What is it about grids of assorted shapes that compels us to rearrange them until they form some sort of order? What possible use could this skill serve primitive man? Perhaps a clue lies in the fact that, as in the case of Zoo Keeper, our in-built obsessive compulsive disorder is more inclined to arrange disembodied animal faces than arbitrary blocks. Maybe it's an instinctive organisational skill used by our ancestors to neatly stack the heads of our prey, therefore keeping our cave floors head-free, reducing the chance of accidental falls and increasing our chance of survival. It's Darwinism at its finest.
Pokemon Link is as typical a head-rearrangement game as you could hope to find. Very much in the vein of classic Nintendo puzzler Yoshi's Cookie or the more recent Zoo Keeper, Pokemon Link presents you with a grid of various types of Pokemon. Using the touchscreen (naturally), you must line up four or more identical Pokemon in order to make them disappear from existence with a satisfying pop. It's similar to popular time-waster Bejeweled, except instead of moving a single block, your efforts consist of sliding entire rows and columns. Successfully aligning and clearing four or more Pokemon momentarily engages Link Chance, which gives you an extremely brief chance to clear sets consisting of only three Pokemon, continue matching up their adorable faces and you can clear pairs of Pokemon (as long as you keep up a combo and prevent Link Chance from ending). The touchscreen is adapted to the game perfectly, allowing you to precisely and swiftly maneuver the Pokemon with ease.
CHANCE'D BE A FINE THING
This is what you'll find yourself doing for most of your time Pokemon Link. Connecting a line of four Pokemon acts as a launch pad for your combos and the more links you create during Link Chance - and the more Pokemon you clear at once - the more points you earn. It's an incredibly satisfying and compelling tenet of the game and, as new Pokemon fall from the top screen, racking up huge combos becomes integral to clearing later stages and boss battles. Massive combos produce beautiful sound effects which instil you with a feeling that you're doing something hugely profound, while clearing the screen of every last Pokemon gives you a huge bonus and the urge to cheer with sheer satisfaction.
At this point you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with Pokemon. This could just as easily be Arbitrary Coloured Blocks Link, or Past United States Presidents Link (which would be both fun and educational). It's likely to be a ploy to keep brand interest up until that glorious day when we see an actual bona-fide Pokemon game on the DS, but nevertheless the game's Pokemon branding isn't weak. An adventure mode provides a hilariously convoluted story which justifies the reasoning behind the game's line-'em-up puzzle mentality, and features fantastically stylised cutscenes quite unlike any other Pokemon release, looking more like Samurai Jack than the regular anime style we're used to seeing in the Pokemon series.
The adventure mode is short-lived however, merely challenging you with increasingly-difficult levels. Each level sets you a target number of Links to attain, and as the game goes on and the target rises, so does the difficulty of maintaining a string of combos in Link Chance. Progression through the adventure mode is non-linear, allowing you to choose which challenge to face next. Occasionally this sequence is broken by a boss battle, which is essentially the same as playing a normal level but with the added distraction of somebody deliberately trying to piss you off by silhouetting the grid or bumping up your target number of links.