Playground fads come in all shapes and sizes. Throughout my younger years, I enjoyed nothing more than gathering some overpriced tat and swapping it with my friends outside of school. Whether it was a lump of plastic, a Pokemon trading card, or a holographic sticker of Alan Shearer, all my pocket money went towards the latest craze. By the time Bakugan came around, I’d have been put on a register for hanging around a primary school showing off my wares. Fortunately thanks to the folks at WayForward, I can now get my brawl on at home with Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia.
You start the game by creating your adorable child avatar, who has always dreamed of owning a Bakugan and spends all their free time watching Viewtube videos from their favourite Brawlers. As you might expect, it isn’t long before fate lends a hand and you find your very own gigantic monster to show off to your friends and do battle with.
As always seems to happen to children in video games, mysterious circumstances end up leading you on an epic quest that will see you investigating natural disasters alongside doing your schoolwork. Champions of Vestroia’s story probably won’t blow the minds of older players, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable tale with a few references to the anime for fans.
Bakugan regulars know that the appeal of Bakugan is in the brawling. After learning the basics of battle from the Awesome Brawlers, you’ll soon be thrown into the BakuCore field. During these fights you control your kid, as their mammoth creature does battle behind you. To power up your Bakugan enough to attack, you’ll need to collect cores (glowing hexagons on the floor) and throw them over to your oversized ally. Your opponent will be trying to do the same, so you’ll need to use your strategy and positioning to provide as much energy as possible to your flaming T-Rex or sparkling unicorn.
Each Bakugan has four abilities they can use in battle, ranging from simple attacks to all manner of status boosts. Once you’ve gathered enough energy you’ll need to decide what will help most in the current situation. It might be best to sacrifice some health to deal massive damage to a flimsy foe, but for a more powerful enemy you may need to dodge or heal more often. The complexity amps up as you gain new moves, with some attacks that deal extra damage or heal more health if used after another. You collect or can buy new ability cards as you progress through the game, so you’re constantly equipping new abilities and testing new loadouts as you progress.
The best way to give yourself the edge in battle is to use a Bakugan of an elemental type that trumps your opponents creature. There are five types of Bakugan each with their own strengths and weaknesses, ranging from aggressive Darkus types to Aquos types that generally focus more on healing. The individual species of Bakugan can be found in a variety of elemental types too, so if you just want a full team of kaiju-like dragons you can do so while covering all your bases with a rainbow of scaled friends.
Finding new Bakugan to add to your team is never an issue. You’d think that owning a titanous monster that you can store in a pocket sized pod would be reserved for society’s elite, but children give them away for beating them in battle, or helping them find their lost football. I even found one discarded in a fountain, proving that in the world of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia the street value of a three-storey lion is around 20p.
If brawling with the AI isn’t enough, there’s also an option to take to the Internet and fight a real human or two. You can do this with a friend, or just take on a random stranger. All of your abilities and Bakugan are taken from the main game, so unless you and your opponent have played the same amount of the story it’ll be particularly unfair.
Outside of brawling, you’ll spend your time wandering about your idyllic town solving mysteries and talking to strangers. There’s no shortage of side quests to complete, usually in the form of a quick fetch quest which is marked handily on your map so you can’t get lost. The rewards to these vary greatly, which is unfortunate because walking across the map isn’t exactly the most gripping gameplay that Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia has to offer. It’s worth it when your given money for your help, but the number of pairs of plain shoes I ended up owning was pretty ridiculous.
You’ll never be short of things to spend your hard earned cash on. Clothes and haircuts are available so you can customise your character to your liking, and make sure they’re the cool kid at school. For those wanting something more functional, there are Bakugan abilities and Brawler abilities to buy. Although expensive, Brawler abilities are an absolute must if you want to win battles. These powerful boosts to your character can make you run faster to collect cores before your opponent, or cruelly knock an opponent down. I chose an ability that meant that cores flew over to my ally without me having to waste time throwing them, which made me much more energy efficient.
Although these buffs to your brawler help, my main issue with Bakugan is still how slow the battles are. Whittling down your enemies health just feels like it takes too long. Collecting cores does make creature combat more dynamic than a turn based system, but running from one hexagon to another isn’t particularly thrilling either. When everyone you fight ends up having 3 Bakugan after the first hour of the game, you’ll be spending at least 5 minutes on each encounter, often a lot more.
Another frustrating part of battle is the fact you are unable to check which of your four abilties is assigned to each face button. Your big bud’s attacks are shown as patterned hexagons on the side of the screen, but there’s no way to know what they do unless you’ve memorised which is which. These HUD elements also block out some of the BakuCore field, and I’d often miss out on nearby cores because I couldn’t see them behind each teams abilities.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia, but the combat is just too slow paced. Gathering cool dinosaurs and mechs is as compelling as you’d expect, but battles take too long and the HUD blocks out cores far too often. Fans of the property might be able to overlook some of it’s flaws, but there are better monster battling games out there.
Collecting a range of Bakugan is compelling
A lot of strategy in choosing your abilities
Lots of customisation options for your kid
Combat is too slow
The HUD blocks out some of the battlefield
Side missions are often dull fetch quests
No way to tell which ability is which in battle