Boing! Docomodake DS Review

If you look back at some of the games that have come out over the years, it’s amazing there haven’t been any major drug busts in the software development industry. No, seriously. Look at some of the games and their concepts that we’ve been subjected to. Even the most popular of characters must’ve started as some-one’s bad drug trip. Look at Mario, for instance. A Brooklyn plumber who runs through colourful fantasy lands, trying to save an elusive Princess while gobbling mushroom after mushroom, avoiding death at the jaws of mutated Venus-flytraps and jumping on turtles with wings. It must’ve been an interesting party in Nintendo Central when they came up with that particular doozy.

Why drugs though? Well, the moment I took Boing! Docomodake DS out of the plain brown envelope in which it was delivered, I knew that it was 100% pure drug-induced game design. The box-art, the title, the screenshots. Everything about it said “Yes, we were all high when we came up with this one”. This may or may not be a bad thing. There’s only one way to find out, right?

The game plays like a cut-down, dare-I-say-it “casual” version of Nintendo’s seminal Pikmin titles. Grossly over-looked in the West, Pikmin has you controlling a minuscule spaceman explorer who crash-lands on Earth and has to rely on extremely helpful indigenous carrot-people to get back into space before the deadly oxygen atmosphere finishes him off. The carrot-people, or Pikmin, help the player out, lending their strength, fighting ability and tenacity to solving tasks that the player alone would not be able to overcome. Boing! Docomodake DS has you playing as Papa Docomodake, who has lost his family and needs to find them before the beginning of the festival in the Docomodake forest. Crucially, Papa Docomodake has the ability to split himself into smaller parts, which can be controlled with the stylus and used to solve puzzles. Just like Pikmin, these Minis can be thrown as weapons, used to manipulate switches and as temporary platforms to use as a jumping-block to higher areas. For quite a while, this in itself is fun. Finding the ways in which the Minis can be used is entertaining, even if the game leads you somewhat obviously towards the solution each time. Minis can be stacked one on top of the other to create ladders, placed in empty dotted-line boxes to stand on or block the approach of enemies and left on switches to hold them down while you progress through previously-locked doors to the next area.

However, the novelty factor soon begins to wear off and you realise that the puzzles are constrained by the limited scope of what the Minis can actually do (or not do). For instance, while the Minis are quite happy to be picked up and dragged around with the stylus, they are somewhat reluctant to follow along behind the player on their own steam. Rather than have a small crowd of minis following you across the level, you end up shifting them all by hand. After a while of playing this becomes frustrating, even if you can drag a circle around multiple Minis to move them all at once. Occasionally, the game becomes alarmingly choosy over what constitutes a circle. Having to draw and redraw circle after circle until the game decides you’ve achieved the correct ratio of radius to diametre or whatever (I was never a geometry fan at school) is frustrating. I concede, perhaps, that this is a problem in other DS games as well, suggesting perhaps a flaw with the hardware or the tools provided to developers to make use of it, but it’s galling nonetheless.

Also, unlike Pikmin, neither the Minis or Papa Docomodake have very much in the way of personality. Even the members of Papa’s family are strangely uninteresting. Considering that I have to jump, fight and puzzle my way though level after level, zone after zone, I didn’t really understand why I was bothering. Sure, I was trying to save Papa’s family from an uncertain fate, but I didn’t really know why and I certainly didn’t feel connected with either the family members or with Papa himself. Papa Docomodake felt like a featureless void rather than a full character, despite the fact that I controlled him through the entire game. There was no dialogue beyond the narrator in the occasional cutscene and Papa himself expressed no personality throughout the levels. A game like Boing! Docomodake DS (which I insist on writing in full, because it is probably the best titles of a DS game ever) really needs a great sense of humour to keep the player interested. It’s a shame someone didn’t get a decent writer in to do the script, as Boing! Docomodake DS had the foundation to be a laugh-out-loud funny game, what with the sheer random concept and bizarre central character. In the same way that the newly-released gem World of Goo (available on the PC and WiiWare) has captivated gamers across the world, Boing! Docomodake DS could have monopolised on tiny details to draw the player in. What started with World of Goo as a fairly basic physics simulator tech-toy ended up being probably the funniest, warmest game of the year, and the characters in that were not much different from Minis – except that they had great sound effects and the merest touch of cuteness that set them above being merely blobs of goo with eyeballs.

Boing! Docomodake tried hard. The game rips off one of the best two games released for the GameCube (Pikmin and Pikmin 2), executes the concept well, but falls down on the lack of character and polish. It would be unfair to write the game off as shovel-ware, as I did gain at least a few hours of fun from it, but I soon became bored with playing what was essentially the same four basic puzzles over and over again. There was nothing much to keep me plugging through to the end – no sly in-jokes with the player, no fun characters and certainly nothing to play through the game again for. Compared to some of the games that come out for the DS, Boing! Docomodake is above average. Compared to the standard set by other low-key developers, like 2D-Boy or Mekensleep (the developers of the excellent Soul Bubbles), it was decidedly shoddy. However, if AQ Interactive were to take the criticism on-board, I would be more than happy to play through another Boing! Docomodake DS, so long as more effort were put in to expanding on the original concept beyond the most basic character concept and gameplay gimmick.

And remember kids, reviewers don’t do drugs. It’s hard to be snide when you’re floating with the fairies.