Coromon Review (Switch)
Release Date: July 21, 2022
File Size: 360MB
Publisher: Freedom Games
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Version Reviewed: 1.0.21
Any monster catching role playing game faces stiff competition from some of the titans of the industry. Although there are many different titles that utilize capturing mechanics for the purposes of expansive team building, there is one champion that stands above all others, uncontested: SPECTROBES, baby! This Nintendo DS fossil-resurrecting action RPG wormed its way into everyone’s hearts and is a reminder of the sway that Disney has over the video game cultural zeitgeist.
…Okay, that was a joke. If the first monster catching RPG that comes to mind isn’t Pokemon, then you’ve lived a sheltered existence. See, no one offers the variety and iconography that Game Freak’s long-standing series has developed in its quarter-century lifespan, despite the excellent designs that exist in series like Shin Megami Tensei, Digimon, Yokai Watch, and many more. But it is the core simplicity of Pokemon that drives its appeal: it acts as a wonderful entry point for young RPG enthusiasts with its player-friendly narrative, difficulty level, and customization options. With such a strong inclination towards being kid-accessible, however, Pokemon sometimes fails to appeal to its older audience in all of the aforementioned categories. Because of this, older trainers have had to create self-imposed difficulty settings and complex rulesets in order to make battling and gameplay more enjoyable. Many bemoan the current state of Pokemon titles, wishing they offered a more substantial, user-friendly experience.
While Pokemon Legends Arceus certainly offered a new and exciting flavor of Pokemon gameplay, it was not the fundamental change that many of these longtime fans were looking for. In recent years, a number of dedicated independent developers have stepped up to the plate to create their own solution. One of the stronger candidates has been the Nexomon titles, which offer some wacky designs and non-linear gameplay to entice trainers. Now, a new challenger has made its appearance on the Nintendo Switch: Coromon, developed by TRAGsoft and published by Freedom Games, offers a new breed of monster catching adventure. Does it manage to offer anything new in a realm where Game Freak already excels? Read on and find out.
For veterans of the Pokemon franchise, stepping into the shoes of a Battle Researcher in Coromon. However, for the benefit of total newcomers, we’ll explain the basics: Coromon is a top-down RPG in the vein of classic titles like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy I-VI, and Earthbound. You will traverse routes peppered with fields of tall grass, which are primarily where you’ll encounter wild Coromon of the game’s title. You can then engage these creatures in turn-based battles, during which damage, turn order, and more are determined by the unique stats of both your party and the opposing Coromon. During these battles, you’ll have the opportunity to capture Coromon using spinners, the success of which is determined by how much you’ve weakened your opponent. Occasionally, you’ll bump into other battle researchers that will engage you in lengthier battles, boasting more Coromon of varying types. These battles are often more strategic, but possess higher EXP yields.
Yes, it’s the standard Pokemon formula. There are towns where you’ll have to interact with a number of NPCs in order to progress the main narrative so that you can explore new places and catch more Coromon. But the devil is in the details, so they say, and there are some finer points to Coromon’s mechanics and progression that set it apart from its inspiration. First, there are thirteen different types- but Coromon themselves can only belong to seven of those. The remaining six are move-exclusive types, which certain Coromon types are vulnerable against, but no Coromon can fully take STAB (same-type-attack-bonus) advantage with.
Coromon come in variants regarding their overall potential, which allows the opportunity for additional stat point allocation a number of times (and also comes in three color variations, thereby lumping effort and intrinsic values together with shiny hunting). There are items that can boost your rate of encountering higher potential Coromon, in addition to some items that can raise the level of wild encounters and even increase the chance of fighting weakened/damaged Coromon. Oh, and before you wonder how you’ll be able to afford all of this, don’t worry: you can craft these items by gathering materials in the overworld.
That was a lot of technical jargon for the folks who are familiar with competitive talk, so why don’t we spice it up with a different kind of variant? Difficulty is a daunting subject whenever discussing monster catching titles. However, Coromon offers a variety of difficulty enhancers as well as diminishers. You can make normal healing items into revives, cause your Coromon HP and SP (a mana/magic meter that replaces individual move PP) to refill upon level up, and even capture the Coromon you encounter when fighting battle researchers- yes, you can steal NPC Coromon.
Conversely, you can create a Nuzlocke ruleset, which releases knocked out Coromon back into the wild, and limits the number of Coromon you can capture per route. If you end up picking a difficulty option that you’re not satisfied with, the game takes precise records of what Coromon you have lost and will actually return them to your party or storage. You can eventually unlock a randomizer function in order to mix these different modifiers up- and this is atop the basic settings modifiers, which can enable choosing your preferred Coromon at the start of each wild and battle researcher encounter. You can make Coromon as punishing or breezy as you’d like, which can be a boon for players of any sort.
When exploring the Velua region, you’ll need to utilize your Lux Solis gauntlet in order to bypass obstacles and complete your journey. While some of its functions seek to ease the player’s burden, such as the stink module, others allow the player to interact with objects in the environment in unique ways. While it doesn’t reach the levels of complexity and convolution seen in titles like Golden Sun, it does evoke a similar effect, presenting puzzles worth stopping and considering at many points. Mercifully, the game is also very liberal with its checkpoint offerings, and if the player should feel themselves getting overwhelmed by a maze or dungeon, they can rest easy knowing that checkpoints will unlock fast travel points from the start of an environment to a number of spots. Once again, Coromon prides itself in accessibility, but not at the sacrifice of complexity.
