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It's hard to appreciate the craze that is Pokemon, Digimon, and Let's-capture-some-intelligent-and-seemingly-precious-animals-and-make-them-fight-to-the-death-mon. As far as the Saturday morning cartoon tainted hand sees things, there are a lot of cute critters that battle one another and the forces of evil. The other hand that still lives somewhere on Earth is a bit more practical; it sees animal cruelty. Wouldn't Psyduck and the gang be much happier if children didn't imprison them in magical balls and force them to combat others of their kind for the sake of some ridiculous tournament? Shouldn't Pikachu be set free and allowed to roam the grasslands of Nebraska without having to worry about what bloody dragon his punk-ass kid of a tyrannical master forces him to face next?

These are deep questions. We'll not know for some years what the extent of psychological damage cartoons of this kind have on children is. It's not as easy as scientifically monitoring a youngling watching Bananas in Pajamas and actually witnessing a perceptible loss of intelligence as the program trudges on, anyway.

Whatever potentially disastrous effects the -mon craze may have on the youth of the world is, there's no denying their appeal in the here and now. They're the Power Rangers of modern society. And, though these programs may too face the same A.D.D. fate that forced the Pink Ranger into a black hole of drugs and street walking, right now they make money. Enter Digimon Rumble Arena 2, a nifty idea to make heaps of money.

Bandai very carefully looked at the gaming market, scrutinized sales figures, and then came to the conclusion that one of the best ways to usher in a new era of cash generating Digimon products was to emulate the subgenre Super Smash Bros. created and simultaneously perfected. While this easy selling formula may not be the platinum to that game's gold, it is a noteworthy, if straightforward effort that will appeal to youngsters, party-gamers, and casual Smashers.

Old West Fightin'
For those not in the know, Rumble Arena 2 is a sequel to a PlayStation One title released in early 2002 (very late into that system's lifecycle). For that reason, it didn't launch to much critical acclaim, or notice. But, the formula was still sound and the money flowed. This updated version comes with newer, shinier graphics, more interactive environments, more Digimons to collect (and subsequently shovel into the lower ranks of a child's virtual fight club), and more things to do.

On a fundamental level, fighting can be compared to Smash Bros. In Rumble Arena, action is two-dimensional. Characters move left, right, up, and down, but there is no in and out. There are only two planes or...di-men-sions. These polygonal, yet flat levels are designed in such a way to play off intense reflex action and a variety of preset hazards only a forward looking camera schema can allow for.

While the maps themselves are fairly diverse (you got your ice, lava, old west, cannery, waterfall, creek, wasteland, toy-land, and other stereotypical brawl zones), they're not as original as a 21st century gamer might expect. Funny how by now we've seen so many lava traps that we're starting to pray for an old mundane library fight. Wouldn't that be new and exciting? An irony, it's called.

For as unoriginal as they may be, each of the environments offers a fairly unique style of play. Some focus on jump pads, while other zones perilously scroll in a way Power Stone 2 fans will instantly recognize. Still more focus squarely on no frills punching and kicking. Despite already having this diversity that comes hidden within the bowels of an ordinary lava pit, there's also an incredible amount of interactivity; no environment is static. Some areas are semi-destructible, while others will move, disappear, contort, or completely explode. This style of dynamic action adds an extra layer of depth to a title in dire need of it.

Even without environmental originality, Rumble Arena may superficially be a dead ringer for Smash Bros.. It has a similar style, a similar look, and similarly interactive arenas. Still, it's clear that the Rumble Arena franchise has some distance to go before it's crowned the new king of lighthearted party-fight games. Once you play, you'll understand.

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