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National Geographic Panda

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Namco Bandai

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NDS Review - 'National Geographic Panda'

by Matt Olsen on April 18, 2009 @ 8:46 a.m. PDT

Learn about real-life Pandas as you feed, nurture and play with your very own Panda! Choose from cute and cuddly Baby Pandas or giant Great Pandas and play with them as they learn new skills. Discover fun panda facts from real National Geographic stories that appear as you progress through the game!

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games America
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: November 11, 2008

Every day, more and more animals are decreasing in numbers and being added to the ever-growing endangered species list. Among these animals are the blue whale, the Siberian tiger, the bald eagle, and the giant panda. I have a friend who is so obsessed with pandas that he's gone as far as making his password "pandadefender." I learned more than I ever hoped about pandas, thanks to National Geographic Panda for the Nintendo DS.

To start off, National Geographic Panda is very much a pet simulation game, which was made popular by Nintendogs in 2005. Thanks to this craze, dozens of titles from Ubisoft's Petz and Imagine series have been released, and National Geographic Panda follows in the same vein. The game introduces you to your very first panda by ringing a bell to call it to you, and then you can name your panda. Since my panda was female, I couldn't resist the urge to name her Pandora.

After naming your panda, you can play with it by rubbing the stylus against the panda in order to pet it. Certain stylus actions to the panda may cause it to behave in various ways. For example, if the panda is sitting down and you rub it vertically to make it roll, a blue exclamation mark will briefly appear, prompting you to perform an action with the stylus to make the panda perform a trick. With that example, you can make the panda do a somersault. There are several other skills your panda can learn, such as rolling over, balancing on a ball, and sliding down slides. Unfortunately, the game doesn't support the DS' microphone for voice commands like Nintendogs does, but then again, pandas aren't really known for taking commands from humans.

Besides teaching your panda new tricks, you'll also have to feed it and give it water. Each day, you're given an allowance that can be used for purchasing food, water, toys and accessories because it's important to keep your panda well-fed and happy. You can check the status of the panda by touching the "Home" option on the screen and clicking the question mark next to the panda name and icon. Much like Nintendogs, this will tell you how hungry or thirsty he or she is.

The main place you'll be shopping for supplies is the general store, which contains the aforementioned food items and toys. There's also the hardware store, where you can buy floor panels and wall decorations to customize the panda house. Each item you purchase also grants you a number of points that can be exchanged at another store for additional items. As days in real life go by, so do the days in the game, which is how you get more money. Some stores also have random promotions, so you'll be able to save 10 percent on purchases or gain double points on certain days.

In addition to store notices and allowance earnings in the mail, you also receive magazine clips from National Geographic with facts and pictures of pandas. I watched the bonus National Geographic documentary DVD that came with the game to better educate myself on the subject, and it appeared that many of article clips were portions of dialogue from the documentary.

If you're treating your panda well as time goes by, another panda will join you, and you can eventually have up to four pandas. I named the other pandas Pandamonium, Pandarama and Panda Ex. To move the camera and select a panda, touch an area to cause the camera to pan(da) over to that area. There's also a button to give an overhead perspective, should the pandas decide to scatter around the area.

In terms of gameplay, National Geographic Panda is pretty solid, despite essentially being a Nintendogs clone. Apologies to my panda-obsessed friend, but I found that although pandas are pretty cool, they are not terribly interesting creatures. Whenever I'm not directly interacting with a panda, it always goes to sleep or just lounges around. All pandas seem to do is eat and sleep; they're not as playful as puppies, and I can only imagine what a pet simulation game about three-toed sloths would be like.

On the visual side of things, National Geographic Panda appears to be on par with Nintendogs. The pandas aren't anything to brag about if this were on a console, but for a handheld, it looks pretty good. The environments aren't very interesting, either. The panda house is a single-room building with a washroom for bathing your pandas. The park for taking your panda outside consists of small wooden slide and four identical dead trees for climbing, so it's possibly the most boring park ever.

The music is soft and charming, which goes with the theme of the game. It's very relaxed and sometimes manages to lull me to sleep. Other than that, there's nothing too exciting to hear. The sound effects for the pandas include high squeals, so I'm assuming all of the pandas are very young in this game. Additionally, you'll often hear the pandas munching loudly as they eat.

Overall, National Geographic Panda is interesting in the sense that it educates people about pandas in an interactive form, but it's by no means an entertaining game. To get the full experience, you'll want to play it for several days, since new areas, pandas and items are unlocked as time progresses. The game is solid, but it's not exactly amazing since Nintendogs did everything that this title does, and it managed to do it four years earlier. Unless you're a hardcore panda fanatic and you can't get enough of the "pandemonium," I can't really recommend this game.

Score: 6.0/10


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