It is time yet again for another monster catching game! Now something I find strange within this genre is that whereas with other genres like shooters or platformers, we have long grown to accept them as having their own identity. No one calls Celest a Mario clone or Gears of War a Call of Duty clone, perhaps because games within these genres have evolved and distanced themselves so much from each other, and each bringing something new to the table, that they give off their own feel and vibe. And perhaps that is the very reason why most still call games like Nexomon a Pokémon clone, as most monster catchers do the same as our golden boy, while adding very little of their own. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s get into whether this is the shiny you’ve been hunting for weeks, or just yet another measly Bidoof.
The game opens up as the most wooden narrator I’ve ever heard, gives us the usual speech about how humans and these monsters, called Nexomon which is one of the most generic Pokémon ripoff names I have ever heard, as if adding an X to something instantly makes it cool, have lived together in harmony for ages. However, legends tell of times immemorial where a big bad Nexomon called Omnicron ruled as king over the lesser Nexomon, and waged a brutal war against humanity. A group of brave youths however managed to stand up against the beast and use their own Nexomon companions against him, finally bringing and end to the stride and making the Nexomon our allies for good.
All is still not completely well in today’s Nexomon world though as we soon come to learn, as our hero, their name and appearance of your deciding, is scheduled for a ceremony where you along with three other youths, are to receive your very first very own Nexomon partner and become a real tamer. Yay!! Your first task is, along with your friends, to venture into the nearby forest and find the buddy of your destiny. I guess they expect a random Nexomon will just spring out of a bush an decide to be your friend? But it quickly goes horribly wrong, as a fierce dragon mon descends from the sky and assaults you and your buddy Coco, a talking cat who, with his sarcastic and smartass tongue serves no other purpose than to be your mouthpiece, as he remarks on absolutely everything. Seriously, why don’t they just make the protagonist talk at that point?
The dragon is about to make short work of the two of you, when a mysterious girl suddenly appears before you, warning you of the dangers you will face in the future, and offering you a choice between 9 different starters, one of each element. The dragon of course makes mincemeat out of you and your mon, but best as it seems like you are all done for, a nearby gravestone magically disappears, revealing a cave entrance that you decide to flee through.
You later learn, that although an ancient hero defeated the big bad Omnicron eons ago, the world has long been tattering on the brink of extinction (roll credits), as so called Tyrants, vile beasts who are seemingly able to control dragons like the one that attacked you, threaten to destroy the world. I gotta say for a world that everyone keeps reminding you is on the brink of despair, it sure looks green and peaceful to me.
Thus, it is up to you to travel the world, climb the monster tamer ranks, build a strong and competent team, and save the world once more.
Remember what I said about having your own identity? While Nexomon opens up with a dark and serious tone, and even sports some really creative monster designs of its own, with no less that 381 to collect, it quickly drops the ball and becomes a parody Pokémon ripoff. After battling the aforementioned dragon, you meet the ghost of an old tamer who proceeds to teach you how to capture Nexomon with so called NexoTraps that are devices literally colored the same as poke balls, only being square instead of spheres, with your annoying cat partner remarking that you probably just need to weaken them before you catch them, while also picking up everything from potions to revives and ethers.
Moving around on the overworld you battle trainers who so kindly have swords over their heads, signifying that they want to battle, and while moving through tall grass, walking into a patch that shakes will result in a Po- sorry… Nexomon encounter. Wild battles are exactly what you remember from Pokémon. Damage the creature, and your chances of a successful catch increase, with status effects and even feeding the Nexomon further improving the catch rate, which I did admittedly think was a neat idea, as well as PP being switched out for an overall energy meter that seems like a good idea at first but soon turns out less so. You ready your NexoTrap with L & R simultaneously, and then have to press a series of buttons in order to catch it. Or so I think anyway, honestly that ring of buttons is never explained and I caught Nexomon just fine without pushing them. As with traditional Pokémon games you can of course only carry 6 with you at a time, with new party members, if you don’t decide to swap them into you party, being sent to the storage system, and normally one of the things I love in these games is to catch everything in an area before moving on, but with money being small and NexoTraps being so expensive I quickly gave up on that hobby, which kinda goes against the entire idea.
