Monster Rancher Advance


    With its simple presentation and focus on multiplayer competition, the Monster Rancher series has begged for a decent handheld version. Though Tecmo produced a few series spin offs for the Game Boy Color, it took the more powerful hardware of the Game Boy Advance to draw a true portable version of Monster Rancher out of the company. But while Monster Rancher Advance does a wonderful job of reproducing the look and basic gameplay of the series, Tecmo's ambitionless implementation of the formula results a game that falls short of the charm and depth we've come to expect from the franchise.

    The premise is the same as it ever was: players are put in charge of a fledgling monster ranch, this time run by a squabbling brother and sister duo named Zest and Aroma. Though the game offers a new location (Age Island) and a new breeding association (AGIMA), the changes are mostly cosmetic. Once again, players are given control of the ranch and freedom to create, breed, train, and battle their monsters as they see fit, with the ultimate goal being to train a creature to reach to top of the tournament circuit.

  The GIA never passes the opportunity for an especially stupid caption.
Suezo Returns

    Due to the fact that GBA is cartridge-based, one of the Monster Rancher's main hooks -- the ability to randomly generate monsters from a CD or DVD -- is understandably missing. Instead, monsters are created by entering text strings; the further you move up the tournament ladder, the more characters you're allowed to enter. As with Monster Rancher 3, all the creatures you find are saved in a book and can be generated again at any time. While it's not quite as addictive as the disc-based system, it's still entertaining to plow through all the words and names in search of an ideal monster. The rewards, though, aren't nearly as interesting. There are relatively few unique monsters, and the different breeds of each type are more or less simple palette swaps. The special traits from Monster Rancher 3 make a welcome return, however, and there are many unique and powerful ones to discover over the course of the game.

    Unfortunately, while the core breeding and battling concepts are just as fun as ever, there's very little new in MRA and a whole lot that seems to be missing. The biggest new feature in the gameplay (other than its portability) is the addition of coaches. All the training is handled by monster coaches and, as you progress through the game, you can replace the default trainers with your own creations. A monster with a high rating in a specific stat will give a substantial training bonus when coaching that stat. Essentially, coaching offers a way to carry your progress over to the next monster, without having to resort to the long process of selective breeding (which also makes a return for MRA). Other than this, "new" features are few and far between. Monsters no longer die of old age and new attacks are now learned through special battles with teachers, which play out like every other battle in the game.

Or two
Ready? Fight!

    The battle system itself is more or less identical to the one used in the previous games. Players are given limited control over their creature during combat and can move it left or right and activate attacks based on range. The battles use similar presentation to Monster Rancher 3; each attack is accompanied by a short cutscene, which keeps the simple battles visually interesting. However, after four installments, the fighting system is beginning to show it's age. It's easy to forgive Tecmo for not taking any real chances with the first portable installment of the franchise, but sooner or later the series is going to need a rework.

    MRA certainly could have used a little innovation because the basic game has been severely stripped down from previous installments. As single player games, Monster Rancher always excelled because of the myriad events and goals that were there to distract players from the often dull routine of raising up monsters. But, other than a few conversations between Zest and Aroma and a couple of invitational tournaments, MRA offers little in the way of variety - no exploration, no ranch upgrades, only four secret monster types, and no real special events. Considering that the graphics and sound are almost on par with the PSone installments, it's a shame that more time wasn't spent getting the gameplay up to the same level.

    Thankfully, Monster Rancher Advance does excel at one of the most rewarding aspects of the series: multiplayer. Thanks to the portable nature of MRA and the ability to link four GBAs, the game offers one of the most robust sets of multiplayer options in the series (though each player does need their own cart). In addition to the standard one on one battles, players can also participate in new "tag battles" which offer the ability to switch monsters on the fly, just like Capcom's Versus series of fighting games. The creature warming the bench will slowly recover health, and the feature adds a bit more strategy to the series' simplistic, but enjoyable, multiplayer battles. Also new is the ability to wager items, money, or monsters on the outcome of a battle, another easily implemented, but rewarding addition.

  or three!
Down in the lab

    Unfortunately, drawing those other players into the game is the toughest part about MRA. The implementation of the basic Monster Rancher premise is so bare bones and by the book that, as a single player game, it never offers the variety, addictiveness, or playability of the previous installments. Longtime Monster Rancher fans, or those who can fish another player into competition will still find a lot to enjoy in Monster Rancher Advance. But if portability isn't a major draw, most players will be better served with one of the more full-featured previous installments.

Review by Zak McClendon, GIA.
Monster Rancher Advance
Developer Tecmo
Publisher Tecmo
Genre Simulation
Medium Cartridge
Platform Game Boy Advance
Release Date  12.01
Monster Rancher Advance and Tsugunai ship
6 screenshots