Platform: Nintendo DS
Rating: E (Everyone)
Release Date: 03/15/2005
While the core of the Pokémon series is and always will be the RPG titles, every now and then the series will spin off into other genres. This often has questionable results, and the latest experiment, a racing game called Pokémon Dash, is no different.
Unlike its RPG brethren, there really isn’t a cohesive plot in Pokémon Dash, much as there isn’t a plot in other racing titles like Super Mario Kart. However, at least even those titles had some characterization and the like. Pokémon Dash is just plain racing, and if you aren’t already familiar with the various characters in the series, it’ll leave you feeling strangely disconnected, as if you’ve “missed something.” The only notable story item is the appearance of a new character, Munchlax. This is the first video game he’s appeared in; previously, he’s only appeared in the Destiny Deoxys film. In case you were wondering, Munchlax is the pre-evolved form of Snorlax. The first one eats, the second one sleeps…is it any wonder that they’re both cats?
The DS is a graphical powerhouse, but you wouldn’t know it by playing Pokémon Dash. The intro screens of a fully 3D-rendered Pikachu look nice enough, but the in-game graphics are weak.
The various character sprites have very few frames of animation; I’ve seen NES games that were more fluid! I will say that the sprite rotation and zoom functions are handled quite well, especially when you take to the air in a balloon (more on that later). Character models look okay, but again, they suffer from poor animation. The frame rate is rock solid, but the courses and terrain are very simplistic, so there’s not much there to slow them down. After a while, the same old grass, forests, sand, etc. will just get boring and repetitive.
Even if you think Pikachu’s the cutest thing ever, his constant noisemaking in Pokémon Dash will likely drive you insane. Music was almost an afterthought in this game; none of the tunes are memorable, and the soundbanks used to create them sound like something from an early SNES game. The game’s audio focus seems to be on the sound effects anyway, and even those don’t take advantage of the DS’ powerful sound hardware.
Pikachu is your player character here, and making him run around the various courses is quite simple: you just repeatedly drag the stylus in the direction you want him to go. Your goal is to hit a certain number of checkpoints in the proper order; a map appears on the top screen showing you where the next one is, but each time you hit a checkpoint, arrows will appear in front of Pikachu to give you a sense of where to run next. As you complete each Cup (usually made up of five or more courses), you’ll unlock the next one.
Terrain will naturally affect your speed; forests, deserts, and swamps can all slow you down considerably. Luckily, you’ll find speed panels on many courses that temporarily remove this limitation, allowing Pikachu to sprint across difficult terrain with ease. Trying to run across water will often end with Pikachu drowning, but keep your eyes open for a Lapras, which will ferry you across the sea instead.
Finally, there’s the balloons. Sometimes, a checkpoint will be surrounded by water or other obstacles, with no way to access it. In this case, look around for a Diglett, who will provide you with a set of balloons. Sliding the stylus over the “Rise” command on either side of the touchscreen will send Pikachu flying up into the sky. Up there, you can see much more of the map, and your shadow will show you were you’ll eventually land. You can move around in the air just as you do on the surface, and once you want to head back to terra firma, you just slide the stylus over the “Dive” command. You’ll descend at an average rate, but you can pop one or two of the balloons to dive a lot faster. If you dive too fast onto solid ground, though, Pikachu will be knocked out for a bit, costing you precious time.
Pokémon Dash features a few different gameplay modes, including Normal Mode, Hard Mode (which is unlocked after completing Normal Mode), Time Attack Mode, and a Multiplayer Mode for up to six players. Gameplay is essentially the same in each mode, which can get old very quickly. Not to mention that the constant sliding of the stylus can make your wrists ache after a while. Finally, there’s no way to “knock out” your opponents or otherwise slow them down; you can push into them, but it accomplishes practically nothing. Pokémon Dash‘s gameplay mechanics are very limited, making it more like a demo cartridge that a full game. Developer Ambrella just doesn’t seem to have the love for the characters that Nintendo and original Pokémon creators GameFreak have, and Pokémon Dash suffers heavily as a result.
As you play through each Cup, you’ll unlock the next one in turn, and you can also unlock extra modes as well. This won’t take long, though, and there’s really not much to keep you coming back. There’s no PokéDex to fill, and no other characters to run around with (save for Multiplayer Mode).
Pokémon Dash is incredibly easy. Even younger gamers will have no trouble beating it. Hard Mode, however, just gets incredibly cheap. The AI is flawed, the other characters move exponentially faster than they did before, and it just feels like it was slapped together and barely playtested.
The Pokémon series has never done racing before, so it gets a few originality points in that regard. However, other series have moved into the racing world, and they’ve done it many times better. Pokémon Dash has many lessons to learn in that field.
I honestly don’t know how anyone could possibly be addicted to this game, Pokémon fan or not. Sure, the characters are cute, but what could possibly be addicting about dull gameplay and aching wrists? Playing Pokémon Dash is more of a chore than an enjoyable game experience.
Pokémon Dash may appeal to Pokémon fans young and old, but once they play it, they’ll see the error of their ways. Hell, I’m a big fan of the series, and this was one hell of a letdown. Rent it first, then decide if you want to go nuts and spend the thirty beans. If you must have it, I strongly suggest you wait until it drops to ten bucks or less.
Pokémon Dash does take advantage of the GBA slot in the DS, which few DS games thus far have done. By inserting Pokémon GBA cartrides, like Ruby, Sapphire, Leaf Green, Fire Red, and the upcoming Emerald, you’ll unlock new courses to run around on. Unfortunately, the course designs aren’t anything special, and only serve as a slight diversion from the rest of the game.
Overall Score: 41/100
FINAL SCORE: 4.0 (POOR)