It's easy to ignore Pokémon spin-offs. After all, there are like a bajillion of them. I'm not even certain I can name them all. So for a lot of RPGamers, when they see the word "Pokémon" and it isn't followed by a colour, they consider it fairly easy to ignore. Unfortunately, this led to the disregard of an entire trilogy of excellent Nintendo DS games by a huge group of fans who would probably very much enjoy them. I'm talking, of course, about the Pokémon Ranger series.
While the main series puts players in the role of a Pokémon Trainer, capturing the creatures and powering them up to do battle, the Ranger series, as its name suggests, puts players in the role of a Pokémon Ranger, a sort of wildlife preservation force which polices the parks of the world in order to protect wild pokémon. In this role, players don't capture pokémon, they befriend them, and they do that by drawing circles around them. It's a contrived explanation for the game's core mechanics, but it works.
While it might not seem like the best idea for a combat system, Pokémon Ranger is actually shockingly enjoyable. The pokémon you do battle with aren't simply content to stand by and let you drawing circles around them, and they will launch their various attacks in order to disrupt you. Whenever your line is broken, you take damage, and against particularly strong foes, it can be very difficult to find an opening. Luckily, the various pokémon players encounter throughout the game can assist you with their own attacks, but it's a one-off. Once a pokémon has assisted you, they flee back into the wild.
The games are also very puzzle-oriented, as the various pokémon players encounter not only help in battle, but they can also be used to clear obstacles throughout the game, leading to level design that blows the main series out of the water with ease. In a similar vein, the Ranger series is also much more story-oriented than the main series. Each game has a strong cast of characters and villains, and the localization work is filled with quirky humor and charm.
If you're a Pokémon fan and have always wanted to see a more story-driven look at the franchise's universe, Pokémon Ranger is absolutely the best place to look. While all three titles are great games, I would personally suggest trying out Shadows of Almia, the second title in the series. The first game was significantly harder than either of its sequels, and the final boss might make some players throw their DS against a wall. The third title, Guardian Signs, is fairly similar to its predecessor, but I felt that Shadows of Almia was the strongest of the three. Thankfully, the latter two games are also fairly easy to find, even today, so players interested in experiencing this unique and enjoyable spin-off shouldn't have any problems.
— Adriaan den Ouden
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