Foto Showdown review

Have you ever wanted to know the true definition of a love/hate relationship? Play Foto Showdown for a day. Not 30 minutes. Not three hours. Play it for a full day or two and tell me how you feel. Chances are you’ll come to me with stories of joyous pleasure, and comments like, “For the first time ever, I’m playing a Pokémon clone and enjoying it.” Surely you’ll have a few, “Crap, this game is seriously flawed” remarks, which are unavoidable when a monster/RPG overwhelms the player with a sporadic dose of super-easy and super-cheap battles.

But, like a dog who loves to chew, bark and run amok, Foto Showdown slowly sneaks its way into your heart – flaws and all – and becomes a game experience where the good outweighs the bad. You might scream at it, wonder why it’s being so absurdly annoying, and second guess your decision to play it in the first place. But in the end, you won’t be able to stop. Once Foto Showdown gets its hooks in you, you’ll be with it till the end.

Despite the millions of DS and DS Lite owners in the world, Konami took a major gamble on Foto Showdown and decided to make it a DSi exclusive. The reason is because of the DSi camera, which the developers decided to use in an unexpected way: to catch new monsters.

Instead of spending hours roaming a world map – which does not exist in Foto Showdown (all navigation occurs via menus) – players can fire up the DSi camera, load up a few Bullets (Foto Showdown’s version of a Pokéball), and take pictures of whatever they like.

This is a great concept, and it certainly saves a lot of time. But as you can imagine, it is impossible for the developers to know what players are going to take pictures of, thus making it difficult to implement an image recognition system that accurately produces new monsters. As a result, when you start off with the weakest in-game camera device and the weakest Bullets, you won’t be able to acquire more than a handful of monsters. It doesn’t matter if you take a picture of the bright blue sky, the blistering son, a patch of grass, a motor vehicle, or anything else you can think of because the game won’t change. At this stage, the monster acquisition system seems to be random at best.

After earning better camera devices and purchasing superior Bullets, the monster lineup really expands. This makes the game seem more accurate since different photos do yield different monsters. However, if you take enough pictures you’ll find that the results aren’t really that expansive at all; while I wouldn’t call them random, I can’t say they’re image-specific either.

While this is a minor element in a game that focuses almost entirely on the turn-based battles, the weak camera results might disappoint players who were expecting big things from the first DSi-exclusive game to be released in America. This isn’t merely a basic, inexpensive DSiWare download; it’s a full-fledged product you’ll find on the shelves of retail stores. Luckily, what Foto Showdown lacks in DSi-worthy originality it makes up for in robust monster/RPG combat.

At first glance, Foto Showdown looks like a strategy/RPG with its square platforms and semi-isometric view. But in reality, Foto Showdown is an unusually impressive example of how to properly clone the Pokémon series.

The differences are pretty subtle: every monster is ranked by a number of points (more on that in a second), and you can only take three monsters into battle at one time. Up to three alternate monsters (who can be switched manually or will appear automatically after one of the first three monsters passes out) can be selected. Your selections, however, are limited by the number of monster points you currently possess. Point are tied to your rank, so if you’ve just begun to play, you may only have eight points. Unfortunately, monster ranks start at three points, which means you can only select two monsters at this time and will have two points left over. As your rank rises and you obtain stronger monsters, so too will the number of points needed to equip them.

Once the battle begins, these elements are quickly replaced by feelings of Pokémon-inspired joy. Attack and defense moves include (but are not limited to) lighting bolts, paralysis, claw swipes, monster bites, speed increase, and so on. While not every move is an exact replica of the Pocket Monster saga – healing with water? That’s a tad different – the similarity in the way each move is executed, how fast (or slow) the animation moves, and the amount of damage an attack deals is pretty darn close to mirroring Pokémon.

As crazy as it may sound, that is precisely what makes this game entertaining. Let’s face it: most monster/RPGs suck. Instead of doing something cool and unique, they attempt to copy a hit series (typically Pokémon) without any of the key ingredients that made that franchise a success. With Foto Showdown, we get a game that doesn’t even try to cover up the fact that it wants to be Pokémon. And since it mimics that game so wonderfully, it’s really hard to complain.