The introduction to fighting games you’ve been waiting for?
I have rarely been able to get a handle on fighting games. I’ve always theoretically understood their appeal, especially when watching skilled players go at it with an intense rhythm that feels just as much like a tango as it does a tug-of-war. The way players split their attention between executing elaborate inputs, managing special gauges and reacting to flurries of attacks always impressed me.
Sadly, being unable to remember flashy combos has always been a frustrating sticking point for me. While it’s likely more the fault of my memory than the game itself, arguably combo execution can be a superfluous barrier to entry for many players.
Enter Pocket Rumble, a quirky little fighting game which sets out to fix this very problem. Pocket Rumble has all the mechanics of your typical fighting game – specials, dodging, blocking and move buffering – but moves are performed with inputs that are no more complex than tapping a direction and button simultaneously.
This not only makes Pocket Rumble instantly more approachable than the average fighting game, but does so without putting the depth at stake. There are missteps, but by-and-large Pocket Rumble is a solid entry in the Switch’s small library of fighting games – and not a bad jumping-on point for those new to the genre, either.
Right off the bat, I am in love with Pocket Rumble’s presentation. Rarely have the wonderfully colourful visuals of Neo Geo Pocket fighting games been imitated, but given Pocket Rumble’s accessibility, the aesthetic could not feel more appropriate. Everything from the character designs to the menu screens is thickly coated with a sugar-sweet ’90s anime style that is really pleasing to look at.
There is plenty of variety to be had in the selection of characters. Each has disparate movesets which encourage unique styles of play. My personal favourite is Keiko, who uses her cat which hangs about the level to invoke some sort of Cthulhu-style monster (Or her cat is the Cthulhu-style monster, which I don’t want to think about). Where the attack occurs is based on the positioning of your cat in the stage, which you cannot directly control – I’ve had a lot of luck luring the opponent into the cat and catching them off guard with a special attack.
Despite the more simple inputs, control-wise Pocket Rumble feels very nice. As you might expect, movement feels tight and executing moves is snappy and satisfying. Aside from doing normal attacks with the A or B buttons, each character has four different special attacks they can perform – which is a healthy amount given how unique each character is.
If you’re new to fighting games and not quite sure where to start, Pocket Rumble sports a very helpful tutorial. There’s a lot to learn, too, with a catalogue of tutorials teaching you how to perform the abilities of each and every fighter in the game. I do wish the tutorials were a bit more comprehensive so that players new to the genre could learn the whens and whys of using certain abilities, but regardless it’s a very helpful resource for sussing out each fighter’s playstyle.
Aside from the tutorial, there is also a training mode which lets you practice your moves against a dummy character. There are a few nice features, such as toggling character hitboxes and being able to set the dummy character to repeatedly jump or block. It isn’t bad, but could have benefited from some more robust features. It would’ve been nice to have an option to make the dummy repeatedly execute simple attacks to practice your dodging, blocking and countering on. Regardless, Pocket Rumble’s training mode is ample if you just want to test out specials and practice chaining together combos.
Then, once you’re done with the tutorials and have practiced in the training mode, it’s time to jump into the arcade mode and put what you’ve learned to the test – that is, if Pocket Rumble’s AI fighters weren’t relentlessly difficult. I felt a bit more confident coming out of the tutorials, but even the very first fight of the arcade mode proved to be a challenge right out the gate.
Don’t think you’ll be able to lower them to easy, either, as I’ve found no options for changing the difficulty of CPUs whatsoever. This seems like a strangely unfriendly design decision in a game that flaunts its approachability – and paradoxically, I imagine it could be one that puts off players that are still new to fighting games.
Of course, there is also online play, which isn’t too shabby! Given the Switch’s popularity and the lack of online fighting games on the Switch, at the time of writing there is still a fairly active community of players – however, with Pocket Rumble being a smaller release, it’s hard to say how long that might last. Latency-wise I didn’t run into too many issues; there was often a slight delay in my inputs that wasn’t present playing offline, but that’s very much par for the course.
So: if you’ve never really been able to get into fighting games, will Pocket Rumble change that? Maybe. The simplified move inputs are easy to learn without sacrificing the enjoyable long-term depth of the traditional fighting game. The training and tutorial modes could be more robust and the AI less aggressive from the get-go, but if you don’t consider these deal-breakers, Pocket Rumble could be the game where it’ll all finally click.