Digimon is one of those series in which my interest has fluctuated over time. I was all over it as a kid, dropped it, checked it out when I was older, dropped it again, and so on. Given my history, I was at least curious when I heard about Digimon All-Star Rumble. That, and I do play some fighting games from time to time, and those fully 3D kinds are pretty cool when they rarely happen. I was a little disappointed by the line-up of Digimon (which is rant-inducing on its own, but I will have my rant elsewhere), and the livestream Namco held had seemed somewhat boring… but it couldn’t possibly be that bad.
How wrong I was. As I booted up the game, I immediately noticed that I only had access to 4 Digimon and one of each of their higher forms—8 out of 32. The remaining 8 base Digimon have to be unlocked by playing through Story Mode and fighting them once, and the 8 alternate forms for the 12 need to be unlocked by beating Story Mode once with a Digimon that has each of those alts (so I only need to beat it with Agumon or Gabumon to get Omnimon for both).
This sounds simple enough until you realize that your opponents in the 8 stages of Story Mode are somewhat random (though some are static per character). I thought they were all static for each character until I read that someone managed to unlock the entire playable roster by clearing the story with Shoutmon and then Wormmon. I actually needed to beat it with Agumon to get all of the characters from Digimon Adventure; Shoutmon only yielded Guilmon, whom clearing the game with only got me Impmon. Wormmon would have taken me forever if I hadn’t gotten it on my fourth clearing of said mode with Veemon.
This would not be an issue if Story Mode were actually fun. Sadly, however, it is not. You go through 8 stages with only seven enemy types, all of which are either boring or frustrating, then fight a Digimon at the end. The first seven stages are fairly easy, with the main problem being that your health isn’t replenished before the fight against the Digimon at the end, leaving you at a great disadvantage. Moreover, the final stage is an annoyingly difficult, long slog with no checkpoints except at the end. While the first seven levels can be completed quickly, the eighth is long and difficult, and caused me no end of frustration. Depending on the Digimon, it can be a cakewalk, but my run with Guilmon took me longer than clearing the first seven stages, my only incentive to continue being that I wanted to get Gallantmon.
Story Mode is also the only source of in-game currency, which is used to purchase Digi-Cards on top of the freebies you get by playing said mode. Digi-Cards can be equipped to two slots based on whether it’s offensive or defensive, and the Digimon has to match the type of Digimon you’re using (vaccine to caccine, virus to virus, etc.). I haven’t found any instructions that actually tell me what triggers the cards, but what I do know is that they seem to activate semi-randomly based on their percentage chance of activating, and they have effects if they beat out your opponent’s defensive card. One may do a damaging shockwave, for example, while another may drain your opponents’ EP meters.
When you actually get to Battle Mode, the more fun mode of the game, you’re presented with a few options. You can play with up to four players, you can disable items and Digi-Cards, set it to teams of free for all, and there are six types of matches to pick from.
There’s a 3-minute time battle where defeating an enemy earns you two points and makes them lose one point. There’s a simple combat mode with three lives per character. There’s a mode where you try to keep a flag for as long as possible. There’s a mode where there’s a bomb strapped to you that will eventually kill you (you have three lives) and damage surrounding enemies. There’s a mode that gives you three minutes to deal as much damage as possible. Finally, there’s a mode where defeating an enemy makes them drop a medal, the first to collect three wins. That last mode is basically the same as just having three lives if it’s one-on-one.
I tried these modes with three bots and they were all decidedly okay. I was a bit annoyed that Digivolution only lasts 9 seconds, but this is more than long enough in practice. I then arranged to play with my two brothers to see if they were any better with actual people. Sadly, our fourth Xbox controller had gone missing and our third is effectively unusable, so we only had two to use and thus played one-on one.
The game is very much dull in one-on-one fights, with each game taking far too long. Most of the mechanics involve actually getting a hit on someone, so only having one target to hit slows things down. The stage selection, while some are amusing, can’t save it. On the other hand, four was chaotic. This would be fine if the game had online multiplayer, but it’s local-only. You need to get three friends next to you to extract any enjoyment out of it.
As someone who liked the Nintendo DS Digimon RPGs, it goes without saying that I want the more recent Japanese ones localized. Digimon All-Star Rumble, unfortunately, is not nearly as interesting as the 3DS and Vita Digimon games appear to be, and I honestly couldn’t recommend it to anyone, fan or not.
Food for thought:
1. Agumon does not say “Pepper Breath” unless you fully charge Spitfire Blast.
2. I thought Frontier received no representation, but it turns out they made Neemon the unskippable tutorial guy in the Story Mode. He says the same tutorials each time you play through, so I ended up just mashing A.
3. The annoying Digimon with the axe in Story Mode can be dodged consistently by running around him counter-clockwise, due to the hand he throws with. He’s a major nuisance otherwise.
4. The credits are hilariously long and unskippable. Nowhere near the 15-minute credit sequence of Sonic Colors, but enough to make the background song loop multiple times. At least holding A speeds it up.
5. Both of my brothers hated the game, by the way. I actually apologized for wasting their time, then we all went to play Mario Kart 8 and hyped ourselves for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (this all took place on November 20th). We have very few overlapping tastes, but Digimon (to different extents) and fighting games are among them, so it’s rather damning that none of us can say we enjoyed it.
6. The older one of my younger brothers is the competitive sort of gamer who gets good at a smaller amount of games (he even streams speedruns), in contrast to my playing a large variety of games, so I called for him because I expected him to find some sort of imbalance. We thought we found an infinite with Gatomon’s uncharged Cat Laser against a knocked-down Guilmon when he doesn’t have enough SP to dodge out, but it turns out I could just block. Oh well. The thought of something like that making it through bug testing was too funny to be true anyway.