Let’s address the Phanpy in the room straight away: yes, this is a pixel-art JRPG in which a young trainer battles their way across a dangerous land with a squad of adorable ‘mons by their side. That particular niche is, of course, Pokémon’s home turf. Pokémon is the highest-grossing media franchise in the world (no, really), commanding a veritable megalith of nostalgia. A Macy’s parade-sized Pikachu balloon hovers ominously over these lands, smiling. Who dares stand beneath that giant inflatable rodent, floating up there in the sky, threatening to block out the sun?
Jochem Pouwels and Marcel van der Made have been working on Coromon for seven years; after the first two, they formed their studio TRAGsoft, which stands for ‘Two Ridiculously Ambitious Guys’. Their goal is to create a modern JRPG that incorporates influences from classic Game Boy Advance era games; not just Pokémon, but Zelda, Golden Sun, and Chrono Trigger, too.
The risk, of course, with making games that remind you of some of the most beloved series of all time is that players will ask why they should play this rather than the original? Would I choose to play Coromon when I can play Pokémon or Zelda instead? The answer: absolutely.
Coromon lays on its charm offensive as soon as you start. I wake up in my bedroom; my mother instructs me to put on something nice, so I equip a fetching frog hat. There are hundreds of options in the character creator, and you can change your clothes and hair at any point using a dresser or mirror, respectively.
Over at the PC, I boot up Swurmy Rush, a simple side-scroller featuring a shiny little bug Coromon. There’s a companion cube poster on the wall, a Portal reference just for the joy of it. Downstairs, my character’s younger brother is gaming in front of the TV, bragging about beating my Swurmy Rush high score; when I walk in front of him, he whines to our mum. It’s warm and endearing, without being twee. The pixel art is gorgeous and brought to life with lively animations and a vibrant palette.
The demo then jumps forward around 15-20 hours into the game; Jochem tells me Coromon has approximately 40 hours of gameplay. We’re on a mission to find a Titan, a world-shaping creature that commands the elements. They’re not quite analogous to legendary Pokémon: they’re more like powerful bosses with dialogue and complex, multi-phase battles.
To get to this particular Titan, I must navigate a pyramid stuffed with traps and puzzles. It’s far from a walk in the park. There are four levels of difficulty to choose from, so you’re free to play through just for the good vibes, or crank up the challenge and really put your team through its paces. There’s significant depth to Coromon’s gameplay, especially when it comes to building your team. Unlike Pokémon’s EVs and IVs, these systems are out in the open, as clear as can be.
Each Coromon has a different potential level, and whenever they earn experience, their potential increases, allowing you to assign points into your Coromon’s stats – speed, HP, etc. This will allow you to put together specific builds that squeeze the most out of your Coromon’s chosen skill set, making multiplayer competitive play genuinely interesting and much more accessible to the average player. Battling another player’s squad of ‘mons in Pokémon is a ton of fun, but I’m not inclined to try putting together a truly competitive team – the bar to entry is simply too high, requiring hours upon hours of breeding and training. Coromon could change that.
There are several other quality of life features in Coromon, aside from the transparency of your stats. Hovering over a ‘mon shows you its weaknesses and advantages, and super-effective moves are highlighted for you, so you’re not taking random guesses in the heat of battle. There’s also a gauntlet on the player character’s arm that allows you to burn or push things in order to solve puzzles or access hidden parts of the map – no need to burden your squad with these tasks.
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At the end of the pyramid, we face the Titan: Sart, the Bender of Sands. I’ve been given a roster of six Coromon to face him with: Squidma (a cyclops squid), Otogy (a two-headed Japanese oni), Froshell (a teeny, cold bug), Bazzer (an electric rhino beetle), Slitherpin (basically just a snake), and Sheartooth (a very toothy shark).
Each Coromon has carefully considered unique traits and abilities. Pokémon players should recognise the building blocks that go into these abilities – each move has a type, accuracy stat, and power value – but there are a few new mechanics, too, such as abilities that affect opponents not in battle; Sart brings down a hail of rocks that pummel my entire party all at once (ouch).
I eventually emerge triumphant from our battle, and my mission is complete. Coromon’s take on the monster battler formula is proven fun – the same kind of fun you had back in the Game Boy Advance days with its forebears, but with modern amenities and, crucially, it’s on PC. If you’re a JRPG fan, you’ll enjoy Coromon; it’s winsome enough to blossom, even under the shadow of that giant Pikachu.