Review: DualPenSports (3DS)

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Whenever a title advertises a unique, never-before-seen element, the test of whether it's a true innovation or a simple gimmick largely comes down to whether it improves gameplay. DualPenSports is built around one such thing: two oversized plastic yellow styluses are included in the case. But, wait, the 3DS has a single-touch interface, meaning that it can only read a single touch at any one time. Sure enough, page one of the manual includes the following warning:

"Don't Touch Two Spots! As DualPenSports is intended to be played using two styluses, it is easy to simultaneously touch the screen with both. However, doing so may cause certain motions to be ignored, so do your best to only touch the screen with one stylus at a time."

Excuse us?

We soon learn that improving hand coordination is key, meaning your ability to use both your hands at once. Except that's not really true – you'll alternate between them for each game, as necessitated by the single-touch setup. The bottom screen is always formatted to allow easy access to both for the action they're supposed to perform, but beyond that using two styluses has no advantage over the usual single pen method. You can easily get away with doing just that as long as you don't mind reaching at times, and you'll look a lot less silly in public. Using the game as intended also limits you to almost exclusive tabletop play, which, of course, is at odds with the advantage of a portable system. Sure, using both hands might improve ambidexterity, but that's like saying that a Wii game becomes a two-player affair when you let a friend hold the Nunchuk.

Baseball, soccer, basketball, boxing, archery, skiing and paragliding are on the menu, so it would appear that you're getting seven sports, hopefully with some interesting control scheme to validate the whole dual pen thing. But you're not – almost half of the activities only feature a small part of the game. Baseball has you bat and try to hit home runs, soccer sees you kicking penalty goals and basketball comprises attempting baskets from a standstill position at different spots around the court. They feel like shallow excerpts from bigger titles collected here to make a game in and of themselves. It's not all bad, just very limited.

Generally, sports are divided between setting up with the left hand and making your shot with the right. Baseball tests your timing: you ready the bat by swiping down with your left hand and swinging with the right, doing so at the correct moment for better results. In soccer, step backwards with the left hand to adjust the angle and kick with the right to set the ball's trajectory, again at the perfect moment, trying to get the ball past the goalie. Basketball has you catch a ball that's passed to you by tapping with your left, then swiping upwards with your right to adjust your speed and jump distance. For archery you pull back with the left hand, then aim and shoot your arrow with the right, swiping with enough speed to combat the wind and hit a bull's-eye.

The other three sports break this mould – skiing has you turn right by swiping at an angle with your left hand and vice versa, and paragliding is a similar affair, having you turn left or right by swiping downward on that side of the screen and speeding up or braking by holding one of the styluses at certain spots. The former involves navigating between sets of flags on a slalom slope while the latter has you steer into upward and downward thermal wind tunnels to hit items, checkpoints and targets without flying too low. Boxing feels the most like the real thing: you hook upwards, punch forward or strike a lower body blow by swiping in certain directions on particular spots on the screen, using the left side for your left hand and the right for your right, and holding to block high or low. It also makes the most of the two-stylus method, your punches proving more effective if you can swap back and forth from one hand to the other.

For the most part the sports are just too simple, feeling overcomplicated by the game's dividing them into two steps rather than just following through from beginning to end. The most awkward is skiing, where you'll want to simply steer down the slope but instead have to alternate hands as each move must be the continuation of a turn in either direction. Boxing feels halting as well – instead of thinking on your feet, you'll have to wait until one swipe is through before continuing on to the next. Pulling back on your bow in archery feels completely unnecessary as well, as if the developers struggled to find a way to make the dual pen method work. Paragliding will both irritate you and put you to sleep, combining loose handling and incredibly slow movement. Finally, dividing the lower screen into sections gets in the way in sports that have you alternating between hands – you'll have to be very careful that your pens don't stray from the exact spot in boxing, for example, something that can become quite frustrating.

There are two ways to play each game: Rank Match and Score Match. The former is by far the worse of the two, having you go up against an opponent to best their top score, except boxing, where you'll actually face them and try to knock them out. The pacing here is mind-numbingly slow – while things become more difficult over time, giving you trickier pitches, more difficult baskets, more competent goalies and more, there are 64 opponents in all, and the climb in challenge level is as gradual as paint drying. Basketball is perhaps the most tedious – your opponent's record might be three baskets; once you make them you'll continue on to another who's made four, and so on – and some top scores don't even vary from one to the next. Worse than that, you're awarded points for winning and deducted points for losing, facing the CPU opponent with the next greatest score, so if you lose enough and don't have quite enough points to advance you'll have to face the same opponent again. While there's skill involved in each mini-game as well, each is quite simple to get the hang of, and since everything is so uncomplicated to begin with, Rank Match is very much a bore.

Far more interesting is Score Match, which includes perhaps the only fun to be had with this title. Generally you'll have to hit targets and avoid shot-blocking obstacles as well as score normally, with the exception of paragliding and boxing. While the rank match version of the latter has you hit checkpoints followed by a large target as well as pick up enough floating items to best your opponent, score match has you continue once you've run through the target, trying to make enough points within a time limit to add minutes to the clock and keep going while steering clear of enemy objects. Score match boxing is actually quite fun, having you quickly hit a punching bag in certain spots while avoiding the rest and blocking when the bag strikes back with arms of its own. Each sport is divided into five difficulty settings that are actually as challenging as described, perfect for the person bored of slogging through the too-easy-for-too-long rank mode.

Also included are Tap Exercises, simple mini-games that have you perform one action with the left hand and another with the right, sometimes swapping them to keep you on your toes. One has you tap circles with one and swipe through vertical lines with the other, one has you click boxes in the right order and the other has you trace through a path of green circles while avoiding red stars. If it weren't for the stylus division, these would work better as a test of navigating a crowded screen and multitasking effectively. While entertaining and challenging, these activities are just not enough to stand on their own and would feel much more at home in a collection of about a hundred of them instead of just three that feel otherwise out of place in DualPenSports.

You can compete to see who has the better score over local wireless in archery, basketball, baseball and soccer, leaving out boxing, the one sport that would actually be fun in this mode. The game features very helpful and easy-to-follow instructions before each activity, and daily challenges make a great inclusion as well. The graphics and sound are a simple affair, neither terribly ugly nor very impressive but still largely inoffensive, and the aesthetic switches to a charming retro look in Tap Exercises mode. The 3D effect does next to nothing for DualPenSports, however, adding almost no noticeable depth to anything besides the menus.

Conclusion

DualPenSports uses an ineffective gimmick as its foundation and includes far too simple takes on seven sports, featuring some cumbersome controls and tedious pacing to boot. Things become more entertaining in the slightly complex Score Match mode including a quite fun take on boxing, but overall the content is too thin to flesh out an entire game. We'll take one silver stylus over the two big yellow plastic ones included here anyday.