The Pokemon Ranger spin-off series started out as an innovative, new way to experience Pokemon, by connecting with them emotionally and capturing them for single-use only in your party. More environmentally friendly than, say, trapping them in small balls. The original Ranger was rough on the edges, and its sequels have continuously added new features and ironed out its flaws one by one. Tracks of Light again tweaks the Ranger formula for the better, but like its own predecessor, Shadows of Almia, still leaves out a few inconsistencies that haven't been fully resolved.
Tracks of Light takes place in a dreamy, relaxing archipelago of islands known collectively as the region of Oblivia. The storyline follows the same structure as the rest of the Ranger games. Some evil team of goons is threatening peace, wants to capture Pokemon and misuse them to take over the world or something or other. This game revolves around the Pokemon Nappers, which may sound generic, but it's still a way better name than Almia's Team Dim Sum....er....Dim Sun.
The main gimmick of Tracks of Light is the ability to summon Pokemon by drawing out runes known as Ranger Signs, and there are a lot of them. The Legendary ones are found throughout the storyline and are used to overcome obstacles. For instance, drawing out Suicune's sign lets you ride it across bodies of water. The Ranger Signs for the normal Pokemon allow you to call them to your party to help you in battle. These interactions with Pokemon are rarely seen in other Pokemon games and is a very cool new addition to the series, though more variety in their functions would be nice.
It's not every day Raikou becomes your beast of burden
The game mechanics have remained unchanged from Shadows of Almia, with the attacking Pokemon having a HP bar that you deplete with each loop of your Styler, along with a few new tweaks. Among those, the PokeAssist system has been revamped. Pokemon no longer contribute to your Styler's attacks and then are discarded, they come out to the battlefield and attack directly. And you can use them more than once now.
New features include underwater and sky missions, some involving underwater chases for Pokemon or the Nappers, which take place with your DS turned sideways, and the sky missions see you capturing Pokemon in the sky thrown at you by the Pokemon Nappers and avoiding bullets fired by them like some bullet-hell game. And both take place often enough for them to register in your mind, thankfully.
Challenge is added by making bosses a lot harder with the addition of the Anger Meter which depletes more slowly than usual, and only a Pokemon's attacks can deal some real damage against it. That's where your Partner Pokemon, a Pichu comes in. Pichu deals damage using music from its ukulele(that's a small guitar) and its power gets upraded throughout the story. And it fixes the problem of making enemy Pokemon too easy, because previously, partner Pokemon could paralyze the enemy temporarily allowing for quick and easy capture. In Tracks of Light the paralyze state is much tougher to come by, ramping up the difficulty.
Or, that's the case for the early game anyway. The inherent problem with Ranger is that at late game, after your Capture Styler has been powered up through all the in-game leveling, most Pokemon no longer pose any threat to you. You might even be able to capture a Pokemon in a single loop. So efficiently, after you explore every area, beat the final boss and thus complete the story, the challenge and replayability factor is all but gone. And this region being a set of islands, it's smaller than the continents you used to explore in the previous Ranger games.
Another problem brought over from Shadows of Almia that hasn't been fixed is the linearity of it all. There are no mazes to get lost in, no side paths or completely indestructible obstacles that make you say 'oh, I'l come back later in the game when I've got stronger Pokemon in my party' kind of thing. All the Pokemon you need to barge your way into the next area is always around you. And that limits your exploration of the game and shortens your adventure.
There are sidequests though, about five or six are available for download over Wi-fi and a billion other quests in-game which serve up Ranger Points and new Ranger Signs as rewards. And these can keep you occupied for a few hours. Another fact that weighs out the flaws just nicely is this game has around 300 Pokemon to capture in total, which is the biggest roster in all the Ranger games.
Our Ranger discovers something odd. It's just a rock....or IS IT?
The final piece in the puzzle is the multiplayer mode. Nintendo were smart enough to let this mode be playable while you're solo as well, and by yourself, these will be some of the toughest challenges you'll face in the game. Boss Pokemon have been beefed up even more and have crazier attacks than ever. Forget the main storyline, unlike the main game you're forced to grind for levels and scrounge up 'AP' to level up your Styler as well as your partner Pokemon, if you're playing alone. It's compulsively addictive stuff.
The result is a Ranger game which still has a few old cracks, but still manages to be the latest and best game in the series. And it's one you could consider importing, or you could wait it out for the US version, because this is one Pokemon game you can't afford to miss out on.
- Exciting new features
- Improved graphics
- Multiplayer offers much challenge
- Not much replayability, linear construction