If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Bakugan, it’s the intro to the anime series…and that’s about it. Oh, I also know that the Bakugan are spheres that open up into little monster figures. I know that isn’t a tremendous knowledge base to start from, but we’re all here to learn. So, with that in mind, let’s see what Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia has to teach us.
Lesson one: Bakugan are from Vestroia. See, what a great start we’re off to. More game specifically, Bakugan are capable of crashing to Earth in a meteor-like form—a method through which our protagonist finds their very first Bakugan. Now, I’m not sure if every child in the game’s universe stumbled upon a glowing crater containing a Bakugan, but our protagonist did; so…yeah. I’m also being rather vague about our protagonist, as this is one of those affairs where you, the player, design them. Though a fun gimmick—as character creation always is—the same assets are also used to build most other NPCs, leading to a world where slight variations on a singular base design are constantly chatting. This also extends to the clothing options in the game, robbing the protagonist of a little of that classic main-character uniqueness. There is an afro, though, so that’s cool.
Pulling our view back a little, the world of Vestroia is…slow. Though the game is split into rather manageable sections—such as the school, the suburbs, and downtown—they can feel a touch too spacious given the speed at which the protagonist moves. It isn’t a snail’s pace, but it still feels slower than you’d like. It’s also a hard factor to avoid, since most quests involve running from one side of an area to the other in order to talk to and/or battle somebody. This is further exacerbated by the longer-than-you’d-expect load times—present whenever you enter a shop or change map areas—making the overworld experience feel like you’re moving through honey, or molasses, or some other thick liquid. However, the most frustrating element of manoeuvring through the overworld is the map: I have no idea why, but it never pops up immediately. I know this might sound like a minute complaint, but having to wait a second or two every time you want to check where you’re headed—which is often because there’s no mini map—just wears you down. It wore me down, at least.
Continuing this point, combat also suffers from a frustrating sense of slowness. When commencing a battle, Bakugan face off in the background (of a space separate from the overworld in traditional RPG style) and brawlers stand in the foreground—brawlers being the owners of the aforementioned Bakugan. Here’s where things get legitimately interesting: though Bakugan possess four options of attack that play out in a turn-based manner, they may only do so when the brawler collects enough energy. As such, you control the brawler in real time, running around the battlefield in order to pick up hexagons of light; it’s actually pretty cool. The active control of the brawler adds a race element to every fight, as the hexagons (which spawn and respawn randomly in the designated area) can only be claimed by one brawler—who then picks it up and throws it at/into their Bakugan. Certain hexagons also possess more energy than others, adding an element of strategy. Do you collect close hexagons? Do you make a break for a further but more beneficial hexagon? Do you just try to cut off your opponent so their Bakugan never receives enough energy to attack? All viable strategies. You are also able to upgrade your brawler with gear that alters how you collect hexagons. Some gear provides a speed boost, some allows you to automatically pick up hexagons (as opposed to having to press the A button), and others grant an ability with a recharge—like the one that lets you stun your opponent for longer than you’d expect, the one that a rich antagonist totally didn’t drive me insane with by spamming it every time I got anywhere near him…the jerk.
Oh, but I began the previous paragraph by stating that combat felt slow, didn’t I? Well, it does, and there is one major reason for this: cut-in animations. Every single time a Bakugan attacks, the name of the move appears on screen and an animation plays. I mean, animations are par for the course in these types of game; so, why is it so frustrating here? Because of the active element of controlling the brawler. Any sense of flow or real-time control is robbed from you every ten seconds when a Bakugan attacks. Your character is simply forced to stop every time you or your opponent strikes. It just makes playing this game feel like you have a spotty internet connection, like you’re watching a video that’s buffering every few moments. Which is unfortunate, because if attacks simply played out in the background without cutting away, the game would be great: running around and fuelling a battle between monsters would feel…important. There are so many series that revolve around children collecting and battling monsters, but seeing brawlers have an active role in their Bakugan’s fights would make this game stand out from all of them in a unique way. As it stands, the idea is sound but the execution is lacking.
So, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is a game with some interesting concepts that are just a few tweaks away from being truly fun; the entire experience is just…slow. I know I’ve repeated that a few times, but it’s true. Every action felt like a chore; like there was a moment of regret if you ever hit the map button without meaning to. It may sound petty to whine about a simple second or two here and there, but that time adds up…and it adds up fast. It’s just frustrating. Frustrating because the pacing wears on your patience, and frustrating because I can see the game Vestroia could be; it just fell short of the mark. I did get to befriend a Bakugan alicorn named Pegatrix that wields the attribute of Haos/Light, though. That was pretty dope.