During Nintendo’s February Nindies Showcase last year, fans got a glimpse of what they could expect for the Switch’s launch. Besides Breath of the Wild, there was still a lot of questions at the time in regarding what games would be available around the Switch’s release. Seeing a Direct-like video detailing a slew of terrific indie games that fans could play until bigger titles came was greatly appreciated. One title that caught everyones attention was publisher Chuckle Fish’s Pocket Rumble, a simple 2D fighting game with retro-inspired graphics. It catered to the concept of the Switch perfectly: on-the-go two player fighting game that anyone can enjoy but complex enough for players to master. With a release window of March 2017 fans were excited to duke it out. Unfortunately the game would be delayed for months making fans wonder if it would ever be release. Over a year later, Pocket Rumble is finally here. Was it worth the wait?
What makes Pocket Rumble unique besides the Neo-Geo Pocket Color inspired graphics is the button layout. You will only be using the A & B buttons to attack. That’s it! Though the button layout may seem limited there’s still enough depth in creating vicious combos. Pushing the analog stick towards the diagonal down left or right direction while pressing A or B still allows players to pull off special attacks. Another twist is you have to win three rounds instead of the traditional two rounds. If there is a tie breaking fifth round, the stage changes color and the smooth music is sped up making the final round feel more epic. With each health bar only taking 12 hits matches go by fast. This layout makes it easy to explain to newcomers but you’ll have to spend time with every character to understand how they function. There are eight characters in total each with their own stage. Japanese high schooler Tenchi is your well-rounded fighter, even shooting out Hadoukens like Ryu. Quinn is a fast pace character who can turn into a werewolf for a limited time. Hector’s katana takes away his own health with each swipe but if his gauge meter is full he can rejuvenate some health back making for an interesting reward/punish dynamic. Again even with a smaller roster, developer Cardboard Robots Games were able to make each fighter creatively distinguished from the rest.
While I love the characters, music and overall design of the game, there isn’t much offering for single player. The five modes for single player is as follow: Arcade, VS CPU, Career (where you can rank up points), Training, and Lessons. Do the lessons first! It teaches you the basic mechanics of Pocket Rumble as well as every fighter’s special moves. Sadly, there is no story mode which is a bummer since a backstory could’ve added another layer of complexity to Pocket Rumble. Many fighting games don’t have a good story, but with how imaginative every character is it would’ve been a nice way to tie everything together. Instead we only have arcade mode which leads to another problem of the game: inconsistent difficulty.
Going against the CPU ranges from frustratingly cheap to laughably cheap. Facing Tenchi in arcade mode was pretty even. However the difficulty spiked when going against brawler Naomi & Agent Parker. Both landed five hit combinations which took half my health leaving me in the corner as they continued to trip me until I died. I’d eventually pass them and face ghost student June. She has so many combos! Her close up game isn’t good which is why they gave her so many range attacks but the CPU has no problem spamming the same moves. The worse came when going against Keiko (and her cat Q) and zombie Subject 11. Keiko would just jump and do the same move with Q. She would even jump over me, not attack, and still spam the same move with Q even though the cat has three other moves. Subject 11 however, just kept spamming his long range punch! He would literally stand in the middle of the stage and keep punching. Not move and wait for me to get close enough so he could punch again. Many other players have experience this specific annoyance as well, so it is unlikely an isolated issue. Subject 11 may be a zombie but that doesn’t mean he has to fight brain-dead. You can change difficulty setting but only in VS CPU mode and not arcade mode. Even the easiest setting barely changes much.
To get the most bang for your buck you’ll want to play against people online. Of course difficulty will vary. When I got the game on launch day, I was ranked 409 and lost to 109 ranked player. Understandable the game was new and people were figuring it out. However, 4 days later I’m ranked 4096 so why am I still facing against players rank 200? When I face someone closer to my rank I can hold my own and have a good time. Going against someone in the 500’s however is another story. Despite that, I enjoy the challenge and will continue to try and rank up online.
The best way to enjoy Pocket Rumble is local multiplayer. Setting up the Switch on a desk or TV to play against your friends is fantastic. I took my Switch to work to only show my friend who’s a hardcore fighting game expert. By the end of the work day a group of friends surrounded my cubicle demanding for the next turn to take on the defending champion. Our gaming experiences spanned from hardcore fanatics to casual players. Yet in Pocket Rumble everyone had a fighting chance. Moments like those takes me back to a simpler time in video games when you didn’t need to be an expert at a game to have a good time.
Don’t let the beautiful retro visuals and appealing soundtrack fool you, Pocket Rumble is a tough game. Though the CPU can be cheap at times and losing mismatches online can be frustrating, I keep wanting to come back. I can’t help but love the charm of this game and its cast of characters. For $10 the online and local multiplayer make it easily worth it. Developers Cardboard Robot Games also stated that they’ll be adding more fighters including crossover characters from Divekick and Nidhogg in the future. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another year.