Croket! DS: Tenkuu no Yuusha tachi
The strategy RPG genre has taken a few twists and turns over recent years, especially on handheld systems. Many of the older GBA SRPGs possessed the kind of allure and originality that could constantly draw in the gamer, from the mandatory tutorial at the beginning all the way through the last attack on the nigh invincible arch-enemy. There were wonderful stories and characters to watch, such as Lyn and her crew from Fire Emblem, or the political struggles between the Earth and Mars forces from Zone of the Enders. Many of these games allowed you to customize your characters, max out their stats, and essentially play the game as you wanted to. But somewhere along the line, handheld SRPGs lost the magic that ensured their both their quality and popularity. Games like Yu Yu Hakusho: Tournament Tactics and Onimusha Tacticsstarted rearing their ugly heads, nothing but generic and substandard clones of an established gaming formula. There was no longer anything special about walking up behind an enemy, choosing to attack, and whittling down his HP. The handheld SRPG genre has since gone past the point of being boring, offering little hope to its established fanbase. But amidst the crappy titles and remakes, Croket! DS: Tenkuu no Yuusha tachi offers something a little different.
Welcome to Macadamia Island, a place where wishes can come true. That’s not just a cheesy saying, either. There are Kinka coins scattered across the land, each of which possesses some kind magical power. Should you collect enough of these little trinkets, the Bank Wizard will appear and grant whatever you desire. Needless to say, this has locals searching every nook and cranny of their homeland. Many of the strongest warriors (aptly nicknamed “Bankers”) have teamed up and started various quests to get as much Kinka as possible. Enter Croket, a child with incredible fighting abilties. Armed with his trusty croquet mallet, he’s off on his own quest for a Kinka fortune. Should he get a chance to see the Bank Wizard, he intends to wish his father back from the grave. A noble task, indeed. However, he’s not the only one with a wish. He’ll make plenty of friends and foes on his adventure. It’s up to you to make sure that Croket gets his wish.
Okay. You’ve got a young child armed with a huge wooden hammer seeking out a bunch of coins that will make a magical bank person appear and grant some wishes. Oh yeah, that makes a lot sense. While the story may be nonsensical as it is, the Japanese-only text in this game will make it that much worse. Assuming that you don’t do some background research on the Croket anime, you won’t have a clue about the plot. However, that won’t mean very much once the game gets underway. The game begins with Croket and some ninja kid camping out in the middle of the wilderness. A chance encounter with a bunch of thugs will force the two heroes into action, prompting the usual combat tutorial. While everything may be in Japanese, the game does a great job on showing you how to work the controls and menus. The battlefields are made up of massive grids, which can dictate where and how far characters can move. Just get your characters next to an enemy, choose to attack, and take down anything that gets in your way. Kill the enemy, level up, and keep going. It’s the same kind of basic gameplay concepts found in almost any SRPG.
However, Croket! DS has a few tricks up its sleeve. Once your character has walked up to an enemy and decided to fight, he won’t just stand there, take out his mallet and swing. Instead, the attack will trigger the game’s unique combat mode. Croket and his enemy will engage each other in full-blown and beat’em up-style matches, reminiscent of River City Ransom, Battletoads, and Double Dragon. Our hero will be able to smash his enemies with his massive hammer, smack them silly with a few well-placed punch combos, and even administer a few nasty special attacks to seize victory for himself. Should he have some friends with him, you can maneuver Croket’s forces into certain formations and fight enemies one on two, two on two, and even three on one. That’s not including the limit of eight heroes on the screen, either. Also, all of the characters have their own attacks, weapons, and leveling features. Not only will you get smash things up with a croquet mallet, but you’ll be able to control a generic sword dude, a kickboxing ninja, a tiny Mexican wrestler, a boy in a frog suit, a goon with bone sabers, a dead guy with his coffin strapped to his back, and a cat in a three-piece suit. With such a strange mix of playable characters and an incredibly fun combat system, it’s a fair bet that it’ll keep you hooked.
Given the utterly ridiculous plot and characters’ off the wall antics, its little wonder that Croket! DS sports a rather cartoonish presentation. All of the characters are drawn according to their manga counterparts, right down to Croket’s stupid grin and decorative stuffed pig headpiece. Your crew is comprised of some colorful characters, and I don’t just mean their personalities. The dead guy’s skin is a pale blue, but his massive tufts of orange hair makes him stand out even more. There’s so much novelty in kicking some ass with a kid in a frog suit. The enemies are just as interesting, ranging from ninjas thugs, demonic schoolkids, corrupted angels, and everything in between. The battlefields are just as interesting. At first glance, they look like the normal grid-based SRPG levels with the 3/4 camera perspective. Upon closer inspection with the game’s rotating camera, you’ll find that these maps are three-dimensional, with all sorts of hills, decrepit walls, stone buildings, and other places where enemies could be hiding. The battlefield looks even better in combat mode, which include 2D art of the area in the background. Such remarkable graphics are balanced out with some excellent audio quality, including the characters’ unique voices and a decent soundtrack. If you don’t know Japanese, you’ll have to endure a few lengthy cutscenes between each battle, all of which are chock full of humor and lively animations. Considering the amount of fast-paced combat you’ll get to enjoy, it’s well worth the time.
Croket! DS has taken two great ideas, thrown in a few memorable characters and impressive presentation, and treated us to something wonderful. It has heroes and villains with personality and zest. It’s got a wide variety of well-designed playing fields. But best of all, it’s got the standard SRPG gameplay melded perfectly with beat’em up style fighting. This combination makes for something truly refreshing for a genre that has seen better days. Sadly, this game will never be able to enjoy the popularity of other games in the DS’s gaming library; its exclusivity to Japan will deter anyone who is hesitant to import. But if you’ve got fifteen bucks and are looking for something great for your DS, give this a shot. You just might like it.