You love Pokemon, your friends love Pokemon, practically everybody loves Pokemon.
I know I do. I love the show, I love the trading card game, I love the toys – hell, I’ve named cars after them. But if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I love the Pokemon RPGs. I mean I like them, but there is something about the mainline Pokemon games that just hasn’t been able to fully keep my attention in years. Luckily for me though, Nintendo has provided us with many side-games over the years, from great games like Pokemon Snap! and Pokemon Pinball, to less great games like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. Pokemon Battle Trozei is the newest in that long line, and it may be my favorite so far.
Pokemon Battle Trozei (also known as Pokemon Link Battle) follows the same basic formula that its prolific RPG companion does: travel the world, battle increasingly powerful Pokemon, and inevitably catch them all. Very unlike said companion however, you use puzzles to battle Pokemon instead of complex menu systems; and though it may look like a standard match-3 puzzle game, it’s incredibly fast pace is what sets it apart from others of the genre.
Each level in the game tasks you with battling and successfully capturing, or “trozei-ing” a series of Pokemon, ending with a rare ‘boss’ Pokemon. The Enemy Pokemon appears on the top screen, while the bottom screen is populated with several Pokemon of varying types. By matching pieces and making combos, you create attacks to throw at the opposing creature. Whichever Pokemon you match first determines the element of the attack, and the usual weaknesses and strengths found in other Pokemon games are present here. The game does a pretty poor job of explaining the nuances of Pokemon‘s elemental roshambo, so players unfamiliar with the system will likely find themselves lost; fire beats grass is obvious, but fairy beats dragon is hardly common sense.
Building combos is the main thrust of the gameplay; the more combos you can string together, the stronger your attack is. As long as you say focused and don’t slow down for a second, your combos can keep growing almost indefinitely. Many Pokemon can only be caught by building up a massive combo against its previous baby form and forcing it to evolve, and boss monsters are practically impossible to beat without a good attack, so quick reflexes and a keen eye are vital.
The quest to catch all 700+ Pokemon adds a lot of replayability to the game. There are secret challenges throughout the the world that you have to complete in order to catch the most rare and powerful Pokemon; The legendary Pokemon Latios and Latias, for instance, can only be caught after successfully taking down Rayquaza, another Legendary Pokemon, in a single attack. Another especially arduous catch is the transforming Pokemon, Ditto, who can only be caught after completing a level populated only be several different types of Unknown, a set of Pokemon based on hieroglyphics that are nearly indistinguishable. Others can only be caught in the “Safari Zone”, a series of levels with a fresh set of Pokemon to catch every day of the week. The obsession with catching every single Pokemon is part of what has made this series so popular, and Pokemon Battle Trozei captures that feeling better than any of the other side-games thus far.
Filling your bank with Pokemon isn’t just for bragging rights: you can keep any two Pokemon with you at all times and utilize their special abilities. There are a handful of powers spread across the ranks, and using them correctly adds a lot of strategy to this already somewhat complicated puzzle game. After a Pokemon stays in your party for a time, it’s affection grows and a heart appears over its icon, thus adding several orders of magnitude to the “squee factor”. Unfortunately though, finding the right Pokemon to use is extremely cumbersome; the game has no sorting system within the Pokemon selection menu so you are left staring at several hundred somewhat similar looking options, each with a different power level, elemental type and special ability.
In addition to the single-player campaign there is also a multiplayer mode, but it’s easily the most disappointing aspect of the game. You and up to three of your friends can tag-team a particularly difficult level, but there is no head-to-head competitive mode. Versus modes in puzzle games like Tetris and Doctor Mario are part of what makes them so great, so it seems like a real missed opportunity to not include one in this game.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a puzzle game that makes my heart race like this one does. I hardly have time to think as the fluid motions of my piece-swapping become second nature, and I enter a trance like state of Poke-mersion. Pokemon Battle Trozei, more than any other game that I have played in years, makes me want to catch them all.
Whether you’re looking for a fast-paced alternative to the RPG grind-fest of Pokemon X/Y, or you just need some more critter-catching to tide you over until the series’ next iteration, Pokemon Battle Trozei is well worth your time. Though it is in some ways far too obtuse, and the lack of a solid multiplayer experience is disappointing, the fast-paced and addictive gameplay will have you coming back time and time again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more Pokemon to trozei.