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Nintendo DS Review: Monster Racers

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Gotta catch'em all.

It's a phrase which every Pokemon player knows, and it has greatly added to the length of time fans will sit with each Pokemon title.  After all, if you haven't caught'em all, no matter how good your favorite Pokemon is, you haven't quite won, have you?  It's an idea that has worked so well, that while the phrase hasn't been used in other franchises, the concept has (think Bakugan).  Now, UFO Interactive and Koei have gotten into the game with their latest title, Monster Racers, which is currently available on the Nintendo DS.

The basic story here, as with all get-a-monster-and-train-them-to-be-better-than-other-monsters games, is quite simple.  Essentially, a few years before the opening of the game, an island, Star Island, was discovered and it was found to be full of monsters.  These monsters loved to race one another, and so people decided that it would be good fun to train them and force them to race (apparently as animals who love to do it, there is nothing morally objectionable about compelling them to participate).  Monsters were soon discovered in wild parts of the rest of the world and monster racing has become the new "it" sport. 

Monster Racers begins with you starting off as a young, would-be monster racer.  You are given the option of one of three monsters to start off with, though after you receive your racer's license, you quickly head off into the wild to find and train more monsters.  And that, essentially, is the game.  There are multiple areas of the world to explore, and multiple tournaments and quests within each area.  Your goal is to get more monsters, train them (by winning races) to increase their stats, and generally be an all around good guy (or girl) – searching for crystals for others, saving folks should they get trapped, and making sure that the evil racers always lose.

There are three different types of races available, and you will have to repeatedly play all of them.  There are tournaments, which are a series of races which, when completed, award you a trophy and open up more areas and other tournaments.  There are also challenges, which take place against another racer out in the wild.  And, finally, there are field races, which feature you going up against a wild monster and are the kind of race you will encounter most often.  Field races can actually be won in three different ways.  First, simply making it to the finish line first will end the race and earn your monster points.  Second, there is a "victory line" which, should you be far enough out in front, will appear in the middle of the race (think of it like a slaughter rule).  Hit the victory line and you will win and earn points for your monster.  Lastly, should your monster be of a greater or equal level to the wild monster you're racing, you can shoot "MonStars" at your opponent to friend them, thereby adding them to your menagerie.  Every type of race contains various power-ups like invincibility, speed boosts, and coins (which add to your bank account if you win the race).  In wireless battles with other human opponents the power-ups are more attack oriented, which again adds another dimension to the game, although in the story portion of the game monsters can hurt one another by running into them or using their special ability.

As you travel in the world you are allowed to take three monsters around with you at any given time; every other monster you own is sent back to the Monsterium in Star City on Star Island for safe keeping.  Those that you keep with you will gain a few experience points for every race you win whether or not they participated in it.  Choosing monsters carefully before setting off can be incredibly important, not just to make sure you're leveling up the right monster, but so that you have monsters who excel at whatever terrain your racing on.

Different race courses are created out of different material, some have water, others lava, others sand or dirt, etc., and different monsters respond differently on the various tracks.  In order to be a successful racer, you need to make sure that all of your monsters have leveled up as much as possible, so that should you come across a grass-based track late in the game, your grass track running monster is up to the competition.  Additionally, extra items can be purchased to enhance your monster's stats which fall into four categories:  speed, thrust (acceleration), power (damage your monster can inflict during a race), and spirit (ability to withstand attacks and fill turbo gauge).  Loyalty and will are also factors one has to keep an eye on (win all your races though and you'll never need to worry about either).  As you progress in the game you can even try and breed monsters so as to get ones with characteristics which will better aid you in your monster racing.

With simple controls and minimal use of the touch screen, which is mainly used to provide attributes about monsters and your location in the world, the game is playable by all.  It also tends to be very easy early on, something which belies the later difficulties one will encounter if they haven't taken on every single race available (sometimes two or three times as items and monsters in the wild respawn) in order to level up sufficiently.

It is an enjoyable twist on the basic gotta catch'em all philosophy, and the use of races instead of innumerable mini-games ought to help the title find an audience with those who dislike repeatedly tapping a bullseye or spinning a little ball around.  The game can be saved at any time (except during a race), and the number of races, monsters, courses, abilities, and items available ought to keep those who strive for 100 percent completion busy for an exceedingly long time. 

The graphics are cute, the sounds fun, and there's a lot going on (over 80 monsters exist in the game).  It's an easy to pick-up and play for five minutes at a shot casual title that still has a lot of depth to it.  Plus, with the ability to play over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection or with others wirelessly in the same room, there are even more facets to it.

Monster Racers is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.