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Developer:
Ambrella (JPN)
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: March 14, 2005

by Felipe Faria Lemos




Anyone that played Hey You Pikachu! for the Nintendo 64 probably will have a hard time picking up Ambrella’s newest production, Pokemon Dash for the Nintendo DS, considering the huge deception the previous game was. Unfortunately, things are not much different this time. This Pokemon spin-off was released on March 14, 2005, published by Nintendo in the US.


Pokemon Dash is basically a racing game, with a little twist. Instead of going around a course in a set number of laps, players have to control Pikachu (the only playable Pokemon) around the course, going over certain checkpoints in a pre-determined order, with the last checkpoint being the goal line. The very first thing I noticed is how this game reminded me of Mario Kart: Super Circuit for the GBA. From the background and icons in the menus, to the different cups and scoring system, the similarities are easily recognizable.


The game has no plot or any kind of storytelling. It starts simply with a tutorial on how to control Pikachu around the environment and familiarize the player with the obstacles in the courses. After completing the tutorial, access to the regular cup is granted, where the player has to race in 5 different courses to determine who the champion is. Pikachu is controlled by sliding the stylus across the lower screen in any particular direction. The length and steadiness of the stroke can vary wildly depending on the person, but the effect is typically the same, since it is very easy to make Pikachu reach his maximum speed and keep it that way. It requires no polished technique whatsoever. This makes a game that is easy to be picked up by people with no prior experience or small children.


There are a small number of strategies that can come into play during a race, such as alternate paths to reach the checkpoints, but nothing too complex or that requires much from the player. With that said, it should not take longer than 2 hours for an experienced player to complete the main portion of the game, have the hard cup unlocked (together with a special mode in which you can use a GBA Pokemon game pak to unlock some special courses), and watch the credits. Even though the regular cup is very easy for the experienced, the same cannot be said about the hard and expert cups. The level of difficulty on those is so great that it borders being unfair, since the rivals know exactly where they have to go, while the player has to find his or her way around using the not-so-effective radar. The top screen is filled with most necessary information, such as the name of the track, a sonar-like radar that pinpoints the location of both the checkpoints and pick-ups in the course, and a ranking. The radar proves to be very necessary, but not very effective. The icons displayed are not accurate, and tricky to relate to the course itself, making the task of finding a small pick-up frustrating at times.


The courses are filled with natural barriers and hazards. Pokemon can reach their top speed on paved ground, but on surfaces like grass, sand, mud and ice, for example, their speed is hindered. There are pick-ups around the course related to a particular kind of landscape that allow them to overcome such obstacles, although a Pokemon can only carry one type at a time (the grass pad allows a Pokemon to reach top speed on grass, fire pads allow a Pokemon to run on lava, and so on). Another important element of the gameplay is the hot air balloons, which raise the Pokemon high up in the sky and move very fast. While high up in the sky, the radar becomes even more frustrating since it doesn’t point out which checkpoint you should go to next. The only indication the player has about where to go is the arrow before the take off and a small portion of the map where the checkpoint is, forcing the person to compare the view with the aforementioned map. The landing can be either smooth or disastrous depending on both the surface the Pokemon lands on and the number of balloons popped to make the landing.


The game is viewed at all times from a top perspective, in very disappointing graphics. As a matter of fact, that is another similarity with Mario Kart on the GBA. Excluding the cute 3D Pikachu in the opening, everything else could probably be comfortably displayed on the screen of a Game Boy Advance. There are only a handful of rival Pokemons during a race, and they are all pixilated, with a very short animation cycle. Details that are in the game, such as weather effects, are primitive and even cause slowdowns in certain parts of the game. The worst part is probably some of the zooming effects…they are identical to the old Super NES Mode-7 chip rotation and scaling effects, and are used in excess. Compared to games like Super Mario 64 DS or Nintendogs, the graphic presentation on this title is abysmal.


In the sound department, the tracks are so generic that someone has to pay great attention to be able to tell the difference between them. They are mostly happy tunes that won’t stay in anyone’s mind after a playing session. Although they do sound about the same, they are surprisingly crisp on the system’s speakers and so are Pikachu’s traditional “Pika-Pika!” sounds. Beware of the fact that Pikachu does say his “Pika!” line for pretty much everything that happens in the screen, so if you hate it, I suggest turning the volume all the way down. Sound effects are also in the below-average category, with a very small variety, and are barely noticeable. On the headphones the difference is minimal, with the exception that the stereo effects are much more noticeable.


Replay value is limited to the player’s patience and perseverance to beat all cups and lower their times on time-attack mode. Also, the special cups tracks add some value, but again, nothing to really make it worth buying the game. Although a [very] flawed game, the experience is not just plain horrible and hateful. Pikachu fans will probably love the fact that they can interact with the 3D model in the presentation, and the races can be challenging and exciting in the hardest settings, where the person has to develop a strategy prior to entering the race.


It is a shame that a game based on such a successful franchise seems to have been rushed to be released, making it a short, (at times) disappointing, flawed experience, and giving the impression that it is just filler for Pokemon fans, being the 1st Pokemon game to come out on the Nintendo DS. I definitely suggest renting the game before buying, regardless if you are a Pokemon fan or not.


Final Grade: 50%




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