Monster Rancher Advance 2

Monster Rancher Advance 2

Written by Ben Zackheim on 12/15/2002 for GBA  

Have you ever watched a nation-wide craze go through the ceiling and had no idea what all the enthusiasm was about? Growing up, I remember finding those special trends that would baffle my parents. I took great pleasure in the dull look on their faces when I showed off the latest videogame, or gadget. Hehheh. Stoopid parents. So when Pokemon came around I tried really hard to understand. I didn’t want to be the dim-witted adult who couldn’t grasp the obvious. Well, no matter how hard I tried, it just didn’t happen.

I tried playing it; I even watched the sickeningly bad show that I’ll always blame for the demise of Saturday morning cartoons. But there’s no doubt about it, if I’d glanced in the mirror I would have looked just like my parents.

But, wait, I may have found just the game I’ve been looking for! Monster Rancher Advance 2 is a trimmed down Pokemon with a monster edge. Sure, you get the cute little fuzzies (and some not so cute big fuzzies) but a lot of the guesswork and minute training details have been taken off your shoulders. It’s like a virtual pet who has to earn his room and board!
Monster Rancher Advance 2 is Tecmo’s latest addition to its Pokemon-ish franchise. The first in the series did very well; well enough to give birth to a second in the series. It doesn’t have much of a chance of capturing a huge piece of the Pokemon pie, but as I quickly found, it could get an important segment of the gaming population – those of us who never thought we’d like this kind of game.

You play a promising young breeder on Age Island who’s been recognized for his breeding talents by Mr. Mardoc – a man who parts his hair in the middle. Mardoc has decided to give you an assistant, Holly, who happens to be one hell of a breeder herself. The reasons why she would want to be your assistant are part of the game’s mystery. You might think it’s because she likes you. But she likes me, so that’s not possible.

Right from the start, Holly walks you through every step of creating, maintaining and developing your monster. The world itself is a typically anime wonker field of loons who run monster hospitals and maintain machines that mix monster’s DNA for the sake of – well, for the hell of it. I think that if my old booney hometown in Pennsylvania had access to brilliant scientific minds, it might look something like this place.

If you know how to select an item in a drop down menu on your computer then you’ll be able to understand MRA2. Once you create your creature by choosing a four letter word that will define its character (I chose HELL) you begin his maintenance and training. Story-driven moments guide you to where you want to be for a good portion of the game’s beginning, just enough to get you up to speed. For a newbie like me, that was much appreciated.

And once you get in the swing of things this game is a lot of fun. It’s a deep gaming experience that had me playing for just one more minute – until all of the day’s minutes were gone. You can choose to train, feed, fight, visit town, visit the doctor, make another monster and later in the game you even get ruins to explore where you can discover more monsters. The tournaments are, of course, the point of the game and I found myself despising some of the monsters who kept beating me. I cheered out loud when I finally beat some crackpot named Freshcut, or somesuch. He’s history now. Yesterday’s news.

But I think the real hook of the game is the virtual pet angle. Though the designs of the creatures aren’t as inspired as Pokemon, they’re simple and they grow on you. You do actually see differences in their personalities; mine was irritable and didn’t listen to me when I failed to feed it for awhile. It was a pain in the butt until it lost a tourney and felt guilty, looking for my approval. I decided to let him off the hook and he was an angel from that point on. Tecmo claims that you can introduce your monster to a friend’s monster and they’ll influence each other. I wasn’t able to test this feature but from what I’ve seen of the game I believe it.

The battles are not exactly a thrill a minute but they are tactically interesting. After your monster learns new moves, the tourney’s control panel gives you a ton of easy ways to access those moves. Fellow trainers will sometimes stop by your training ranch and give you a pointer on a special move which, of course, is always risky but super effective if successful. The training itself could have been more involving. When you choose to work on its targeting, for example, the screen cuts to a quick little image of the beast throwing a rock at a target. You have no control, you can only watch. Though it could have been cool to grab control wouldn’t that be defeating the purpose of the virtual pet angle? Let him succeed or fail on his own. I’m sure the developers struggled over this point.

The human characters in the game are well done too. They actually contribute to the feeling of an immersive world by having their little conflicts and agendas. You get the sense that stuff is going on in the world while you’re training Fido. The game advises you to check messages often for news on tourneys and visiting legends. Follow that advice.

Adding to the game’s fun is head-to-head play via the GBA’s Game Link. You can gain experience and bragging rights with friends AND you can use data from the last version of the game to build from. Pretty cool.

The eye and ear candy Tecmo provides is really sweet. If you consider sweet to be little fuzzballs with killer instincts. Otherwise the graphics are a throwback to around 1990. This isn’t an action game. Nope. It’s a role-playing game. And we all know the battlecry by now, don’t we? “Gameplay first!” Yeah, yeah. But I would have liked it if there were some more eye popping moments. Actually one would have done. Battles are just tactical screens with silly action cutscenes to show you whether you hit the other guy or not. It’s functional and, in fact, the simplicity is one of the things that I enjoyed about the game. But they could have thrown us a bone with a little more meat.

Sound is nothing special. It’s as cute as my first little monster ZazaFREEK, who climbed the tournament ladder handily, thank you, and is now coaching udder cute widdle pseudo-gophers. I, um, actually really like the thing.

I always thought Pokemon’s premise of making creatures and having them fight each other was two things:

1) Incomprehensible to my American sensibilities
2) Not my kind of game

I understand that Pokemon is a different experience with a different training and combat system (not to mention more characters and a deeper world) but MRA2 has shown me the light:

1) You raise an adorable fuzzy thing so it can jump into the ring and kick another fuzzy thing’s butt. How much more American can you get?
2) It’s not your kind of game only if you don’t like to have fun. Otherwise it’s worth checking out.

I play the eternally addictive Dope Wars on my Palm Pilot when I take the subway. Or at least I used to. I think my casual gaming has just taken a turn for the cuter. MRA2 isn’t as deep as its competition but its simplicity is its strength as far as I’m concerned.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Ben Zackheim was born Ben Zackheim sometime before 1980 and after 1960 which characterizes him not at all. He's a writer of reviews, comics and screenplays, but aren't we all? Luxuries like food and shoes mean nothing to him. He's married to the most beautiful woman in the world, Robin, who reads all his reviews before he sends them in and says "Are you really going to write that for the public to read?" But I assure her no one reads my reviews anyway, only Charlie's, so it's kind of like a tree in the forest (without the cute little fuzzy things who smell their own poop - wait, then again there is Charlie...) She's a cross between Gillian Anderson and Hillary Clinton, which is a monster I'd love to play in Monster Rancher Advance 2. Photos are available upon request for a small fee. I'm currently writing this bio but have no plans beyond that. View Profile

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