UK gamers are a rum old bunch. We constantly complain about how the Japanese get quirky, original titles we Westerners can only dream about (or bag on import), but at the tills, what do we buy? Yet another version of Tomb Raider, FIFA, Gran Turismo or whatever FPS is currently doing the rounds. For all our moaning about lack of originality, we’re very conservative consumers, and who can blame developers for churning out what sells?
Perhaps it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and give yourself a break from the latest generic offering which plays just like the last one. Boing! Docomodake DS is as quirky as you like and impressively Japanese, though too flawed to be a must-buy…
Like most quirky Japanese puzzlers, this one’s easier to play than it is to describe, but here goes anyway. Dispensing with the plot, you play a big mushroom who must get from A to B in each of the game’s bite-sized stages, picking up coins and treasure as you go. To do so, you call upon your little mushroom pals who live inside you. See what I mean about it being easier to play than describe? To summon a mini-mushroom, you drag him from your body using the touchscreen, or tap a shoulder button to release them all at once. Your own size depends on the amount of mushrooms you hold. Release them to shrink and get into small spaces, and when you want to be big again, drag them back one by one or tap the hand which hovers over your character to summon them all at once.
The mini-mushrooms do more than set your size. By piling them one on top of the other you can create an impromptu ladder. Place them on pressure pads to activate in-level features, use them to lower weight-sensitive platforms or roll them into balls to throw at enemies. Misuse them and you lose them, but most levels offer a bell which can be rang to resurrect mushrooms that have ‘fainted’.
There’s no doubt that Boing! Docomodake DS is fun to play. Its bite-sized levels make it ideal for a short journey or a commercial break, when you just haven’t got time to get stuck into a game where the save positions are half an hour apart. It oozes style and panache too, albeit a fairly obvious style – it’s got ‘quirky’ and ‘Japanese’ written all over it. The graphics are fairly sparse without being bare, but they suit the game style very well. It’s great to see developers concentrating on getting the most from the game concept instead of from the host machine. Just because the DS can do more, it doesn’t mean it should have to.
Trouble is, the overall game design could’ve, and damned well should’ve, done more. The metastructure is very linear, with each completed level opening the next, leaving the player no choice of where to go. This would make life difficult if you got stuck, which isn’t very likely – the game’s too easy by half. You can return to any level you’ve already completed and try it again to better your time-based grade or make sure you collected all the treasure and coins, but the level select screen gives no indication where you missed collectables or what grade you got first time around. A resounding raspberry for this ridiculous, insane omission.
That’s not to say Boing! Docomodake DS isn’t worth playing. Not at all. It’s a fun game, especially for the younger gamer who might find its shallow skills curve more acceptable. It’s just that it could’ve – and indeed should’ve – been a whole lot better.
So should you go Japanese and buy it instead of your next platformer, driving game or first-person shooter? Perhaps. It’s certainly not a must-buy, but if you want something to play while you’re waiting for the next mega-budget blockbuster to be released, you could do a lot worse than splashing out on this.