It’s Been A Decade Since The Last Pokémon Ranger Game – Here’s Why They’re Worth Playing

As possibly the most well-known video game series of all time, Pokémon has had a string of spin-offs ranging from the wildly popular to the quickly-forgotten. For every Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, there is an equal and opposite Pokémon Rumble U, or so the saying goes. The triad of Pokémon ranger games falls somewhere between the two – remembered fondly by those who played the games, but not quite as well-loved by Nintendo, it seems.

October 4th this year marked a decade since the release of the last Pokémon Ranger game, Guardian Signs. Most fans have given up hope for a return of the series, despite the re-release of all three games on the Wii U in 2016. All hope is never lost, of course – Pokémon Snap is getting a sequel after a whopping 20 years – but whether or not the Ranger games ever make a comeback, the three that did release are worth revisiting.

The core gameplay loop of the Ranger series is, well, exactly that: loops. Taking on the role of a Pokémon Ranger, the in-universe equivalent of an extremely cool wildlife conservation expert, players must ‘capture’ pokémon by drawing circles around them. The pokémon will run, throw out attacks, and generally behave erratically while you attempt to do so, but calm down after a set number of consecutive loops are drawn or a gauge is filled. Once calmed, players can safely escort the loveable creatures out of danger, and they’ll join the player as a friend pokémon. All friendly pokémon can assist the player once before retreating back into the wild.

On the surface, these really don’t appear to be particularly complicated games. Obviously, they all have a few little mechanics that differ from game to game – the first Pokémon Ranger lacked the gauge the other two games had, making it notably harder to capture certain pokémon – but the idea is the same. Draw circles, don’t let the pokémon damage your circles, and rescue lots of them. In Guardian Signs, there’s a few extra means of travel through a flying minigame and the ability to summon legendary pokémon like Suicune to traverse difficult terrain. But where the games really stand out, from a Pokémon fan’s perspective, are the writing and story.

Each Ranger game takes place on a region distinct from those used in the main games: Fiore, Almia, and Oblivia. They also show us a side of the Pokémon series we don’t often see – that of the non-trainers, and the various means through which pokémon and humans interact outside of battle and capture. We get to see how the Ranger organizations are structured, and how citizens at times rely on them just as much as trainers rely on the Nurse Joys of the world. Obviously, these wouldn’t be Pokémon games if the player didn’t somehow get tied up in the plans of a looming evil conspiracy, but there are still quite a few interesting scenarios laid out for the player to resolve.

Another selling point of these games is the humor. Pokémon’s ‘evil’ grunts have been getting funnier in recent years – compare the first generation’s Team Rocket to the sixth’s Team Skull and you’ll quickly get the idea – but before the bumbling antics of the punks on Alola ever came about, Shadows of Almia’s Team Dim Sun had probably the most entertaining mooks in Pokémon series history.

The gameplay didn’t reinvent the wheel by any means (no matter how many circles you have to draw) but they’re worth a shot for any longtime fan of Pokémon who hasn’t had a chance to play one yet. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the Ranger games are typically cheaper to pick up than mainline games, at least through used game retailers.

Regardless of any possibility for a future remaster or comeback, the Ranger series was fun while it lasted. The three games that came out aren’t hard to find for those looking to reminisce – or dive into for the very first time.

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