Aesthetics and Narrative
Coromon aims to evoke the Game Boy Advance to Nintendo DS era level of aesthetics, with more complex and animated sprite work appearing in battles than perhaps even what existed in the fifth generation of Pokemon (Black and White, as well as Black 2 and White 2). Coromon rock back and forth in battle, but parts of their bodies flex, discharge energy, and morph in ways that will make a pixel art appreciator swoon. It is clear that a great amount of love and care went into designing these creatures, and though many fit the roles of other iconic monsters from certain franchises, they manage to stand apart through their unique aesthetic and dedicated pixelated portrayal.
Not every Coromon knocks their motif out of the ballpark, and the limitations in typing lock out access to some standard fantasy typings that are usually easy fodder for monster catching titles. The resulting Coromon database is something that does feel admittedly small when stacked against its competitors, but also has a sense of consistency and- oddly enough- realism to its species. I mean, save for the ghost types, which accomplish otherworldly, unknowable weirdness in a way that other games don’t manage. Even with such a fantastic and weird type, there’s a unified vision to their design that one can appreciate.
What is slightly strange about the rich detail of Coromon’s battle sprites is that this level of visual richness is not consistent in its overworld, which really does feel more like a Game Boy Advance sort of aesthetic. This is a realm that is not exclusively inhabited by humans, as you’ll frequently encounter less-detailed Coromon sprites mingling in civilized areas, but the complexity of character sprites simply cannot match that which is found in battles here. There are plenty of wardrobe options to be seen on NPCs, as the player customization system is vast and can create a variety of different looking people, but save for a few unique animations, these characters feel much more rigid and doll-like in appearance. Now, it would be a huge undertaking to make the overworld as detailed as the battle environments and Coromon sprites themselves, and I don’t blame the developers for drawing this line. But the fact that it does exist heightens the joy of battle and somewhat lessens the effect of all that occurs outside of it.
Coromon’s music and sound design evokes a similar aesthetic as its visuals, with midi instruments offering punchy, catchy tunes and sound effects. The soundtrack is heavily reliant on musical motifs that bop in a very similar way to this other monster catching series with the word “poke” in it, but all of the music tracks feel unique to the overall aesthetic. A number of Coromon cries sound animalistic, but many are clearly voice-acted clips of individuals saying the name of a Coromon with some additional distortion to fit the full soundscape. It’s a cute riff on that other series in which the monsters say their names in some forms of media, but have pixelated screeches in all game-related media. Aside from these sound effects, there are many others that sell their accompanying attack animations rather well. The number of perfectly synced effects that match a multi-hit animation is pretty impressive, and it really does bring together the extremely sharp presentation that exists in Coromon’s battles and environments. Because this is a futuristic world, you have plenty of technology-centered sound effects to drive the idea home.
In terms of dialogue and narrative, Coromon’s “voice” very much sits in the same tone as Pokemon, in that your protagonist is introduced to a fascinating world in which they quickly become an essential component. The key difference here is that your playable avatar actually contributes to conversations themselves. The player character’s voice is nondescript enough to feel like it could be taken up by any individual with a strong moral code, but it doesn’t feature much in the way of complex characterization. As a strange- and I mean really, truly strange- threat presents itself in the Velua region, you’ll always feel like a passive observer rather than an active participant. Seeing as you’re constantly solving other people’s problems and contributing to their research, one might wonder how anything in the world of Coromon was ever accomplished before you showed up.
In terms of narrative, things never evolve (pardon the pun) beyond what one might expect out of a Japanese role playing game, specifically because the game’s actual dialogue feels like it is firmly rooted in an accessible, age-appropriate wheelhouse. Sharp eyes might notice a few punny names, such as the electric researchers names being Nikola and Thomas, but the quality of the writing is almost always earnest and lacking subtext. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but don’t come to Coromon expecting a profound narrative. There have been some hints from the developers that the somewhat abrupt ending might be addressed in a future update, but for now, the story is serviceable- not remarkable.
It is hard to divorce this title from that Pocket Monsters series, especially when it seeks to evoke and improve upon the best elements of said series. However much of a risk it was to retread many of the same systems, visuals, and motifs as Pokemon, the end result certainly paid off. The number of times I encountered a system that was a marked step up from a fundamental gameplay element in Pokemon started to frustrate me, if only because such a small number of them have been embraced by that series. Pokemon Legends Arceus was the first title to feature a system that allowed players to change moves on the fly in order to repurpose their team members, but Coromon features it right out of the gate. All of the different options for boosting encounter rates and lessening the time investment for grinding are easily accessible and don’t require huge money sinks. The difficulty of the game can be altered right at the start of your adventure, and can be undone simply by switching them off at the same game hub. There’s even extensive and precise touch screen controls here that can allow for single-handed play in handheld mode. Not bad!
One odd omission is the ability to skip battle animations, a standard that Game Freak has implemented themselves. However, text auto advances between turns and can be set at such a speed that it doesn’t end up being a huge issue. Indeed, there are so many great ideas on display in Coromon that the more questionable choices can be waved aside. Yes, titanic and otherworldly boss battles are a departure from the established norm of gym leaders, but it’s a fresh take on a system that Pokemon has struggled to iterate upon. Yes, not every Coromon feels like a perfectly executed concept, but what cast of monsters from across many series is without flaw? Yes, there’s a difference in detail that exists between overworld navigation and richly detailed battle environments, but at least both art styles are consistent and accomplish a very particular aesthetic.
In short, Coromon manages to stand toe to toe with its primary source of inspiration and offer just as many new ideas as it does improvements on the pre-existing formula. With the ability to catch all Coromon within a single playthrough, use items to boost the possibility of potent and perfect Coromon, and the opportunity to engage in online battles, there’s plenty of team-building and time to invest in this title. With so many smart decisions made in this installment, one might wonder where a potential sequel would continue to improve upon the fundamentals presented within Coromon, but for now, this title offers a smartly-balanced, highly customizable experience that is well-worth a visit, especially at a third of the price of its competition.