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Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Indies Zero
Release Date: June 21, 2011

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


3DS Review - 'DualPenSports'

by Brian Dumlao on July 30, 2011 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

DualPenSports is the only Nintendo 3DS title with dual-action stylus control, enabling handheld gamers a new and immersive way to compete in classic sports games.

For the Nintendo 3DS launch, the simulated sports subgenre was represented with Madden NFL Football 3D and Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D, but the casual sports subgenre did not. Those looking for a more casual sports offering, which both the original DS and Wii had in abundance, were left out in the cold. It would be months before this subgenre got its first entry from Indies Zero and Namco Bandai Games. DualPenSports has a more intriguing hook than just the use of 3-D, but that gimmick isn't enough to save it from mediocrity.

DualPenSports is divided into several different modes, with the Sports mode being the main focus. You can select between seven different sports, each one divided into two different submodes: Rank Match and Score Match. Rank Matches have you play through more traditional portions of each sport as you try to beat the record set by your opponent. There are 64 opponents for this mode, each with a score that must be beaten before you can advance to the next opponent. Score Match, on the other hand, throws in different twists to the base game and sets a minimum target score that must be reached. There are five difficulty levels, each one opened up once a medal is obtained in the previous difficulty level. For most of the games, regardless of mode, the player is given three chances before the game ends and scores are tallied.

Each sport features some interesting variations as well as equally interesting control schemes. Baseball has a traditional home run derby along with a scoring zone mode, where points are given based on where the ball lands once it's hit. In both cases, the player must pull back to power up the bat and then slide the stylus forward toward the direction he wants the ball to be hit. The power-up and hitting sequences are separate, so one could power up the bat first, wait a bit, and then swing forward to hit the ball with precise timing.

Boxing ends up being a straightforward affair since you're either practicing hitting targets on a punching dummy or actually fighting your opponent to get a TKO, which requires three knockdowns. The minigame ends up being a favorite since the controls make plenty of sense. Swipes toward the center of the screen become body blows or hooks, depending on which portion of the screen is being used, and upward swings represent straight jabs. Holding either the top center or bottom center results in blocks for the respective regions. It's a very sensible control scheme, and the only flaw is that boxers can neither dodge nor move around in the ring.

Soccer focuses squarely on the penalty kick for its ranked portion, while the score portion modifies this into shots aimed for colored scoring panels. Kicks are set up by sliding the stylus down to determine how far the kicker must run. They are then executed with swipes in any desired direction, creating curved kicks you often see professionals do. Both the concept and controls are simple enough that it ends up being quite fun, especially when more blockers stand in your way.

Archery doesn't differ much between modes, except for the fact that scoring mode has those same targets move instead of being stationary. For some reason, the user must always slide the stylus down in order to get the bow ready. The user must then pull back on the bow, slide around to aim, and let go to fire the shot. Aside from the unnecessary setup step, the aiming and shooting mechanic feels quite natural and perfect.

Basketball plays out in a similar manner to soccer in that your game choices are either a shot competition or the destruction of colored panels for points. The controls are also quirky in that you have to tap the screen to catch the ball first before you slide the stylus up to get a shot off. While the mechanics will feel a bit odd for newcomers, those who have played Mario Hoops 3-on-3 will feel right at home.

Skiing offers both a traditional slalom event as well as one where you have to intentionally crash into as many snowmen as possible before reaching the bottom. The controls are a bit quirky, though, as you never control the momentum and speed of your skier but the direction of the turns instead. This is accomplished through directed curves, almost like a steering wheel, and proves to be one of the more difficult games to control because no one has tried to control a skier like that before.

Finally, there's paragliding, which would feel more at home in Nintendo's own launch title, Pilotwings Resort, than in this package. You can choose between checkpoint races where you have to glide into various checkpoints before reaching the target zone or grabbing a large number of floating objects before hitting your goal. The controls for these are rather simple, as you just tap the appropriate area on the screen to either slow down, speed up, or steer left and right in the sky.

