Ah, Pokemon spin-offs... such a mixed bag. The Pokémon Rumble spin-off series has gone on longer than I think anyone expected, and someone out there must be spending money on them because Ambrella keeps getting hired to keep making them! I last wrote about the fourth game in the series and the second on 3DS, Pokemon Rumble World, three years ago, and after having played all five games I would consider that game to be the high point of the series, which really isn't saying much. Overall I would rank Pokemon Rumble U, the third release in the series and the only one on Wii U, somewhere in the middle.
As with the other games in this spin-off series, Pokemon Rumble U features the same tired beat-'em-up formula in which you use Pokemon toys in battle and try to "collect 'em all". Aside from having the best graphics by far of any entry in the series and a focus on arena battles as opposed to the disposable short stages of the other entries, this game adds a few new wrinkles. For one, it and the original WiiWare game are the only games of the five that feature co-op multiplayer, and as with the original you can easily have your buddies drop in and out for a total of four players playing simultaneously. This game also makes use of the Wii U GamePad's NFC functionality, in the form of NFC figures (predating Nintendo's own wildly successful line of Amiibo figures). Fortunately for collectors the Pokemon powers that be only ended up releasing a small number of these figures, and they don't really provide anything in terms of actual advantages in the game. Unlike all the other in-game Pokemon characters you'll collect and use to fight, the Rumble U NFC figures can be levelled up with the in-game currency. In practice, though, it's more trouble to level them up than it's worth, since you're constantly gaining new and stronger Pokemon anyway.
The game was also the first in the series to add a set of missions to each stage, which makes things marginally more interesting. Another main new feature is that there's a special meter that when full lets you drop bombs by using the GamePad's touchscreen. Lastly, the only other new feature is the ability to occasionally pick up a Master Ball on the stage that you can throw at an enemy Pokemon in order to capture them, which is another little hook to get you to replay previous stages in order to try to complete your Pokedex.
As the NintendoLife reviewer noted, Pokemon Rumble U's battles get really crowded with enemies, and with the visual effects they've added to make use of the hardware it's even harder to see what's going on than the other entries in the series. The lighting is also such that things look a bit hazy in general, which doesn't help either. But the battles are generally so easy to get through that you don't really have to strategize much or do much than mash buttons anyway.
With 649 different types of Pokemon to collect this game no doubt has kept Pokemon obsessives very busy, but for the rest of us this is a good but not great release. Not the worst Pokemon spin-off for sure, but after getting about a third of the way through I'd definitely felt like I'd had enough. The next, and so far final, game in the series, Pokemon Rumble Rush was a short-lived smartphone title, but more on that game soon...