They can't all be winners, as Nintendo proves with their release of Pokemon Dash. It ain't pretty...
When I first saw Pokemon Dash at Nintendo's Gamers Summit in Seattle, my initial impression was "what the $#^% is this #@$%?" This weekend, after playing the final version I no longer have any questions. Rather, I only have a single exclamation, the outburst being, "I cannot believe Nintendo actually published this $#&^!"
Actually, that's not entirely true. Nintendo loves to milk its licenses, and after seeing Pokemon Channel and Pokemon Pinball I'm not surprised that Mario and Co. decided to do yet another battle monster spin-off in a weak attempt to expand the universe and make a few extra bucks, but the concept as well as the quality of this game would make even Bowser blush.
Pokemon Dash is a racing game in which you direct Pikachu (and only Pikachu) through a series of courses by rapidly stroking the DS' touch screen. Each course is marked by a series of checkpoints, and using on screen arrows you guide Pikachu to the next one through a variety of transportation modes that include running, catching a ride on balloons, or sailing via water transport. There are several different types of terrain in the game including stone, grass, swamp, sand, and ice, and Pikachu reacts to each differently, so while he'll speed off down a cobblestone pathway he'll move a lot slower when stuck in a forest. Thankfully, there are various power-ups littered about many of the races that allow him to brave the more difficult areas with gusto.
Unfortunately, enthusiastic enjoyment never described my mood while playing this game because it is so boring that I couldn't bear it for more than fifteen minutes at a time. Mindlessly rubbing the DS' touch screen to lead a yellow rodent to the finish line is extremely repetitive, and to make matters worse the game's difficulty is frustratingly unbalanced because for two reasons.
First, the checkpoints are out of order, so for the most part there isn't an obvious path you follow, though in the very beginning this isn't a problem because the early levels are pathetically easy. Second, your radar (which is displayed on the top screen) is completely worthless. While floating in mid air via balloons, the top screen displays where you need to go but only the smallest section of the area, making it nearly impossible figuring out where you need to go. The AI, however, knows exactly which routes to take, so while you're floating around studying this erroneous map screen the other Pokemon are leaving your sorry butt behind.
As if things couldn't get any worse, Pokemon Dash's graphics are horrible, resembling GBA visuals than this N64 technology Nintendo's been praising. I do like the 3D Pikachu that greets you at the title screen and after you place in a series of races (you can pull his cheeks and ears, which, while amusing for five minutes, suddenly became very disturbing), but the pathetic sprites that you mess around with during gameplay are pitiful. Also, while the game allows you and five other friends to wirelessly battle one another, you'll each need a copy of Pokemon Dash, but good luck finding five other misguided souls who purchased this lackluster DS title.
Lastly, the game's audio is equally unimpressive. Aside from the corny music and Pikachu saying its name every five seconds, there's not much that's worth listening to, and even those features get old fast.
It's said that evil cannot exist without good, and in Pokemon Dash's case it has one saving grace, that being the ability to unlock new tracks by inserting Pokemon GBA titles into your DS. The game reads the cartridge and generates new courses in the shape of the creatures in games such as Ruby & Sapphire, so if you're truly gaga over this retched piece of plastic you'll have plenty of environments to explore.
Pokemon Dash is the type of game that I never wanted to see on the DS, a title that milks a license while failing to truly make good use of the system's unique abilities. It's frustratingly difficult and mind-numbingly boring, and only the most jaded Pokemon fan will enjoy it.
What's Hot: Unique ability to unlock new tracks by plugging in GBA versions of Pokemon.
What's Not: Terrible visuals and audio, and frustratingly unbalanced gameplay.