The second big mode the game offers is Tap Exercises. Unlike the sports games, these three minigames have less of an emphasis on sports, standing alone as reactionary minigames. Separate has you popping circles on one part of the screen and slashing bars in another while the action switches sides every few seconds. Trace has you trying to capture all of the circles in one area without having you lift your stylus or absorb the spikes in your way. Symmetry, the final minigame, is reactionary in that you have to hit every colored block (minus purple ones) when they light up. Overall, the games are simple but fun, and with each containing a scoreboard as well as a fixed timer, they can be rather addictive.

The third mode in DualPenSports is the Daily Challenge. Every day, the player is given a challenge from a randomly selected sport with a randomly set goal. Completed goals are marked down in the personal calendar, and once enough challenges are completed in a week, a bonus one is unlocked. Completing a certain number of challenges also opens up more accessories and styles for your character, so there is some incentive for playing this mode instead of ignoring it in favor of everything else.

As the game title implies, every minigame is controlled via a two-stylus setup. For sports, it's implied that your left stylus will control one action while the right stylus controls another. The same thing occurs for the Tap Exercises, which split the playfield in half, one side for each hand. The idea is to make people play as if they were ambidextrous instead of playing with their dominant hand all of the time. If one were to play with that restriction, the game ends up being quite fun. Being forced to play with your non-dominant hand proves to be tricky, but the games are fun enough to go through all of that trouble and, in a way, it can be a good alternative to your standard brain-training title until a proper one comes out.

However, there are two problems inherent with this setup. The first is that it negates the portable nature of the console. Since two hands are required to play these games and every game only uses the touch-screen for its controls, you either have to set the system on a table or on your lap to play it, severely limiting where and how you can play it. The dual-stylus setup isn't really necessary, since the device doesn't support multi-touch. In fact, the instruction manual warns users not to have both styluses touch the screen at the same time. Since none of the activities require the user to switch hands when playing, the user could get a better experience by simply using his dominant hand for every game; most people will end up doing this once they realize the hardware-imposed restrictions.

Multiplayer is only a local affair and requires both participants to have their own copies of the game. Of the seven sports and three Tap Exercises available, only four sports are playable in multiplayer mode: archery, baseball, basketball and soccer. The choices are decent because the games are fun, but it's the missing games that drag down the experience. This is especially true of boxing, which would have been a perfect fit for multiplayer since it would have been more direct competition as opposed to score-based competitions that the other games offer.

Graphically, DualPenSports is both colorful and bland. The game takes on the same color scheme that almost all of the Wii-branded Nintendo games do, so expect to see lots of bright colors in every environment. The environments don't look so bad, but the barely moving crowds don't do anything to make it look better. The characters still take on the tradition that most Wii third-party games have in that they try to create stylized Mii lookalikes without using the genuine article. At first, the character designs aren't too bad. The limbs look little blocks and are a bit sharp where the shoulders would be, but they move well. The facial expressions you get to choose are also nice and make for a better alternative compared to what other developers have come up with for their own avatars — until you realize that they never change at all. If you choose a smirk for your initial facial expression, for example, it'll stay a smirk whether you win or lose an event. With those limitations, you'll wish that they'd simply used Miis instead.

The 3-D effect seems wasted on this title because it looks the same in 3-D as it does in 2-D, and while it's initially cool to see the different planes in each sport, the effect is rather flat. It's more comparable to a 2-D movie that's been upconverted to 3-D, where everything has a pop-up book effect with no real depth on display. Compared to most of the other games on the system, this one doesn't benefit too much from the dimension change.

For the most part, DualPenSports is a decent sports-themed minigame collection. The games aren't bad but will disappoint those who are looking for a more complete experience for some of the events. While the non-sports-themed minigames are quite good, they feel out of place in this package. When you realize that the dual pen gimmick won't technically work, though, the game loses some of its luster. With the 3-D effect not really doing anything for the title, you wonder why this wasn't made for the original DS in the first place. If you're a big fan of minigame collections, it's a decent title to pick up after the price drops.

Score: 6.0/10

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