Digimon. Digital Monsters. Digimon are the champions. If your read that in tune then congratulations, you’re awesome and we are now friends. If you didn’t, then you must be a newcomer to the Digital World. Which makes me a little sad, but we can still be friends. Anyway, welcome to the Digital World, a place jam packed with wondrous creatures who possess the ability to transform into even more wondrous creatures at will. It’s kinda the coolest. But such a world is not without its problems. Though, they may not be the ones you’d expect…
Peace. The ultimate goal of good guys everywhere. If you stand for justice, you stand for peace, you fight for peace, you sacrifice for peace. So, what happens when you actually get peace? I mean, the battle is over, the adventure is done, what’s left? These are all questions that the Digimon now find themselves plagued with. Having defeated evil multiple times, the Digital World is experiencing a long running and well deserved break from chaos and combat…and man is it boring. Seriously, Digimon are more or less designed to kick Digi-butt and Digivolve. But the butt has been kicked, thus the boredom. But what ho! An idea arrives. When you really think about it, who said fights had to be about good vs evil? Why couldn’t they just be for fun? No reason at all! So prepare for the first Digimon Evolution Tournament, a battle royale the likes of which the Digital World has never seen. Only one will emerge the victor and be crowned the strongest Digimon. But who will it be?
All-Star Rumble is a game in which the All-Stars of the Digimon franchise rumble for supremacy, so the title makes sense. Also, when I say All-Stars, I specifically speak of 12 familiar faces (8 taken from Adventure, 2 from Tamers and 2 from Fusion), although some must be unlocked via gameplay. Rumbles themselves occur on simple battlefields that feature a full range of movement, not limited to two dimensions. So enjoy having the ability to literally run circles around your enemy. Though don’t enjoy being able to lock on to an opponent, or fire off an attack with any true sense of precision…because you can’t. So you essentially have to point yourself in your foe’s direction and hope that your attack hits, because missing will have you lock yourself into a pre-set animation that will leave you wide open to being countered. This is tremendously aggravating when combined with AI behaviour that will quite often lock you in an inescapable damage cycle, the bane of all fighting games. Said cycle is only helped by the surprisingly long invulnerability that players receive when they recover from being knocked down. A moment which can have you aimlessly attacking a flashing character, only to have them immediately take advantage of your assault and kick the crap out of you. So that’s no fun.
Depending on the selected battlefield, you may enjoy the assistance of an item zone, which will dispense an item for any fighter to grab. Be it an auto-countering tornado shield, a healing item, or a remarkably slow missile…actually that’s pretty much it. Kinda self explanatory in their effects aren’t they? On top of that, you are also able to collect Digi-Cards throughout the Story Mode, which possess additional skills all their own. Said cards activate after certain conditions are met in combat and, should your card be stronger than your opponents, bestow a buff to you or a debuff to your opponent. Handy. Though, that being said, these only serve to bolster your Digimon’s inherent skills, which are handily divided between the triangle, circle and square buttons. Attacks are unique to each character and feature such classics as Pepper Breath, Blue Blaster and good old Vee Headbutt. Using these attacks to damage your opponent slowly builds up a special Digivolution gauge that, when full, allows you to Digivolve. Shocking I know. Despite there being a number of free buttons, Digivolution is activate by simultaneously pressing all four shoulder buttons because why not? (It’s alright, I have no idea either) Once transformed, Digimon gain a substantial boost in power and speed, along with gaining access to a brand new move set. Now, when I say substantial boost, I mean substantial. As in the term power balance was resoundingly tossed out of the highest window in the Digital World. Seriously, if you’re opponent Digivolves, you’re screwed. If they fill up their secondary gauge and activate their ultimate attack…you’re already dead.
Not all fights are as simple as damaging your opponent however, some fights see fit to add an additional requirement for victory. Though you still most certainly have to damage your enemy. Want fights to spontaneously end? Try strapping an explosive to your back that will countdown to your demise. Enjoy capture the flag? Then why not capture a flag, then run away from your opponent so they don’t get the flag. Actually, those are the two most varied modes, the rest are just damage variants. More specifically fighting with lives or fighting for the highest damage within a time limit. At least it’s consistent…
Leaping all the way back to story for a moment, let’s talk about Story Mode. Within this single player adventure, you take one fighter through a number of platforming-esque stages as you make your way towards the level boss. On your way, you will fight a few characters who exist outside the selectable roster and provide varying degrees of challenge, which is decided by how nice the game is feeling in regards to trapping you in damage cycles. Though the levels provide a negligible challenge, I found the final level to be annoyingly difficult. Sure my expectations for challenge were lowered by all previous levels, but the last stage just seemed to be especially annoying. Which makes me wonder exactly who this game is being targeted at. Is it us? The long time fans who have been clamouring for a new Digimon game for a while, to the point that a petition was started to bring them to the West. Or is it for the younger fans who’s first series was Digimon Fusion? At which point a lot of the characters may go unrecognised. It just seems to trapped between playing off the nostalgia of the older fans and appealing to the youthful newcomers, an act which places it within neither category.
Something you may notice about All-Star Rumble is just how quiet it is. Sure the Digimon call out their attacks, and sure it’s awesome to hear some classic voices again, but the sound doesn’t really extend past that. Background music is sparse at the best of times and you will more often than not find yourself fighting in silence, with nothing but the clash of attacks meeting your ears. It just makes the game feel hollow. Where’s the upbeat soundtrack? The epic old school beats? Where’s the theme song? Seriously, tell me if you know…because I don’t.
Digimon All-Star Rumble is a game of missed potential. It’s true. I don’t write these words easily, or with any degree of hatred…just with disappointment. It’s been so long since the West has been able to enjoy a Digimon game, too long. When news of a Western exclusive broke, fans were happy, we were getting what we wanted. A game for us. A game with the cast we loved and the characters we missed. It was a chance for Digimon to come back to us and receive the credit it deserved, separate from the Pokemon franchise it is so often compared to (even though they are so totally different). But our wishes were not granted to the degree we wanted. All-Star Rumble just isn’t that good. The controls are clunky, the battles are often one sided and Story Mode is just the same thing over and over again. I don’t like being cruel, but it just feels like half of a game. And that is something that just makes me sad…
See some familiar Digi-Faces over at Bandai Namco