With recent releases like Ultra Street Fighter II and Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection on Switch, it’s unequivocally clear that 2D fighters are being celebrated and are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence. The next title to enter the fray is Cardboard Robot Games’ Pocket Rumble. A callback to the classic Neo Geo Pocket Color fighters such as Fatal Fury: First Contact, Pocket Rumble aims to satisfy both hardcore fighting enthusiasts and newcomers alike. After several hours with the game, the end result is a delightfully challenging yet simple-to-understand, retro-style fighter that should be a part of any Switch owner’s game library.
If I could only choose a single word to describe Pocket Rumble, it would have to be “simplicity,” and that’s meant in the best and least reductive way possible. From the game’s menu to the character roster, the game modes to actual gameplay, nearly everything about Pocket Rumble is intuitive and easy to understand. The game has all the standard fighting game trappings, including career mode, arcade mode, a free versus mode, and practice mode, as well as local and online multiplayer. There’s even a tutorial section that walks you through the basics of combat, including moves specific to each of the game’s eight playable characters.
While each fighter is unique both visually and in terms of move sets, they all play the same way thanks Pocket Rumble’s two-button control system. The combination of pressing either A or B along with directional input is dead simple to use and understand and makes switching between characters a breeze. Tenchi’s Hadouken-like Fireball is triggered the same way as June’s Medusa, but both moves are vastly different.
Because of this, Pocket Rumble’s learning curve comes not from learning the game’s controls, but from learning each character’s move set and when each move is situationally appropriate. My first few matches were fraught with frustration and defeat, but once I started to really learn each character’s move set, I was able to hold my own after cranking up the CPU’s difficulty. That said, CPU opponents are no joke, and from mid-level difficulty onward, it’ll take the full use of your fighter’s arsenal of moves to come out on top.
The game isn’t just for newcomers, however; there’s plenty to Pocket Rumble for fighting game veterans as well. Options in the game’s training mode allow you to toggle hitbox visibility and move and damage details, so those seeking a deeper fighting-game experience have plenty to explore here.
Visually, Pocket Rumble evokes the aforementioned Fatal Fury: First Contact, scan lines and all. The game runs at a full 1080p docked and 720p in handheld despite its pixel art style, and at 60 frames per second throughout, the game is a spectacle to play and watch.
In terms of controls, the game’s aforementioned two-button controls lend Pocket Rumble perfectly to any control type, whether it’s the full Pro controller, split Joy-Cons, or even a single Joy-Con. With most Switch titles, I find playing with a single Joy-Con more an exercise in frustration than anything else, but here it feels entirely serviceable. With only needing to play using A and B along with directional input, you don’t need to awkwardly position your hands to grip the L and R buttons, and my rather large hands are thankful for this.
If I had to levy a single criticism against Pocket Rumble, it’s the seemingly small character roster, but this isn’t Smash Bros.; a large character roster isn’t necessary in a traditional 2D fighter, especially when each character is so unique and feels vastly different from one another. Sure, Cardboard Robot Games could add new characters via updates or DLC down the road, but as it stands, it’s not really needed. As with most fighters, I found one or two characters to main, and most players will probably find that to be sufficient.
Pocket Rumble is a modern take on classic SNK fighters that absolutely shines on Switch, and the adage “easy to learn, difficult to master” comes to mind and seems appropriate. Despite having a character roster that might feel a tad small to some players, Pocket Rumble cohesively blends accessible gameplay with deep fighting game mechanics that makes this a must-have title for any Switch owner.
Disclaimer: A review code for Pocket Rumble was provided by the game’s publisher.