It’s no secret that when WayForward revealed Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia earlier this year, the reception wasn’t all that great. Alright, it was actually pretty bad. However, if there’s ever a time to relearn the old “don’t judge a book by its cover” lesson, this is a prime opportunity. I’ve had the pleasure of spending a few hours with the game so far, and though it starts off a little slow, it’s really beginning to grow on me.
I should preface this preview by saying that until a month or so ago, I had absolutely no experience with anything remotely related to Bakugan. I only really knew that it existed. I have since seen a few episodes of the show on Netflix, but just enough to get a basic idea of the premise. As such, I’m approaching this from the perspective of a newcomer to the franchise.
With that out of the way, I can say I’m surprisingly enjoying it. WayForward approached this game to be appealing to everyone, regardless of prior Bakugan experience, and so far it’s hitting the mark. The opening few quests largely serve as a big tutorial explaining what Bakugan are, how combat works, and how to customize your brawlers. Though I imagine experienced players may find this to be a drag, I appreciated the efforts gone through to ease new players into the experience. As a result of this, I also can’t speak too much to the story, since there hasn’t been much to it yet.
The main gameplay of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia revolves around brawling. These matches are pretty simple on the surface, though as you get better, you’ll come to realize there’s a little depth and strategy to them. Brawls take place in a drome, which protects the surrounding environment from damage. While the Bakugan fight automatically in the background (though this is only for show and has no impact on the battle), your brawler runs around picking up energy cores of different sizes, which then get transferred to your Bakugan. Once you build up enough energy, you can use one of four equipped abilities to attack your opponent. Each of these abilities has a cooldown and activates different effects, so knowing what they do and when to use them is vital to success in battle. Territory management and knowing when to chase or leave an energy core provide a little more depth to combat and can turn the tide of battle if you aren’t successful.
Visually, these brawls are largely impressive as well. The fighting Bakugan are absolutely massive, and having your characters run all around them while they attack further emphasizes this difference in scale. I did notice a few slowdowns during some battle animations, though they’re far from game-breaking. Given the polish on the rest of the game though, these moments definitely stand out.
The AI during these brawls isn’t really the greatest early on, though I’m hoping as I progress further, it could get better. Often, they’ll completely pass up the larger energy cores to go grab a small one on the other side of the drome. As a result, my battles so far have often come down to me simply overwhelming my opponents with attacks.
Outside of brawling, there’s a fairly expansive world to explore, filled with characters to interact with and side quests to take on. The overworld almost feels like a simpler version of that in Pokémon Sword and Shield. As a result, I think it looks a little better, and runs far smoother. I never felt like the overworld was struggling to keep up with my character like Sword and Shield sometimes does. At the same time, what I’ve seen feels a little empty too, and I would’ve liked to see a little more thrown in.
Despite my few complaints to this point, Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia is really growing on me. I’m a little too old to have grown up with Bakugan, so I wasn’t really expecting to feel this engrossed in it, yet here I am. With an IP like Bakugan, I can imagine it’d be pretty hard to design a game for people with no experience with the franchise, but WayForward so far has really done wonders in this area. The hard part now will be convincing non-fans to pick it up.
We’ll have a full review of Bakugan: Champions of Vestroia soon, so be sure to check back for our final thoughts!