“If we win, it shall make a lot of things clear.”
This Nintendo DSi exclusive game (designated by a white cover) is an all-ages experience where you can eventually unlock more than 150 monsters among 70 playing levels set in the mysterious world of Obscura. The beginning sequence tasks you to uncover the secret behind this world, which grows less mysterious instead of building up to a great climax. This shortcoming in Foto Showdown shifts attention from the lacking game narrative to the familiar turn-based battles.
You join a volatile girl named Yuika and a calmer, more knowledgeable lass named Misa. Rival creature characters eventually reveal themselves as the basic tutorials help you advance to challenging fights and tournaments. In addition to battles, you can also regroup at the base room, visit the shop, explore options and exchange and battle through the basic multiplayer mode. This multi-card option (each player must own a copy of Foto Showdown) allows two players to trade items and battle each other. Wi-Fi capabilities for expanded multiplayer battles, leader boards and rankings would have boosted the multiplayer elements.
Obscura, capture cameras, capsule bullets, and care cards all sound intriguing, but this fighting platform eventually reveals too much familiarity and not enough originality. The game even shortchanges you on the basic functional advantages of the Nintendo DSi, like omitting the touch screen features. You can only scroll through choices by using the directional arrows…wait — not the left and right arrows, but only the up-and-down arrows.
The NDSi camera function eventually becomes the most notable gameplay element. A color recognition system puts collection control in your hands during “capture camera” sequences. The game uses an outline and crosshair visual to guide these photographic compositions, which yield the various monster types (12 in all).
Once you have captured a few monsters using this special equipment, you can add the monster to your special “deck” or release it after spending time and valuable resources. Monster releases are a pointless option that keeps you from advancing in the game. This unnecessary option, and it represents one of many noticeable weaknesses in a potentially promising game.
You can store as many as six monsters in their deck while using up to three monsters on the battle board. Shuffle through a simple number system based on the cost of each monster (on the left) and a control point system (right). For example, a “6/8” rating must increase to a nine control point total, so you can use all three monsters (costing three points each) in battle.
This monster “control” element represents another missed opportunity for more interesting narrative dynamics where monsters are loose and cause havoc. This element could have also given other players the opportunity to buy control altering items in the shop for battles.
Essential information about the combat system is located within the game in the base room under the “Help” button. This information should be in the manual, which only consists of only three pages including the warranty and still refers to the game as the previous title Monster Hunter. You should print out any supplemental information on you own, especially regarding monster types and their corresponding properties, strengths and weaknesses.
You can also move monsters into empty enemy slots on the battle boards, which, again, create some nice strategy elements that prevents the baddies from using their remaining deck monsters in battle. The standard health (HP) ratings after each battle is reset as you advance into the next battle. The game misses the opportunity to include statistics like a basic win/loss record.
You have to be savvy with your money. The “easy money” approach slows with low exchange profits and even rates for monster sale prices and buying the capture capsules. You can't gather items then sell them quickly for money because they’re always in use or cost money to use or collect. Also, prize money earned in previously won battle levels is cut in half (along with the entry fee), so the road to glory can be longer than expected without the ability to quickly stockpile valuable assets.
Once you earn enough money from battles and extra monsters, choose each purchase carefully in terms of special healing, defensive, and offensive powers (refer to that pre-made chart). Some characters heal themselves without warning so it is important to understand each of the 12 monster types (e.g. insect, plant, bird, beast) and the corresponding physical properties (e.g. fire, earth, water, shadow).
The content in Foto Showdown is appropriate for all ages since the monsters only go unconscious once they are defeated after the bloodless violence. The six battle choices (skill, switch, items, move, wait or status) also include a surrender option (X button) that lets players return for a rematch without losing any hard earned items.
The attacks have some unpredictable point results as well. Sometimes defenders avoid attacks completely. The poison attacks can be very effective and satisfying especially in a close fight. For example, when using a skull head, you can strike a venom sword blow for simultaneous poisoning and heavy attacks. The opposing player suffers damage (usually in the single digits) before he or she can retaliate.
Monsters with short and long-range attacks work best. The fighting system is also unique because it limits the attack amounts, giving players a status number in the bottom right of the bottom screen. Again, just like the HP, these attacks replenish when starting a new battle. The game could have offered a bonus for winning a battle with the entire battle party intact.
The net-like grid graphics in the environments and specially triggered animated sequences at special events (like capturing monsters) excite at first but quickly become repetitive. Color changes when battle characters during special attacks and defenses would have made great visual enhancements. For example, a victim character could have turned gray when receiving a paralysis attack, then change back to normal color to show full recovery; instead you have to rely on text updates.
Foto Showdown would have worked much better as a collection of mini games, based on the camera color recognition capabilities, where the turn-based monster battles could have been only one solution in uncovering Obscura’s secrets.
Other NDSi exclusive games like Storm City Games’ System Flaw and 505 Games’ Picture Perfect Hair Salon also incorporate camera features, though their developers have not yet produced that “must have” game, which could drive a larger wave of future NDSi white game card releases. In Foto Showdown, the original aspects are downplayed and underdeveloped, which the familiar battle elements cannot overcome to create a highly recommended experience.
Foto Showdown is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.