Trainer, sorry, tamer battles, are a bit different than we are used to, as they will actively switch out their Nexomon up to several times during battle, in favor of one that is strong against yours, which caught me off guard at first and was heck’a annoying, but nevertheless clever. My problem with the slightly more clever opponents however, goes back to when you chose your starter. Remember when I told you that you get to choose between not just the classic three starter types, but the entire specter? I always wondered why Pokémon always limits your choice down to those three, and it got me thinking. Grass, fire, and water are the three most basic monster types, and early on in any Pokémon game, all you meet are normal, flying, grass, and bug Pokémon, with other types, as well as type combinations, appearing later on when you have grown accustomed to the rules.
By giving you all nine to choose from, from the beginning, you may at first think the game is generous and be like “cool I can start with a psychic type!”, but what the game actually does is require you, from the start, to master the strengths and weaknesses of all nine types, instead of easing you into it. Because guess what, since you have access to all nine types from the get go, so do your opponents, and even if you know the classic type weaknesses, you aren’t gonna know for sure what type all these weird new monsters are weak to. Sure, I assumed that the pink spiral was the symbol for psychic, but how would I know what psychic is weak to in this universe? Not to mention that even the first trainers you meet in this game are stronger than any bug catcher you would ever meet on route 1 in Pokémon. Many of the tamers also often challenge you to a rematch, but they are ready for one so quickly after their first beating, that it feels more like an excuse for grinding to get past the ridiculous difficulty spike. Not to mention that they will force you to battle upon eye contact, meaning if you are on your way back to heal and didn’t see a tamer you thought you already beat, your ass is toast.
These mind numbing imbalances aside, the game plays out more or less like your typical monster catcher, only you climb guild ranks like I mentioned before, instead of collecting badges, and the assholy inhabitants of the world will treat you accordingly.
One of the things you can do to climb the ranks, is taking quests, either by strangers with a star over their head in the cities or in the wild, or by talking to this lady who clearly got the wrong leg out of bed at the guild headquarters, who will assign you a job. Speaking of which, had I not had to review this game, I would have dropped my controller and moved on with my life from how rude the very first quest client was to me. No seriously, everyone in this game, except your two mentors and a few strangers, are assholes.
What’s left to say? You have your inventory for items, your database that is another word for Pokédex, your profile where you see stats like Nexomon caught and player time, and your journal where you can read up on the adventure so far and keep track of your quests. You don’t even have a map of the world though, aside from when you use warp stones, and even they only give you an overall idea of where you are, so when I was told to go somewhere on a side-quest without an npc guiding me, only given very vague directions like “go east”, which should sound simple enough, I would wander around aimless with not the faintest clue of whether I was hot or cold.
Baring the quests, of which there are over 500, that are divided into main- and side-quests, it literally is the same as Pokémon but not as good, meaning that you may as well just… well, play Pokémon. You know what was an interest Pokémon clone, that also managed to have an identity of its own? Two little games known in Japan as Keitai Denju Telefang or ‘Mobile Phone Beast Telefang’, better know in the west as the pirate bootlegs Pokémon Diamond and Jade, wherein the main character travelled to the world of the so-called Electric Monsters via an antenna tree, and “caught them” by beating them in battle and adding their phone numbers to his contacts, and summoning them to battle depended on your reception. See? That short summary already sounds way more creative and interesting than this. It was the same premise of collecting monsters and doing battle, but while bringing a new clever concept to the table. Alas, I’m getting off track, let’s move on.
