You can't keep a good man down
The original Denpa Men was a interesting throwback to dungeon crawling, nearly narrative-free turn-based RPGs of old, hearkening back to classics like the original Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy titles. The games star a band of cute little jumpsuit baby-people called the Denpa Men who share the chibi proportions of the NES RPG characters, but make no effort to look like warriors. They are shamelessly cute baby-men in unitards, and they don't care who knows it.
While the gameplay could easiliy have been recreated on 20-year-old hardware, there's a weird, wireless-internet-driven collection dynamic that could only have happened on today's consoles. The main way to obtain new party members is to grab them from the world around you using the 3DS' camera.
The game tells you that your new men are floating by on "radio" signals detected by the 3DS' wireless receiver, but you and I both know that's poppycock. It's the internet that makes things happen these days, and it's everywhere. By taking your 3DS to real-life locations with varying frequencies of wireless internet signals, you'll find totally new selections of little flying weirdos to add to your collection.
The game was a hit in Japan, but didn't fare as well elsewhere. Thankfully, the gang at Genius Sonority (Pokemon Colosseum) have decided to give us the sequel anyway, which adds new men, a new overworld, new diversions like fishing and gardening, and maybe most important of all, more characters.
The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves (3DS eShop)
Developer: Genius Sonority Inc
Publisher: Genius Sonority Inc
Released: May 30, 2013
The game starts off with a silly motivator that sets the stage for the rest of the game. A few seconds in and your wife (from the first game, if you decide to carry over your data) and children are kidnapped by well-armored Monkeys. From there you're off to capture some Denpa Men from thin air and head off into the world to get them back.
If I didn't already tell you that the developers of The Denpa Men worked on the Pokemon and Earthbound series in the past, you'd have probably guessed it yourself. The combat plays out a lot like a simplified, sped-up version of a Pokemon battle. A Denpa Man may have zero, one, or two elemental attributes which will will give them strengths or weaknesses against certain types of attacks.
All the Denpa Men are inherently ridiculous and lovable, but that doesn't mean they were crated equal. Some are more adept at physical combat, which have no natural elemental attributes, while others will be able to grow antennas which enable magical attacks. These antennas are generally tied to the elemental type of the man in question (reds have fire antennas, oranges have rock antennas), but that's not a hard and fast rule. You may find a red-and-blue swirled Denpa Man with a little mustache who has the ability to shoot holy lasers out of his head. His name might be Keaton! They've all got goofy names designed to make you feel weird.
So while each Denpa Man only has one type of magic (with up to three levels of power each), you'll be controlling four, six, or even eight Denpa Men in battle at time. When physically attacking, they tend to move as one, which really speeds up the pace of battle. For magic attacks, they move separately, which is a relief when you're taking on a grass-type, water-type, and dark-type enemy all in the same battle. There is a fair amount of Rock-Paper-Scissors mix-up strategy here that takes just the right amount of planning to stay interesting, but not so much that things get bogged down.
There is also the option to choose auto-battle, which yields some interesting results. There are times when the auto-battle A.I. will predict when one member of your team will be murdered before they're actually murded, casting a revive spell in the same turn that they've been killed in. It's a relief when this happens, as it's extremely expensive to bring your Denpa Man back from the dead should you have your whole party wiped out, but it feels like a bit of a cheat.
The game's overall structure is largely predictable -- explore the overworld, explore a dungeon, beat a boss, discover a town, take a fetch quest, repeat -- but there are just enough curveballs thrown to keep things interesting. You might have to lure a boss out into a field using a specific food in order to proceed, or dig double (or even triple) down on deep dungeon exploring without a break. Eventually, you'll obtain a ship that allows you to explore the entire planet with no restrictions. This provides for a much more non-linear, open-world feel than you might expect from the first few hours of Denpa Men 2, which don't give you as much flexibility.
While the path towards the main campaign remains fixed, there are plenty of side tasks to keep you occupied if you choose to pursue them. Planting flowers can lead to farming dyes to change the color (and properties) of your clothes. These plants exist on a real time clock, not unlike Animal Crossing, so if you don't water them regularly you'll be left with nothing but dead plants.
Also similar to Animal Crossing is the game's fishing system, though it's a little tougher here, as you'll need to use bait every time you cast a line, which can be pricey. There's also plenty of clothes and accessories to collect, special dungeons that can only be explored with light collected from StreetPasses, and the option to battle online against other players.
The Denpa Men 2 feels more like a replacement to the first game than a sequel. Sadly, that results in a downgrade in freshness. A lot of the music, graphics, and enemies are recycled from its predecessor, and the augmented reality-based man-catching system is largely old news.
The game is also quite long, but doesn't do a lot to assure that your experience will be filled with big surprises or overly-stimulating high notes. Still, the sequel has loads more content and many of the trappings that were missing the first time around. If you're up for tackling a long, sweet, silly retail-sized RPG for a fraction of the price, the Denpa Men are sure to please.
The Denpa Men 2: Beyond the Waves reviewed by Jonathan Holmes
Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth most people's time and cash.
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