Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia Updated Hands-On: Putting Out Forest Fires

We check out the latest entry in the Pokemon family tree of games for the DS.

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add a new page to this storyPokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is the second game in the latest spin-off from the decades-old Pokemon juggernaut. The Ranger games take an action-oriented approach to the classic "catch 'em all" Pokemon formula and cast you as a human out to keep the world safe with the aid of various critters. This time out, you'll find yourself in the Almia region, which offers an expansive landscape for you to explore. We had a chance to try out a playable demo at Nintendo's recent Media Summit and were pleased to see that the game is turning out to be a solid follow-up to its predecessor.

The playable demo dropped us into a mission that had us going to the Vien forest to help put out a forest fire and help the native Pokemon. The action played out in the standard third-person top-down view that's a staple of the Pokemon games. As in the previous DS games, the second screen contained a map and assorted useful information. The biggest tweak to the action is the refined and more-forgiving capture system using the touch screen. You're not penalized as harshly for lifting your stylus as you try to draw a circle around your target. You'll be able to continue your circling and capture your quarry even if you lift the stylus. Once you've captured your Pokemon, they'll follow you around. Some of the Pokemon you capture will offer you perks as you explore; for example, you can ride a Doduo or use a Blastoise to put out fires that block your way. Your Pokemon can also assist you in battle; for instance, you can use trigger Pokeassists, which let you tap any of the Pokemon in your posse for a one-time attack in battle. As always, a Pokemon's elemental affinity affects how useful it is against a particular foe--water attacks are more effective against grass, grass is more effective against water, and so on. The downside is that once you've tapped one of your critters for an assist, it leaves the party.

The visuals are on par with those in the original Pokemon Ranger game, albeit with what looks like a few more special effects here and there. The art style sticks with the bright, moderately detailed look of its predecessor. The assorted Pokemon look sharp and have distinct personalities, and their special abilities are nicely showcased as you play.

The audio provides a solid complement to the action and features a comfortable mix of familiar effects for the Pokemon and their special abilities. In addition, you can expect bouncy tunes to accompany your helpful actions.

From what we've seen so far, Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia should please Pokemon fans. The addition of the Pokemon from Diamond and Pearl to the menagerie and the refined controls keep the gameplay solid. Pokemon Ranger: Shadows of Almia is slated to ship this November for the DS.

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