Although I did make fun of the comedically jumpy piano piece that plays in the first forest, I actually found the game to have a decent enough soundtrack. Hit n miss sure, but I did actually manage to find a few favorites. The battle theme though, at least in my opinion which is what you’re all here for, was generic and nothing to write home about. To quickly refer back to my favorite Pokémon clone, Telefang, it had a goofy but ultimately, at the very least, catchy tune that I always looked forward to hearing, and more importantly am still humming today 20 years later. This ain’t it chief. I mean the game doesn’t even have a victory jingle for when you catch wild Nexomon, what’s up with that?
While I wasn’t the least bit amused by the game’s jokey nature; breaking the fourth wall, being self aware about the ethics of breaking into people’s homes and forcing woodland creatures to do battle, and constantly cracking sarcastic jokes, the graphics were, on the other hand, a whole ‘nother story. Bright and colorful, and really bringing the world around you to life with various sceneries, npc’s, character portraits, and of course the stars of the show, the creatures, which are all themselves nicely animated during battle. I even liked how much the characters emote by often displaying various emoticons above their heads to reflect their current emotional state.
What I didn’t like, yeah adding to the pile, was the lack of something that Pokémon has done ever since the early GameBoy days: showing yourself and your opponent on-screen as they send out their Pokémon. As it stands, whether you battle a tamer or a wild mon, you just simply enter a battle screen with two Nexomon ready to duke it out. The game is advertised as being a return to classic monster catching games, and that apparently constitutes doing away with modern conveniences and slacking on the details. No flavor text either when you examine various objects to learn more about the world.
The footage you see was recorded with the Switch’s capture function in both docked and handheld mode, and ran smoothly for the most part, although I imagine you are now taking that statement with a weary grain of salt coming from the guy who claimed that Fairy Tail ran well, but I do also swear I caught it stuttering a bit sometimes in big areas, though nothing that hindered the experience – the game itself took care of that part.
Oh, and don’t be fooled by the creature that follows me, those are so-called Followers that you can unlock, they are not monsters part of my actual team, they are just there for show.
Clocking in at £16.99 on a normal day, money that made me glad I got a free review copy, the game does give you value for your money with an original story that did admittedly start to grab me, plenty of quests that reward you handsomely, and a plethora of unique and colorful monsters to catch with even cooler evolutions… if what you are looking for is Pokémon on a budget. Sure, I know that the latest games, Sword and Shield, made a lot of decisions that split the fan base down the middle, including cutting the monster roster in half, leaving many favorites, some of mine included, out in the cold, but for double the price of this game, it is still an infinitely better crafted and more balanced experience, with much better dialogue that takes itself serious. Pro tip, go by the smartphone version for a fraction of the price.
As a parody, luring you in with it’s exciting thumbnail, Nexomon’s entire identity quickly boils down to being just that, having little more going for it than making fun of what came before it and the tropes that entails. While whitty dialogue may be for some, and while I myself don’t mind a couple of in-universe jokes here and there like a guy complaining why you can only carry 6 creatures with you at a time, having the script being nothing but jokes and sarcasm just takes me out of the experience and breaks my immersion completely. Add to that the imbalance and unbeginner friendly nature of the game, no seriously a single tamer with only 2 monsters almost whiped out my entire team of 6 before I even reached the first city, and the first boss Tyrant who absolutely obliterated me until I grinded my ass off to finally beat it and progress the story, means you are left with a game that really does nothing to stand out from so many Pokémon fan hacks that have come before it. Fan hacks made by people who clearly had no idea what they were doing or what makes good game design. And the amusing thing is, it feels like they all think they are the first to attempt it.
The pretty graphics and, for the most part, well composed soundtrack, are the only redeeming qualities for me personally, and are why I score it as high as I’m about to. For people who can put up with all these negatives, who just want a Pokémon game that doesn’t have Pokémon in the title, it may rank higher, you may see something that I don’t, but for me it’s a 6 out of 10. I was mixed on Pokémon Sword when I picked it up, but I appreciate it a whole lot more now. This game on the other hand, only served to remind me why apparently only Game Freak can do it right. Then again I imagine 25 years of experience will do that to ya.