Great value with easy pickup and perfect Switchness
I am shocked how much I love this game at first glance. Admittingly, I haven’t spent enough time with the Online modes to give a definitive review of the netcode, but it is GGPO and I feel confident as an experienced fighting game player that this is something really special. Pocket Rumble is a love letter to the SNK fighting games that came out for the Neo-Geo Pocket. This is met through the graphics, sounds, and most of all, two button controls. Having only two buttons provides a unique fighting game experience where it becomes easy to pick up at most skill levels. However, It is still a fighting game and the more experienced player will typically win.
This game is in many ways the opposite of Fighting EX Layer that just came out the previous week. FEXL is a retro style game with modern aesthetics and a slim package designed for the hardcore fighter willing to pay full price. Pocket Rumble is a progressive game with retro aesthetics and has several additional features that should appeal to dedicated and new players for only $10 (USD).
At the end of the day this is still a fighting game. There is an arcade and Career mode which are AI fights and online play. There is not currently a story mode but there is a serviceable “tutorial/mission” mode and a training mode with modern conveniences that are still missing from other fighting games. Controlling is easier than other fighting games… but this is still a fighting game. If you don’t like the idea of playing fighting games with other people or the AI over and over then this game will not change your mind, but it might help if you are on the tipping point and don't want to spend a lot of money. If you already like fighting games then you will probably love this game
So the meat of this game is the control scheme and character variety. There are currently 8 available characters with a 9th confirmed for a free update. Every character has 6 normals and 4 special moves divided evenly between the two buttons. Pressing A or B (light and heavy) produces a different attack while standing, crouching, and jumping. There are no special normals from holding a specific direction. The Special moves are done by holding a diagonal down/back or down/forward and hitting A or B. In addition there is one “super” by pressing both A and B but it’s more of a character ability/trait that runs off a meter. To prevent missed input you must slightly hold the button to get the special to come out so when crouch blocking you can tap A to get your crouching light or Hold to get your special (like a Dragon Punch) This makes picking up the game amazingly easy since you don’t have to worry about stick inputs to access your entire movelist. This makes it one of the best games to play on a kickstand with each player holding a Joycon. So while the controls are easy, what makes it so good is the character diversity.
Each character plays completely different from each other and brings unexpected play styles to these simple controls. Tenchi is the expected Ryu character with Dragon Punches and Fireballs but it’s hard to believe that they added an Eddie/Zato like character. Keiko plays with her cat as a stand that you control at the same time to produce setups and extended combos. June plays as a weird but cool combination of Dhalsim and Bedman with long normals and the ability to create echos of yourself. Hector has deliberate and unsafe left/right, high/low mixups, Quinn is a fast leaping rushdown character that turns into an even faster werewolf. But most importantly is Subject 11; the most important character type in all of fighting games.
I quickly took to Agent Parker who creates orb traps. Two of his specials place orbs at different heights and the other two act as a single mid and double overhead attacks that can also push the orbs further away from you. When two orbs are on screen at the same time they will strike lighting in a line between them and zap anyone in between who isn’t blocking. Spending a couple minutes in training mode I was already able to find setups that I wasn’t expecting from this game. Of course they aren’t anywhere as complicated or intense as Venom setups but it was more than I was expecting and still felt rewarding to pull off in matches. The game just isn’t as complicated as most other fighting games but that’s not a detriment to the fun you can have while playing or the competition between two players. In addition, I believe this can potentially serve as a wonderful stepping stone into more complicated character types.
Taking the game online, while not perfect, was very good and still better than many of its peers. This is where the bulk of the game takes place and also the potential downfall. It’s on the Nintendo switch so that means everyone is a wi-fi warrior. Like I stated earlier, the game uses the best netcode around, GGPO, and the rollback is mostly minimal. There are times that I've seen rollback occur but for the most part I got matches just above 100ms (actual ping numbers, good job devs) and they played great… but not perfect.
Some cool mechanics in this game are how set the meters are. Everyone has 14 HP and every hit does 1 damage so the length of the combo decides how much damage is done. You have the ability to jump-in and take risks without being devastated but if you wake up DP you eat a ton of damage. Also, there’s still chip damage. Getting hit with two special moves quickly will take one HP away. There’s the expected but rarely there frame data and hitboxes in Training mode but one of the coolest things in the entire game is a bar just below health that actually shows the frames in real time for your character. It’s SUPER easy to miss but as soon as you notice it you can use it to quickly learn what’s punishable and what’s not. It’s instant fast frame data in every single match you play.
Your mileage may vary but as of right now I’m having good games, getting matches, and having a ton of fun. But, like many indie fighting games the population might drop and matches become harder to come by. However, at the same time, there’s some good fighting game support for the switch. BBCTB, USF2, SF30th, with SNK Heroines and DBFZ coming soon, the switch might make this machine a pretty good option so I believe this could maintain a good player base… but there’s no way to actually know... But today it's amazing for $10