Review: The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave doesn't fully live up to its strange and eccentric potential
The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave popped up seemingly out of nowhere. The game’s trailer, which featured men in skin tight Teletubby-esque costumes, was fairly comical and quite charming, but it was also weird. The prospect of being able to capture these creatures, these Denpa Men, by using your 3DS and seeking them out in your surroundings, and then using your captured dudes to explore dungeons, seemed legitimately interesting. After playing The Denpa Men, I can certainly say that the game is interesting, but it’s also quite gimmicky, and its repetitive gameplay makes it feel like more of a missed opportunity than the stellar product it could've been.
The crux of this eShop title is straightforward dungeon crawling gameplay. You explore different areas with a party of Denpas, battle monsters, collect goodies, and take down bosses. Dungeons are fairly linear, and though there are several branching paths, it’s not easy to get lost. Oftentimes an alternate route will lead you to different items that you can use to recover health, power up your party members, or alter individual abilities. It’s fun exploring the game’s dungeons and discovering new enemies and items, but the basic layout of the environments makes the experience a bit dull after a while.
Battles are hardly any different. Throughout your adventure you come across several baddies, some more imposing than others. These encounters provide a nice level of challenge at times, but after you’ve got a strong party of Denpas, it’s business as usual. Battles are turn based, requiring you to select your characters’ commands and then watching them unfold automatically. A lot of the time, you can simply choose to attack using special abilities or general attacks. Choosing special abilities will allow your Denpas to dole out fire offense, ice attacks, health regeneration for your party, and so on. General attacks, on the other hand, will cause them to rush enemies and pound on them. It’s cool having different options at your disposal, and you can select each individual Denpa Man’s next move, but more often than not you find yourself either opting to use special moves or non-special moves.
Dungeons in The Denpa Men are element-based, so it’s wise to enter each new area with a party of Denpas that are strong against whatever element your enemies employ. When entering a fire dungeon, for example, it’s a good idea to enlist the aid of water Denpas. Despite this interesting system, the game’s challenge isn’t all that impressive. At first, it seems as though the game will provide an adequate challenge, but then things get simplistic and all you do for a while is rampage right through enemies. Immediately after that, however, you encounter a boss or strong enemy type that will completely obliterate you. These difficulty spikes are odd, and they’re certainly more unpleasant than a nice gradual rise in challenge would’ve been.
The most intriguing aspect of The Denpa Men isn’t its dungeon crawling gameplay or its RPG elements. Capturing the Denpa creatures is by far the most compelling mechanic in the game. While in the hub world, you can access a special area that allows you to catch these little guys. The mode uses the AR capabilities of the 3DS and requires a WiFi signal of some sort because you’re literally seeing the Denpa Men flying around your surroundings through the game screen. Seeking out these creatures around your living space is enjoyable, but going out to different areas and searching for more Denpas is a lot more fun. That said, it’s also gimmicky and impractical.
The Denpa Men is full of color and charm. Environments, though not exactly exciting all the time, all look different and fit specific themes. Enemy design is also good, with each type of threat having a distinct appearance. As for the Denpas, these characters are incredibly entertaining to just look at. They almost seem like Mii characters – Mii characters from another dimension, that is. Seeing the colorful creatures floating on the screen, running toward enemies, or expressing concern when you opt out of selecting them is quite entertaining and strangely endearing.
The sound design in The Denpa Men is also a bit quirky and charming, though not at the same level as the graphical direction. The tunes you hear throughout the experience are catchy, but they get repetitive almost immediately. Sound effects aren’t very memorable, either. Probably the biggest downer regarding sound, however, is the fact that the Denpas could’ve featured some great voices, but none of them do. It’s a shame, because as odd as these creatures look, some great voice work could’ve really made their individual personalities shine even more.
What you get with The Denpa Men is an experience that starts out fun but quickly becomes underwhelming. The game offers up some cool ideas, and it’s definitely an accessible RPG. Ultimately, though, this dungeon crawling adventure never develops into something bigger or better. It’s a disappointing game, no doubt, but thanks to the Denpa-capturing mechanics, it’s also a unique enough experience that may be enjoyed by some 3DS owners. At $10, you’re getting a decent eShop game that’s neither great nor offensively terrible. It’s pretty odd, but not nearly as odd as its debut trailer made it out to be, which is kind of a bummer.
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