Boing! Docomodake DS
Forgive me for being pessimistic, but the second I come across any sort of film or television ‘tie-in’, the alarm bells start ringing and I immediately assume the worst. Imagine then, the levels of skepticism when first loading up Boing! Docomodake, a game based not on a blockbuster movie, or a hit TV show, but the mascot of a telecommunications network in Japan. It’s the equivalent of BT commissioning a first person shooter featuring that bloke from ‘My Family’, then releasing it in a country lucky enough to have never heard of him.
Things aren’t as grim as they may appear however, and Boing! Docomodake feels fresh and interesting despite its obvious role as an advertisement for NTT Docomo. At its most basic, Boing! is a 2D puzzle platformer akin to the likes of Kirby’s Magic Paintbrush and Yoshi’s Island DS, and although it never quite reaches the level of excellence of either title, it manages to hold its own in a market already saturated with the genre. Controlling Papa Docomodake, the game takes place over 7 different worlds that he must traverse in search of various Docomodake family members who have mysteriously disappeared mere days before the annual mushroom festival. In terms of structure it’s a fairly standard affair, but getting from A to B is where Boing! begins to impress.
Movement, jumping, and crouching are all controlled via the directional pad (or face buttons for lefties), with a double tap in either direction to perform a funny little sprint/roll . Its all pretty typical stuff, but by utilising the stylus it’s possible to drag smaller mushrooms out of Papa Docomodake, decreasing his size in the process. These so-called ‘minis’ can then be manipulated in all sorts of different ways, stacking them to create ladders to unreachable areas or throwing them at enemies as projectile weapons to name just a few. Once they’ve served their purpose, a quick double tap of the hand that floats above Papa Docomodake (to differentiate him from the crowds of up to 15 minis that can appear later in the game) sees them whisked back to their host from anywhere on the level.
More than just a gimmick, the ability to move the duplicated minis around the level turns Boing! into a compelling little puzzle game. Beginning fairly simple, and evolving into complicated tasks that fill entire stages, the puzzle elements can require a surprising amount of thought, despite the majority being of the tried and tested switch-opens-door variety. And although more often than not arriving at the exit will be fairly straight forward, getting there and having collected all the coins and treasure chests that litter the game’s stages is a completely different matter. Each post-level debriefing screen displays a rank based on speed and treasure collected – obtaining the coveted S rank will require some fast footwork and some skilled use of the mini mushrooms.
It’s this ranking system that’s most likely to keep people playing after the initial five hour run-through, because Boing! certainly isn’t the longest of games. Just as everything falls into place, it’s over. There are a host of unlockable items such as in-level music and ‘art work’ that can be bought with the treasure collected throughout the game, but most of this is pretty pointless, and it’s hard not to feel as though the skills developed over each stage haven’t really had the chance to be used to their full potential. It isn’t just longevity where the game falls short, either.
Although the concept of using the directional pad to
control a character’s full movement allows for simultaneous use of the stylus to control other on-screen elements, running and jumping can be extremely fiddly, especially when using the DS Lite’s less than brilliant d-pad. There are times when a simple jump can take several minutes, resulting in stress, and sometimes tears. That said, it’s hard to hold it against AQ Interactive because control of Papa Docomodake and his army of minis is so inventive, and the puzzles so refreshingly different, that it’s difficult to stay angry for too long.
Adding to this is the game’s overall character; it’s bold, cheery and filled with all sorts of wonderful little touches. Whether these are intentional or not is uncertain, there are a few smirk-inducing moments which seem to be more of a breakdown in the translation stages than anything else. Each level ends with a short epilogue about the importance of family, told in a Zen-like way and making absolutely no sense whatsoever, but it’s funny and charming and that’s all that matters. The game’s soundtrack is equally entertaining, if not a little repetitive, with amusing themes on each level complementing the surreal plot.
Boing! Docomodake is a difficult game to gauge. At times it can be painfully frustrating – with some puzzles requiring a complete level-restart if failed initially – and it’s criminal just how short it is. But on the contrary, Boing! is filled with intuitive puzzles, a genuinely creative control scheme, and some truly amusing moments. It’s a little rough around the edges, but is a great puzzler with plenty of new ideas to bring to the genre. Corporate cash-in or not, Boing! has proven to be a delightful surprise, and at a time in which most DS games are sticking to the same easy money-making formulas, AQ Interactive have risked trying something different and have ultimately succeeded.