Friday, October 17, 2008

Boing! Docomodake DS review: The shovelware that isn't.

Boing! Docomodake DS has telltale signs of shovelware: it's a franchise tie-in (in this case, it features a mascot for a Japanese mobile phone company NTT Docomo), and it's mostly ignored by gamers, even by the R4 crowd - and that's certainly saying something. Boing! Docomodake DS only has one review to its name as of this writing, not counting this particular post. Gamefaqs doesn't even have any entries on this game except for a single forum thread, which is aptly titled "Nobody playing it?" There are currently no replies to that thread.

Where's the love?

A sad thing, indeed, because Boing! Docomodake DS deserves attention - and gamers need to show even just a smidgen of appreciation to European publisher Ignition Entertainment for bringing over such an obscure yet good Japanese title to English-speaking shores.

At first glance, Boing! Docomodake DS looks like your usual 2D platformer, with an overly simplistic premise: as Papa Docomodake, it's the player's job to gather all the other family members of the Docomodake family to celebrate a festival, and for him to reach each and every one of them he has to leap, collect coins and treasures and avoid obstacles.

However, the game's similarity to almost every other ho-hum platformer stops there. Don't let the simplistic (but adorable) 2D graphics mislead you; Boing! Docomodake DS is actually an Echochrome in the guise of a run-of-the-mill cutesy side-scroller.

The little fungi that could

Papa Docomodake has a unique ability that makes up the core mechanic of the game: he can split himself into several little Minis. While Papa has his own set of moves, such as jumping, digging and rolling, the Minis and their remarkable abilities take centerstage.

These Minis claim to make the impossible possible, and somehow, they do deliver on that promise: Minis can stacked to create ladders, they can be used as projectiles to get rid of enemies and breakable obstacles, and they can be used to trigger switches...the list goes on and on.

There is a noticeable lack of useable items in the game, but they're actually not needed in the first place, since Minis let the player do every conceivable action needed to solve puzzles. You don't need cannons or even portable ladders, all you need are a handful of Minis and a sharp mind.

Echochrome + 2D + cute mascot = Boing! Docomodake DS

Most other platformers focus on action and kicking monster ass to get to the next level, but Boing! Docomodake DS avoids adding to the glut of usual DS side-scrollers by being a cute lovechild of a platformer and a puzzle-cruncher. There are very few enemies to crush and maim (if any); instead, one needs out-of-the-box thinking to get anywhere in this game.

Like Echochrome's Laws of Perspective, Boing! Docomodake DS has its own set of gameplay rules that the player needs to remember in order to solve the problem of getting from Point A to Point B, a task that gradually becomes more and more challenging as the game progresses from Area 2. These rules, referred to in the game as "Mechanisms," are introduced as soon as the player encounters certain puzzles that require their usage. Mechanisms can be reviewed at any time during the game, but there's no need to - Minis are actually intuitive and using them is as easy as knowing the back of your own hand.

Also like Echochrome, it's highly recommended that players survey the entire stage and map out their course before proceeding in order to go to the designated goal without a hitch. Thankfully, Boing! Docomodake DS includes a Stage Viewer function that lets players pause the game and view the entire level, letting them formulate their gameplan instead of just rushing in pell-mell and getting themselves stuck with no choice but to repeat the stage.

Boing! Docomodake DS: Pros and Cons

Nintendo DS owners who revel in the tactile user interface that the touchscreen provides will no doubt be happy about the big role the stylus plays in the game. Players use the stylus to move the Minis about, and some stages require leading the Minis through roundabout routes just to circumvent roadblocks. This, coupled with the game's simple yet intricate gameplay, lends an addictive appeal to Boing! Docomodake DS, making it a good time waster in the bus, in the can, or wherever you're being unproductive to society.

A game isn't without its cons, of course. Despite the cute and lovable mascots and overall game design, the backdrop tends to be too repetitive and the same goes for the rather blah music as well.

Another thing that mars the game is the bland selection of unlockable items on which the players waste the hard-earned coins that are collected during the game: opening sequences, cut-scenes, BGM, and others. It would have been better if players were given the chance to unlock various wallpapers featuring the entire Docomodake brood.

An off-tangent rant

The sad thing about successful gaming consoles - and by success I mean the consoles that print the most money - is that they have a tendency to accumulate a glut of software with all these developers jumping into the money-printing wagon. Nevermind that the games they put out are pure crap; as long as they're published on the most popular platforms there will always be stupid people who'll end up buying them.

Thus, we end up with a lot of shovelware: games that are pure and utter crap, and are usually tied to an existing franchise just so they'll sell anyway. You know these games: American Idol games, Barbie games...heck, almost each and every movie tie-ins fall under the shovelware category (Ryan, I said "almost." You don't have to worry about me taking potshots at your beloved Speed Racer movie gaems).

But that isn't the saddest thing about games these days. The saddest thing is that there are some hidden gems that get lost in the sea of shovelware, ignored by gamers, and not getting the love they deserve - especially if they happen to be a tie-in, making them easy to disregard and pass off as yet another rubbish created solely for the purpose of generating money. One perfect example is Boing! Docomodake DS.

Post-script: There's an old fantarded review that I wrote for Super Smash Bros. Brawl that I wasn't able to post in this blog. Check it out here. In case you're wondering, it's actually a half of the full review - Ryan wrote the first part.