Genre: Card Battle/Strategy
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: August 26, 2008
I'll admit that I'm one of the people who think that the Digimon franchise is a simple Pokémon knockoff, but from what I understand, the series actually spawned from Bandai's Tamagotchi craze. It's still difficult to not draw comparisons between this franchise and Nintendo's "Gotta catch 'em all" behemoth. In Digimon, you can corral your little digital monsters or hatch them from a Digi-Egg; they'll evolve over time or through training, and the handlers are called "Tamers" (not trainers!). There are some definite similarities between the two, but I noticed that the Digimon and Pokémon games play out quite differently from one other.
It's been a while since I've played a Digimon title (think the PS1 era), so I wasn't sure what to expect when I sat down to check out the newest DS game, Digimon World Championship. Not a whole lot seems to have changed. In Digimon World Championship, the core gameplay seems to be pretty similar to what I remember, where you house your Digimon in a training facility of sorts, allowing you to raise them, feed, them, clean them, and run them through some exercises, all in preparation for their various battles, which earn you in-game currency and allow you to create a name for yourself. Winning matches also lets you level up, which in turn nets you some of the more valuable Digimon down the road.
When Digimon World Championship begins, you're given one Digi-Egg and tossed into a tutorial that shows you the basics of becoming a Tamer. You can opt to go out and hunt, which is one of the major ways of gaining new Digimon. A world map is brought up, and you select from certain highlighted areas that become available over time. Once there, you'll see various Digimon running around in the wild. You select your rope tool and draw a circle on the touch-screen around one of the Digimon you want. Once you do this, however, it goes into alert mode and tries to scamper away into hiding. You need to wear it out to be able to trap it completely, and you do this by dragging an invisible line away from the Digimon, designed to tire it out quickly. This is more effective early on with the weaker ones, and you'll realize there are a few Digimon that you just can't catch in the beginning. Once you do tire one out, you just pick it up after selecting the hand icon, and the game will automatically transfer that Digimon to your home location.
Once you've managed to snag a handful of Digimon, then it's off to raise and train them for the various battles in which you need to participate. The game progresses in days, and it'll automatically save your progress as each day ends. There's a timer on the top screen that tells you how far you are into the current day, and most days are over in about 10 minutes of real time. Certain tournaments can only be entered during certain times, so if you know that there is a match coming up in the week, you'll want to make sure you have the correct entry time frame, or you'll completely miss that match.
Training your various Digimon is a pretty automatic process, done simply by picking up the little creatures and dropping them into the exercise field. Your facility is divided into three areas: One area is a large open area that serves as a staging ground, the middle field is your exercise room, and the right area is a small recovery room in which you'll place Digimon after a battle or exercise so they can rest and recover lost health. A typical routine will see you placing Digimon in the training area, allowing them to level up, then dropping them into the recovery room to rest for a few, and then repeating the process all over. They'll randomly evolve through this process, and I had a hard time figuring out what actually triggers the evolution process, if anything. Once you feel like you've boosted their stats enough, it's time to start placing them into battle.
Assuming you're in a day where a tournament is being held, you simply select the type of battle available from a menu, like Title Match or Championship. Some of these setups will require you to make a team of multiple Digimon, and once you've selected your crew, they'll hop into an arena and battle it out with the opponent. From here, the entire process runs on autopilot, which is a bit disappointing. I'd like to be more involved with the battle than simply watching, and while you can set up certain tactics for your Digimon before a match, you really can't do much to change the outcome, and you're stuck just watching the battle play out. Be prepared to lose a bit in the early matches, as you'll definitely come across Digimon that are farther along on the evolution scale than you are. It's not so much that the progress feels uneven, but that it feels more as if the game is guiding you toward areas that you need to work on.
Digimon World Championship is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface. Along with training to boost your Digimon evolution and stats, there are a few other options you have for prompting the much-needed evolves along the way, including the need to sometimes revert your Digimon back to egg status. The whole process is hard to wrap your head around if you're not already familiar with the way these titles play, and while there is a limited tutorial in place, you won't get very far without consulting with an FAQ or two if you've never played a Digimon title before. It's certainly not a game that you can just jump into and get some enjoyment out of; you really need to devote time to figuring out the system and how it all works together.
Along the way, you'll be able to earn money for various tools and upgrades that will help you with the training and hunting processes. With more money, you can buy tools to hunt larger Digimon, which in turn lets you capture some that are definitely farther along in scale than the usual suspects. Hunting is a process you'll have to get used to, along with the idea of just giving up some of your current Digimon when better ones become available, simply because your training space can get far too chaotic if you're trying to manage more than five or six of these guys at once. Keep in mind that you need to feed these guys and sometimes administer medicine, along with some simple upkeep by cleaning trash and keeping them from getting sick. There's really a lot to do inside Digimon World Championship, and while that's going to appeal to some folks, I feel that a bit more of the game could be automated, and the lack of automation is just a way of creating busywork for players to keep them involved.
I didn't have a great deal of fun with Digimon World Championship, but in part, I feel that it's because these games just aren't intended for me anymore. If you have the time to devote to it, and you enjoy titles like Animal Crossing and Pokémon, I think you'll get some enjoyment out of the Digimon series, and specifically with this title, Digimon World Championship. Visually, it's a solid-looking game, with a lot of cute little 2-D sprite designs, and virtually tons of different Digimon to find and collect, along with a somewhat-catchy soundtrack to listen to along the way. While it's not quite the game for me, I can't really knock it too much for what it does because it's still a solid title in the franchise.