Pokémon clones are hot stuff on the App Store and Google Play. It’s not hard to understand why, either. Pokémon ranks amongst Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, but even though the monster-collecting phenomenon is turning up more and more often on mobile, it’s highly unlikely a full-fledged mobile Pokémon adventure will make its way to phones and tablets.
(Unless Nintendo’s mysterious NX console is a tablet, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Even though there isn’t a mobile Pokémon clone that matches the depth of the real thing, there are some pretty admirable attempts out there. Typically, games like EvoCreo offer up Pokémon’s mechanics wrapped up in a new cast, a new story, and topped off with new monsters.
And that’s why Pocket Master Saga is so flippin’ weird. The game plays nothing like a traditional Pokémon title — instead, it functions like a generic MMOG — but is settings, monsters, and characters are all very familiar.
Mind, when I say “familiar,” I mean “familiar in an ‘evil alternate dimension’ way”. You’ll see Ash / Red. You’ll see Gary / Blue. You’ll see Professor Oak, Team Rocket, Brock, and Misty. And each one of them has tiny variations made to their character portraits, presumably to avoid accusations of thievery (talk about trying to stop a charging rhino with a Nerf gun).
For instance, Team Rocket mascot Meowth has an awkward tuft of hair where his golden forehead-coin is usually located. Professor Oak has a mustache. It doesn’t suit him.
These lame alterations personify the term “chutzpah.” They’re so bold, so blatant, that you can only point and laugh at them. In fact, if Pocket Master Saga was worth playing, it’d be a fun recommendation for Pokémon fans.
Thing is, Pocket Master Saga isn’t worth playing. For starters, its translation is completely nonsensical — and given my enthusiasm for Asian-made mobile MMOGs, I’m no stranger to barely-comprehensible text. But Pocket Master Saga’s attempt at “English” may as well be replaced with strings of question marks.
This is bad news for newcomers to MMOGs. They can be a confusing genre to work through if you’re not familiar with their trappings, and needless to say, you can’t count on Pocket Master for clear instructions.
As with most mobile MMOGs, when you’re not wandering around hub worlds talking to NPCs for random quests in Pocket Master, you’re on the field fighting foes. Parties of Pokémon do all your fighting for you, and they all attack at once — not one at a time, as is the norm for the series. They execute a basic, weak attack automatically, and you can tap “cards” at the bottom of the screen to pull off a strong attack.
Interestingly, your Pokémon pals all retain their original names and looks. The trade-off is that they use moves that have nothing to do with their elemental types. You go up against Sandshrews that can use Leech Seed, and Slowpokes that can use razor leaf. Sure. Why not.
And the MMOG at the core of this title isn’t even a good MMOG. Its instructions are unreadable, its characters are laughable, and there are few incentives to keep playing, unless you’re that determined to collect rip-off Pokémon. Hey, some people have weird hobbies.
This one’s hard to recommend to anyone, least of all Pokémon fans — unless you have a dark desire to see the cuddly critters exist miserably in a world that Should Not Be.