I was working at a Toys R Us when Bakugan first hit the scene in the United States. On a daily basis, I would see how stoked kids got about the toys. I’d answer calls from frustrated parents hunting down products they couldn’t pronounce. They would plead with me to check and double-check the store’s inventory in case the stock reflected in the computer was, somehow, incorrect. One of my shifts was even devoted to running a tournament for a couple dozen players who ranged in age from six to sixteen. Despite all this, I was convinced that Bakugan was an ill-fated trend, sure to die down within a year. That was 2007. Around thirteen years later, Spin Masters and WayForward are preparing an upcoming title, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia. What I’ve learned helped me understand how the franchise has endured, but also gives me the impression that Bakugan is going to be around for a while yet.
Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is a game based on Bakugan: Armored Alliance, the second season of the anime to come out since a reboot in 2018. The series, like Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, or even the original Bakugan anime, also has a collectible game tied into its core identity. The new game is meant to function as another pillar in the Bakugan experience, equal to the other two rather than some easily dismissed supplement or tie-in. As such, it will be familiar to fans of the toys and anime, but also functions as a fully-realized product in its own right.
In the game, players will experience a brand new story set in a city that is nearby and similar to Los Volmos, the setting explored in the show. Early on, the player’s custom character will encounter a Bakugan. Bakugan are biomechanical creatures whose living planet of Vestroia merged with the hero’s planet thirteen years before. The event affected the world’s culture in such a way that these creatures can be used to fight tournaments. While entering that tournament is the next step for the player character, the game’s narrative isn’t going to entirely revolve around friendly competition. Players will also uncover a sinister plot which ties into the tournament story and escalates the stakes substantially.
As giant monsters are wont to do, Bakugan are fighters and the tournament is all about them fighting. The humans they bond with, called Brawlers, have an active role in their matches. At the start of a match, players select a team of three Bakugan which can be swapped in and out during the match to better suit different situations. As the Bakugan face off, the player navigates the battlefield, racing against their opponent to acquire reserves of energy called “BakuCores.” The player is also in charge of issuing commands for the Bakugan to use one of its four selected “Baku-abilities.” The goal is to eliminate all three of the opponent’s Bakugan before they eliminate yours. At a glance, the battles seem to have a lot of potential. Choices made in and out of battle seem to have a lot of impact, and it could be very fulfilling to watch them coalesce and synergize.
Baku-Abilities, which are mapped to four face buttons on the Nintendo Switch controller, can be changed in and out of battle. The game has five factions, and both Bakugan and Baku-abilities, are tied to them. They function a bit like elements or types from other games, and a Bakugan can only use Baku-abilities from the same faction. Each faction is strong against two others, and weak to one. This is likely an important consideration to be made when constructing a team. The fact that Bakugan can fulfill classic roles like “tank,” is also a big element in team composition. Some Bakugan can heal or support, while others are geared toward offense. Some even actively damage themselves in exchange for buffs. There are a lot of choices to be made.
Unlocking more choices and abilities might end up being one of the more compelling parts of the game. There are 17 different species of Bakugan and hundreds of collectible items in Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia, including a wide array of aesthetic character options. While there is the estimation the main game could take between 20 and 30 hours to beat, they did say that acquiring 100% of the games collectibles could take between 40 and 50 hours. Fortunately, the developers said this isn’t necessary and players who prefer to stick to just a handful of favorite Bakugan and abilities should still have a great time. And if they happen to discover a new favorite Bakugan late in the game, there will be mechanics in place to quickly train the monster to an appropriate level, mitigating the frustration of a long experience grind.
Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia will offer multiplayer through Nintendo Switch Online, as well, and these modes will pull from whatever the player collected in the game’s main story, so there is certainly a value in collecting everything. While there won’t be local play, players can match up with friends that they’ve added to their Switch friend list or participate in a ranked matchmaking mode. These multiplayer modes should be able to fill out the game further and offer challenges beyond those present in the single player mode.
I hope Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia does launch with both the accessibility and the potential for depth that early footage seems to suggest. While I can’t know for sure at this point, it does seemed to be a very layered experience, mechanically speaking. The animation and story could also be a great fit for fans of the show. It’ll be interesting to see how newcomers and hardcore Bakugan fans react on November 3, 2020 when Champions of Vestroia releases in North America for Nintendo Switch.