One of the great things about owning a Nintendo DS is experiencing its wireless communication abilities. When you turn on your DS, youíll be greeted by an upbeat chime and the system menu. You can choose among the DS or the GBA games presently loaded, or you could spend some time in the chatrooms, praying that some other DS user is within range. Yes, PictoChat is a nifty little feature, allowing gamers to instant message each other for hours of potential enjoyment. But for some reason, THQ decided that this chat system wasnít quite up to par. They just had to expand on it, offering something just a little bit more than the default standard for the DS. Thus Ping Pals was thrust into the market, where unsuspecting gamers would be mesmerized by the bright cover art and quirky description on the back. Though it offers a few intriguing features, they hardly justify this pathetic rehash of a chat system that adds little to the experience youíd get from the free software included with the initial DS package. Despite its flashy appearance, youíll find yourself going back to default chat feature that you so readily ditched.
However, if youíre stuck in the middle of nowhere with no other DS user in sight, Ping Pals almost makes up for its pointless existence. Unlike the standard PictoChat, this game allows you to converse with the AI, striking up instant message conversations whenever and wherever you feel. Youíll meet a few kooky characters as they come across the top DS screen, offering a brief and pleasant exchange over their daily experiences. Using your stylus, you can type in responses to your virtual buddies and pretend they actually mean something. Thatís right, you get to chat with an AI thatís more boring than your real online friends! Okay, so the premise is pathetic. The only aspect of this game that keeps it alive is he implementation of the Money Word System. As youíre chatting your life away with the computer, typing certain words and phrases will grant you some coins. Common words like love and hate will get you some spare change, while words like equinox and oxymoron will have you spoiled with wealth. Once youíve greedily hoarded all of your winnings into some grand sum of cash, you can take it over to the shop and use your funds to buy new music, sound effects, backgrounds, and clothes for your avatar. But despite the wide range of products just waiting to be purchased, this process of chatting and spending makes for a tedious and boring experience.
But if you donít feel like systematically searching through the dictionary for potential money words, Ping Pals offers a few mini games to help facilitate the process. There are two multiplayer mini games, just in case you happen to have some friends around. But if youíre all by your lonesome self, you can play the Top Ten, which allows you to guess the top ten words in relation to a certain topic. These topics cover just about anything, ranging from salt water taffy flavors to standard bathroom appliances. If youíve become accustomed to typing with the stylus and the tiny onscreen keyboard, chances are that you can come up with a fair amount of answers off the top of your head. If you donít want something quite so challenging, you can always try Hi-Lo. Youíll be subject to a simple game of guessing a number between one and ten. Youíll be rewarded coins based on how close your guess was to the actual number. Sometimes youíll be way off and get a few coins, but youíll occasionally guess the right number and be showered with money. And if you donít feel like putting in any actual effort for your hard-earned money supply, you can simply watch the credits roll and be automatically rewarded with even more cash. Though these games offer a decent alternative to talking with a computer, the utter lack of variety will make the experience grow stale in the blink of an eye.
If you have enough patience to endure the mindless chats and the uninspired mini games, youíll be rewarded with the massive amount of collectible items and features for sale. You can buy new clothes, hairstyles, and headpieces for your avatar, dressing them up in mismatched clothes until youíve come up with the perfect combination of your ideal image. Youíll be able to choose among crew cuts, togas, swords, and countless other equipment. Everything is portrayed with cartoonish animation, using bright and colorful artwork in an attempt to distract you from the pathetically limited gameplay. The game comes complete with anime styled characters, creating a comical twist on some of the bland avatars that we all know and love. But if playing dress-up with your avatar isnít your cup of tea, you can always save your cash for the unlockable background music and sound effects. These mildly upbeat tunes make chatting a little more bearable, but are disappointing considering the audio capabilities of the DS. In the end, this seemingly incomplete presentation hinders Ping Palsí overall fun factor, ultimately killing this already terminally ill game.
Itís sad that Ping Pals should meet such a cruel fate. It had the potential for some interesting ideas, possibly creating an improvement to the PictoChat. It takes the basic DS system, mixes in a few mini games, and some unlockable avatar features to appeal to those of us that have no other users to chat with. Its wide variety of items will have you obsessively typing in words, hoping that youíll find that perfect word to net you some big money. It has a few mini games that try to liven the bland experience, but even these will succumb to your boredom. If only more time were spent developing a more stimulating AI, or adding a better selection of mini games, then things may have turned out differently. But for what Ping Pals offers, you canít escape the feeling youíve been cheated out of your money. While thereís nothing wrong with trying to make improvements on an existing free feature, there is a problem with just slightly tweaking said feature and charging thirty dollars for it. This game may be worth something, but not for the default price of a new game. If youíre looking for a new game for your DS collection, donít bother with Ping Pals. Youíve already got something to fulfill your needs.
Three out of ten