Exploitation of children is a terrible thing. It’s a sad fact that in some parts of the world nefarious employers will think nothing of paying youngsters a pittance to work in poorly ventilated sweat shops in order to produce badly-made tat that is sold for ten times the amount it cost to manufacture. This process is shocking, but most westerners are oblivious to it because it occurs so many miles away from our shores. However, there’s a type of exploitation happening right on our doorstep, and it’s something we should be equally afraid of.
Power Rangers. Pokemon. Digimon. YuGiOh. These brands seem to be created purely to part young kids (or, more specifically, the parents of young kids) with their hard-earned cash. Children sit and watch endless hours of TV shows, adverts and films, all of which seemed geared up to create demand for other merchandise, including action figures, bath towels and videogames (forgive the long, rambling rant of an intro - we got there in the end, right?)
Bandai’s Tamagotchi franchise has been raking in the cash for some time now – a decade, in fact – and it shows no signs of abating. Although the concept of ‘virtual pets’ might seem restrictive when it comes to marketing opportunities, Bandai has nevertheless successfully pushed the series into a wide variety of different media - videogames included. Their latest venture is Tamagotchi: Party On! and as you might gather from the title, it’s focused on the type of multiplayer malarkey that Nintendo’s Wario Ware has done so much to promote recently.
The plot (yes, the game has one) revolves around the vacant presidency of Tamagotchi-land. The idea is that you select a virtual pet avatar and guide him/her/it around a colourful board with the express aim of collecting more popularity points than your (human or CPU) rivals. The Tamagotchi with the most points at the end of each game is declared President of the planet.
Each board is made up of different squares. Some merely trigger on-screen events that show your beloved Tamagotchi involved in all kinds of mischief (occurrences add or deplete popularity points and are totally random) and others link you to stores where you can purchase items to add to your campaign. However, the most important squares on the board grant access to one of fifteen ‘Gotchi’ games. These involve using the Wiimote to perform all manner of tasks that hardened Wario Ware players will be more than comfortable with.
To put it bluntly, Tamagotchi: Party On! is a mess. Almost every facet of the game is either unappealingly constructed or completely broken in terms of design. For example, progression around the board is a largely unforgiving affair. You’ll often find that after several mind-numbingly boring turns you’ve still not landed on a ‘Gotchi’ game square, and sometimes you can play through entire campaigns where you experience no mini-games whatsoever. The CPU opponents seem to suffer from no such problems; it becomes fairly obvious early on that altering the difficulty setting merely adjusts how lucky/unlucky your computer rivals are.
When you do eventually land on a ‘Gotchi’ game it feels more like a crushing disappointment than a real achievement. The mini-games are incredibly basic and won’t entertain for more than a few plays, and with there being only fifteen different types it’s not like there’s a broad variety to keep things interesting. Compared to the events seen in other games of this genre, the ones found in Tamagotchi: Party On! come as a real letdown – even more so when you consider that there’s so little else here to enjoy.
In terms of presentation, Tamagotchi: Party On! continues to dishearten. The cel-shaded look has been done to death now but we’ve always got time for games that carry it well. Sadly, the visuals on display here are uninspired and patently unattractive. Bandai obviously had to keep within the remit of the Tamagotchi franchise, but it really is hard to believe that anything more than the bare minimum of effort was expelled when it came to creating the characters showcased here.
If it were a ‘proper’ board game you might be able to forgive the glaring shortcomings, but as it stands Tamagotchi: Party On! is a full price videogame and, as such represents appalling value for money. Pre-pubescent fans of Bandai’s virtual pet money-spinner will no doubt jump at the chance to run for the coveted presidency of Planet Tamagotchi, but when the e-number fuelled haze has worn off, we think they’ll be bitterly disappointed by this woefully sub-par product.