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DS  header logo

Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

For: DS

No laughing matter

Product: Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker | Developer: TOSE | Publisher: Square Enix | Format: DS | Genre: RPG | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker DS, thumbnail 1
What do you get if you cross a platypus with a giant crab? Well, try it out in your back garden and you'll probably just get legal action from your local animal protection charity. But take your crossbreeding instincts to the world of Dragon Quest Monsters, and you'll be rewarded with a powerful ally in a noble quest. DQM, you see, is all about the experimentation.

You may have heard of Dragon Quest before – it's an RPG franchise with as long and proud a heritage as Final Fantasy – but the chances are you've not played a game from its Monsters series before. The UK hasn't seen one in quite a few years, but the good news is that the first DS release is great for beginners and a wonderful rebirth for the series.

At its heart, Monsters is a creature-collecting game, similar in spirit to the Pokémon games and their ilk. You're an aspiring trainer fresh from Animï½ Academy, looking to catch the best monsters out there. Primarily, this is done by exploring the game's six islands, encountering the little beasties and 'scouting' them; essentially convincing them that you're strong and skilled enough to be worth fighting alongside.

To do this, you'll be using teams of monsters you've already captured. You can take three of your best at a time, with another three in reserve, employing them in battles to defeat enemies or capturing them by showing off the strengths of your motley crew.

Monsters vary in class, from small piles of blue goo to lumbering giants, and by training them up in battle and earning them experience you can teach them new and more powerful abilities – a simple but addictive gameplay mechanic that you've probably seen and loved before.

Thankfully, you're not thrown into the deep end of monster scouting. The islands you explore have the monsters bouncing around in plain view, so there are no nasty surprises and you can avoid battles you don't want or seek out specific monsters to catch.

And although you can painstakingly select each monster's action in the turn-based battling, there's a fairly intelligent 'Fight' command that selects appropriate tactics for you. All in all, the first hour or two of the game is kind to beginners, enabling you to get to grips with the game and its story.

Okay, it's not epic, but the plot does the job. You're a classic RPG protagonist – moody, spiky-haired and ambitious – and your father has dispatched you to infiltrate the Monster Scout Championship in order to help his secret and mildly sinister research into the creatures of the world. It provides an excuse for copious adventuring, but that's about it.

Framing the story, however, are the visuals. Screenshots don't capture how good DQM looks when it's moving. The cel-shaded visuals are smooth and beautiful on the DS screen, and although the engine is subject to severe and horrible popup – characters suddenly appearing in front of you out of nowhere – it generally looks fantastic and makes up for the pretty lacklustre, plinky-plonky-whiny music.

And fears of things being lightweight are unfounded as the game slowly deepens as it goes on – higher-level monsters can be combined together into even stronger fighters and all can be equipped with various items and equipment. It might not be much, but it keeps the game from being just another monster collector, and it also helps make your party unique for the wi-fi battling system, which makes it possible to fight with friends or trade creatures across the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

In addition, there's also a World Cup-style leaderboard and ranking system that extend the challenge past the single-player story mode.

DQM seems a perfect handheld match. It's rich visually and has lots of depth, but is simple enough for short bursts of monster-hunting thanks to a quicksave function that'll let you resume anywhere in the gameworld. Whilst it doesn't use the touchscreen particularly innovatively (the second screen displays a scrollable map which you rarely need), it sits well with the DS controls and even the 3D camera works well once you get used to shoulder-button fiddling.

Some gamers may find it leans a little on the easy side of RPG gaming, and while it's not the most challenging experience in the world if you've played a similar title before, you could do a lot worse than adventure across the six islands, especially with the DQM series being a new one to many gamers. So if you've been wondering what you get when you cross a monster hunter with an addictive RPG series, now could be a great time to find out.
Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker
Reviewer photo
Mike Cook | 10 March 2008
Bright, addictive and fun - Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker is a great addition to the DS adventure line-up
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