Some people might remember a toy line and anime series by the name of Beyblade. Like its counterparts Bakugan and Yu-Gi-Oh, the series created an adventure and mythos around the toy line. This time around, spinning plastic tops are infused with mythical powers, and the participants, known as Beybladers, are the only ones who can unleash those powers. The toy line and anime were successful in 2002 and 2003, but like most fads, it soon faded into near obscurity. In an effort to bring it back to prominence, a toy line and series entitled Beyblade: Metal Fusion was created, and it features the same concepts but has a new cast of characters in tow. As expected, there is a video game tie-in on the Nintendo DS. It's too bad that fun is the last thing on anyone's mind when playing the game.
The plot of Beyblade: Metal Fusion for the NDS is rather simple. You play the role of Gingka, the tough Beyblader and hero of the series. The new Nosferatu Tournament recently showed up, and everyone wants to be a part of it. The trouble is that all of the Beybladers who lose in the tournament also lose their own stamina and faint. Wanting to keep the sanctity of Beyblading intact, Gigka's mission is to get to the end of the tournament and stop whoever is behind the incidents.
The plot sounds exactly like something you'd see in the TV series as a multi-episode adventure. The unfortunate part is that you never really get to experience more of the story once you get past the opening cut scene. With the exception of the ending, all you do is go through one opponent after another until you reach the very end. It's straightforward enough that those who can't wait to get into the gameplay will be fine, but those who want more flesh to the story will find it rather thin.
The basics of a Beyblade match are still present in this video game interpretation. You and an opponent pull a string and release two spinning tops into an arena. Depending on how the opponent's top is defeated, you score a number of points for the victory, and the winner is determined by whoever reaches four points first. While you can let fate and artificial physics determine who wins, you can also guide your Beyblade into victory by guiding it to attack, leap or protect itself from any ongoing attacks. You can also call upon special powers to boost its stamina, drain energy from the opponent, or affect the battlefield with bombs or cracks on the playing surface. After each major match, you can buy parts for your Beyblade to boost its stats and specialize in areas like offense or defense.
There are flaws aplenty with the basic game mechanics, all of which are designed to add some interesting elements to what is essentially a game of chance using tops to battle each other. The shield mechanic doesn't seem to work most of the time, so you can still get kicked out if you had the ability active. With the exception of the ability that adds more energy to your Beyblade, none of the other special powers seem to do much in combat. Tweaking the top is nice, but until you start getting parts from the higher classes, you never see or experience any sort of upgrade during fights. While there are 315 parts you can acquire in the game, you can only really keep 200 of them, so you can never do a true comparison of all of the parts without consulting some online FAQ.
The most annoying part about Beyblade: Metal Fusion, though, is that everyone must be unlocked through Story mode. There are over 20 Beybladers to choose from, but you only get Gingka when you start the game. This makes it laborious to get through Story mode, but the experience becomes frustrating because multiple rounds make you go through the configuration screen multiple times, and a loss takes you all the way back to the beginning of the game if you choose to not continue. Combine that with the lack of a save system for progress — odd when you consider how long some matches take — and you have a game that's frustrating to get through, and you won't have much to show for it once it's completed.
At the very least, the multiplayer has a good amount of options. You can engage in local wireless play with an opponent using either one or two carts, but the one-cart setup is limiting in terms of which Beybladers one can pick for the fight. Online play is also supported, complete with a full ranking system for online players and global leaderboards for the different match types, both offline and online. In each case, standard rules apply, and the winner is still determined by who reaches four points first.
Multiplayer has some issues to deal with, though. While there is a leaderboard for everyone playing, that's your only indication to how many wins and losses anyone has because the game doesn't display that information when you match up against anyone. Modifications to your Beyblades can't be done, so any items you've gained to give yourself a powerful weapon are moot point in competition. Finally, there's the issue of lag. It may not be noticeable at first due to the speed of the game, but when you start to make your moves and don't see the tops react until a second or two later, you realize that you'll basically have to button-mash to have a chance of getting your moves read correctly.
The controls are primarily a touch-screen affair, and despite the fact that your tops are doing all of the work when it comes to damaging the opponent, you can influence some of its moves. Dragging in any direction on the screen sends your Beyblade zooming to that spot at the expense of some momentum. Tapping anywhere on the screen sends the top jumping to that spot, and tapping on the Beyblade puts up a protective shield around it. The controls work well, but the special moves, which are linked to the system's microphone, don't fare as well. Shouting at the mic is very hit-or-miss, sometimes taking two or three attempts before the game finally recognizes said action.
From a technical standpoint, Beyblade: Metal Fusion looks and sounds generic. The characters look good, but you only see still pictures of them when they "launch" the Beyblades. The arenas look simple but still contain pixelated textures, so you wonder why there isn't any power to spare in the system for some better-looking backgrounds. The same can be said for the Beyblades themselves. The real tops have a good amount of detail and some interesting designs, so it's disappointing to see a big colored mess on-screen when you get a good look at a static Beyblade. About the only thing interesting to look at are the special moves unleashed by each top, but since you see your environment and top more often, the graphical package leaves much to be desired.
As for the sound, the effects of tops bumping into each other are fine, but the music is filler material. It's generic enough to be forgettable, and players can actually do fine if they don't hear it at all. Those looking to hear some of their favorite characters fire off a quip or two will find all of the enemies and protagonists quite mute, as everything is delivered by text boxes.
Beyblade has never been a good subject for a video game, and Beyblade: Metal Fusion only strengthens that opinion. The long, tortuous single-player mode is only made more tiresome by the lack of story, and it neither looks nor sounds exciting. Controls are spotty, and the online lag only makes things more frustrating. The presence of multiplayer saves the game, but when the core mechanic can't be correctly interpreted into video game form, it feels rather pointless. Only die-hard fans may find some enjoyment out of this and even then, it might just be better to go for the real toys instead.
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