Of all the game genres out there the one that has eluded me the most is fighting games. It might be the lack of time I have to truly dig into character strengths and weaknesses. It could even be that I’m bad at executing complicated and technical attack strings for combos. More than likely it’s because I don’t understand the effects of guards, cancels, and attack priorities which all add up to good fighting game skills. Pocket Rumble takes all of the technical aspects of a deep fighting game and streamlines it in a way that even a beginner like me can pick up and understand, without losing all of the nuances of a more traditional fighting game.
Pocket Rumble’s most standout feature is the simplified and streamlined fighting system. Attacks are down to two buttons. A heavy attack and a light attack. There are no complex stick motions or dragon punches to throw. Every character has special attacks that are triggered by down-forward, or down-back on the joystick, and either heavy or light attack. This gives characters some variety to mix up their attacks and create some small combos. The small move set can seem to limit your actions but every character in the game also has unique mechanics and gimmicks to learn and master.
Pocket Rumble has 8 unique characters that play vastly different to each other. Though they share the common limited controls, their unique actions and abilities change play style drastically. Agent Parker, a static-charged detective, drops an orb into the game which can be hit by him to move it around. His special ability will trigger a bolt of electricity from where the sphere is to where he is, making him a moving trap waiting to be sprung. June, a gothic ghost girl, will leave a clone of herself on the field, and when triggered again will perform an attack so you can split the attack on an opponent. All of these unique playstyles mean there is a deep set of skills to sink your teeth into after picking up the simple controls.
The style of Pocket Rumble is a love letter to Neo Geo Pocket Color games of a bygone era. The large-headed characters have a chunky look to them. They all have a unique default color with mild color variations to mix things up a bit. The moves of each character are well rendered and animated, each character’s victory pose and nameplate animation when you select them are all a unique and charming nod to their character. There is also plenty to love in here with modes for single or multiplayer local or online.
One of my favorite modes in the solo mode of Pocket Rumble simulates the online mode but with AI named with jokey names. It is an interesting way to work with differing AI styles as you might encounter online with actual players. There is also the standard Arcade mode in which you run through the other characters in the game fight by fight. Even the solo training mode is unique as you must first pass through a series of exercises that are generic to each character. Once you have completed them you can then select each character to learn how their move sets and abilities are unique and how they function. It feels like a well-guided set of tutorials that make sure you know everything you need to be competent at the game.
The small details of this game don’t just come down to unique characters or simplified controls. Even how the game functions feels like it was designed to bring balance. Hitbox sizes are normalized to be the same. Every character has 12 health, and every hit does 1 damage. This pushes strategy back to knowing your character’s moves and avoidance, not just trying to land the strongest hit. This also makes even small combos highly effective at chipping away at an opponents health. Each match is a first to three points affair, meaning there is plenty of room for big turns and comebacks to secure three rounds. There’s just as much fun to be found online.
Pocket Rumble’s online setup is powered by GGPO to try and create the tightest online experience possible. From the matches I’ve tried, I haven’t noticed noticeable issues with lag or timing of moves. That isn’t to say I’ve won a lot either. Though Pocket Rumble brings the barrier to entry down, skilled players will still rise to the top if they can stay on the move, and avoid incoming damage. This is a double-edged sword as someone who isn’t always great at fighting games. The upside in this game is I feel like I’m not losing because I don’t know how to fight in the game, but more than I need to improve my execution of it which only comes through practice.
Overall Pocket Rumble brings a deep fighting game experience to Switch with a gentle ramp to entry for those who don’t have the knack for fighting games. All of its characters are unique and offer plenty of depth to learn if you so desire. The experience is solid both online and off, which makes the Switch maybe one of the best platforms for this game. I would definitely recommend giving this one a try.
Easy Ramp to Entry
Solid Net Code
AI can spam a lot in solo modes