One of the quirkier titles to hit the 3DS eShop recently, Rocket Studios' Kemonomix+ is the sequel to a Japan-only DSiWare game from 2010: a streamlined simulation featuring a combination of exploration, time-management and monster rearing set on a faraway pastel planet. It borrows good ideas from excellent influences, but leaves so little in players' hands that it ends up feeling tedious and almost pointless to play; there are some fun touches and cute monsters in Kemonomix+, but we'd advise most to steer clear.

At first glance, Kemonomix+ seems to lift its premise almost directly from Pikmin: you play as an astronaut exploring an Earth-like planet, with 2000 days to write up what you find and report back - but since your ship lost several pieces in the landing process, you'll need to gather up the missing parts before you can head back home. Then a bit of Pokémon comes into the mix: Kemonos, the native fauna, can be captured, trained, and pitted against one another to help you carry out the expedition. Finally, there's a little Cubivore thrown in for good measure: when Kemonos eat each other they can absorb powers, traits, and appearances from their prey.

In terms of gameplay, the mix boils down into three basic pieces of play: exploring, training, and mixing. To explore the planet (vicariously), you'll pick one of your intrepid Kemono friends and send out them out into the unknown. You can choose between several different lengths of exploratory journeys, and once they're off you'll watch your Kemono trot along as various updates ticker-tape their way across the screen - “Froggle has encountered a Borgle!", “Froggle found Leather Cloak!", “Froggle is taking a good long rest!". While they're out exploring, Kemonos can find items, discover, fight, and potentially capture other Kemonos, lose items, and - of course - come across new areas of the map. Once they've explored a certain percentage of a given location the next one will open up, and each unlocked area has new Kemonos and items to find.

It sounds like an exciting life these Kemonos lead, but unfortunately exploration is both completely random and completely out of your hands - once you click the button, all you can do is watch as events unfold (or don't). This means surveying is never really very satisfying, and it doesn't ever feel like anything that happens has much to do with you. An excellent approximation of what Commander Kemonomix+ might be feeling, cooped up in his spaceship and twiddling his thumbs as the brave Kemono chart the planet, perhaps, but it doesn't make for very compelling gameplay.

After returning from a hard day of exploring, your Kemono can head to the dojo for some spot training. Training will increase their stats - as well as heal them up - and there are several different routines that target specific sets of traits. 'Cross-training', for instance, will restore HP as well as increase attack and defense, 'Running' will charge up HP and SP, while 'Studying' predictably raises IQ. Time passes as you train, so there's certainly some strategy involved in planning out your schedule, but like exploration it's so hands-off that it's just not very much fun. An on-theme mini-game for each regimen would've gone a long way towards incentivizing the exercise, but as it stands it amounts to little more than pressing a button to level up.

Once you've got a few Kemonos in your stable, you can also 'mix' them together to create new, more powerful monsters. Like everything else in the game, this is done through menus: just select the two monsters you'd like to mix, and after a rather tasteless animation, one will eat the other and you'll have a more powerful form with amalgamated traits, features, and skills. In terms of appearances, this might result in a Kemono that resembles one mixed into the other - rabbit ears on a whale and so on - a random, brand-new Kemono, or a special transformation that follows from the pair - like two tadpoles turning into a frog. It's fun to see what monster you'll get out of each mix, and waiting for the potentially wacky results of each combination is one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game.

On paper, this sounds like a perfectly serviceable - if not particularly exciting - set of features, but in practice it's disappointingly dull. Everything is automated to the point where you're just clicking on buttons and seeing what happens, rather than actually affecting anything in the world yourself. It almost feels like watching the backend of a more interactive game at work - you're seeing the results of a random-number generator, you're just not getting to do anything very interesting to get it started. The only meaningful decision you're able to make is how many times and in which order to perform a few different actions (explore, train, mix) over 2000 units of time, and - as you might expect - that's not all that enthralling. Time management can be hugely fun when it's done right - just look at Harvest Moon, Pikmin, and Persona 3 and 4 - but when it's the only thing you really get to do in the game, it feels more like a chore than anything else.

Of course, presentation can make a big difference - it's why “hold 'right'" can be such an enjoyable gameplay conceit in early Sonic games - but Kemonomix+ comes up short here as well. The music is catchy and cheery, and there's a nice use of the 3D effect in the layered backgrounds, but overall it has a Flash game quality that feels generic and bland. The Kemono designs themselves aren't very inspiring either - it's as if the 'Earth-like' description of their planet is justification for their uncanny resemblance to ordinary animals. They're certainly cute, and the mixes can be fun, but it's hard to see players forming a strong bond with their Kemonos - especially given the likelihood that they might end up feeding them to another monster before too long. Finally, the translation is decidedly subpar; it's not the error-ridden mess we've seen in some recent eShop imports (like the Mysterious Stars series), but the writing is strictly utilitarian, often awkward and utterly devoid of joy.

Conclusion

As an academic exercise in minimalist game building, Kemonomix+ is an interesting proof-of-concept; but as a game, it simply isn't much fun. There are certainly some good ideas here, with concepts lifted from top-notch titles like Pikmin, Pokémon and Cubivore, but the menu-driven interface and luck-based, nearly fully automated gameplay make for an unsatisfyingly hands-off experience. Whether you're looking for exploration or monster-rearing, there are far better options on the 3DS - for an eShop alternative, try The Denpa Men 3 - so we regretfully recommend leaving this one lost in space.