger hails from a time of transition for Nintendo and Pokémon: The DS had only just begun to truly prove itself thanks to the DS Lite, and the fourth-gen Pokémon games (Diamond and Pearl Versions) had arrived in Japan but were still half a year away in the U.S. The DS may have been catching on with skeptical audiences, but that was no thanks to Pokémon — the handful of DS Pokémon titles prior to Diamond and Pearl's arrival were decidedly lackluster. And that includes Ranger.

While not as utterly dire as, say, Pokémon Dash, Pokémon Ranger lacked anything like real substance. The game sends players out in search of Pokémon, yes, but it plays as a shallow action RPG trapped in the morass of that horrible era where developers felt obligated to do something with the DS touch screen, even if they didn't have any good ideas. Remember when a perfectly excellent Castlevania forced you to draw demonic seals in order to beat bosses? Pokémon Ranger belongs to that slice of history.

In this case, the touch screen element ties in with the act of capturing pokémon. It's not a bad idea in principle, but in practice it feels pretty brain-dead. To catch 'em all, you enter a sort of real-time RPG battle in which you have to draw circles around wild creatures as quickly as possible. Despite the presence of something resembling an RPG elemental system (inspired by Pokémon types, of course), Pokémon Ranger lacks much in the way of depth. (According to Wikipedia, a critic by the name of Jeremy Parish once referred to the game as "crappy" — a definitive statement if ever there was one.)

Of course, so does Pokémon Go, and that's one of the biggest, most addicting games of all time. What's the difference? Socialization. Pokémon was built on the premise of socializing — playing competitively with friends — and that element runs deep throughout the franchise. It's the heart and soul of the mainline games, and it elevates the lightweight Pokémon Go into something akin to an MMO. Ranger, as with most Pokémon titles lacking any kind of real social or multiplayer element, lacks the substance and interest of the games that include it.

About the only thing Pokémon Ranger really had going for it was the way it unlocked a Manaphy egg in Diamond and Pearl... something the Virtual Console release can't really offer. Ranger looks great on Wii U, as with all DS Virtual Console games, but a decade of age has not turned this particular Pokémon adventure into a forgotten classic.

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