Dokapon Kingdom (Wii) review
"Early on you'll groan with disgust when you lose a fight and have to sit out for three rounds to recuperate. Before long, though, you're learning how to beef up your warrior with levels and equipment. You're mastering the fine art of swooping in for the victory just as two rivals have worn each other down to slivers of life. You're warping across the map to rest up at a safe town, or using items you've gathered to wreak havoc from afar. You're coming to understand that your opponents will always be lucky in battle but that maybe you can plan carefully and be luckier still."
If I were forced to review Dokapon Kingdom using just one sentence, I would tell you that it's some of the most fun that you're likely to have with any game currently offered at retail. Fortunately, there are no such constraints. I can blab all I want about how great the game is and the most you can do is ignore me. Still, I keep coming back to that one sentiment. It sums everything up so nicely.
Adding information just seems like an exercise in muddying the waters. Dokapon Kingdom doesn't fare well when you consider technical merits—it looks like a third-generation PlayStation 2 title—and the ideas driving it are a bit of a mess. The curious mixture of party games and RPGs won't likely appeal to diehard fans of either genre and you need to play for a few hours at a time if you hope to really enjoy yourself. All of that adds up to a tough sell.
So, what makes Dokapon Kingdom worth it? The little things do, I say as I stick my finger in the metaphorical puddle and stir it until silt rises to the surface and mucks up my beautiful thesis. The little things are what will keep you playing the game first for a few minutes, then for a few hours and probably for many evenings after that.
The game's willingness to pay attention to the finer points is immediately apparent. A typical match begins about like a game of Mario Party. You pick as many as four characters, each selected from three generic classes: warrior, mage and thief. You assign a name, a color, a hairstyle and even a general demeanor. You choose the number of rounds (called weeks) that you'll play, up to 999. Each lasts an average of around 10 minutes, so don't make your decision lightly. Finally, you choose from a few controller options—a Wii Remote or GameCube or Classic controller—and even decide how many people will share each one if there aren't enough to go around.
One reason those last options can even exist is that Dokapon Kingdom doesn't feature skill-based mini-games. You don't compete to drive a slot car around a track, or to reach the top of a platforming sequence or to knock other players into a pit of lava. Instead, you engage in some turn-based role playing. Any time two players land on an otherwise featureless space, a battle is initiated. You'll have one turn to exchange blows with your opponent. If at the end of that round one of the participants has run out of HP, the battle ends. If that hasn't happened, then the two will remain locked in combat while unrelated players take their turns and perhaps even jump into the middle of things.
Battles are important because the person who wins often receives items or gold from the unfortunate loser. That's not the end of things, though. The winner also receives experience points that help him to improve the overall strength of his chosen warrior. Perhaps he'll even advance a level and be allowed to assign skill points to traditional stats like defense power, attack ferocity, health and magic. Players who don't put enough effort into such things may be outpaced by their rivals, since levels can build quickly and it's possible to make huge advances in only a turn or two. Battles also can take place even if you aren't near one of your featured opponents, since you'll often fight a random creature when you land on a blank space.
While much of the above is cool, it could easily have fallen apart if the developers didn't pay attention to those little things that I mentioned a few paragraphs back. Exhibit A: fast-paced battles. Just imagine sitting through round after round of combat while two powerful competitors trade blows. That would've gotten old fast, so the fact that there are breaks between rounds—and opportunities for other players to take advantage of them—keeps things fresh and exciting. Exhibit B: computer-controlled players move swiftly. When they have their turns, they'll dart all over the board, fast enough that you're not wondering why they can't move more quickly, but slow enough for you to see how they're making plans to screw you a few turns down the road. This keeps the game thoroughly strategic but doesn't allow its pace to slow to a crawl.
Another nice touch is the way that many of the little things like character customization also factor into the big picture. For example, in one session that my brother-in-law played together, he chose to create a mighty female warrior named Betty. Eventually, he decided that he was tough enough from battling random beasts to take on my thief character, the mighty McJason. We went head-to-head and he lost, so then I had the option to rob him, forgive him, force him to take an unwanted gift or pull a prank. I chose the last one and then had a new set of options. I renamed his character to Bubbles and regular play resumed. Hours later, the name finally reverted to Betty and by then the once-familiar label felt foreign. Little details matter a lot and really add depth to a game that already has so much going for it.
The question you're probably asking yourself at this point is "Does this guy realize how much he's gushing over a party game?" Of course I do, but that's the general effect of playing Dokapon Kingdom: the flaws begin disappearing into the background. Early on you'll groan with disgust when you lose a fight and have to sit out for three rounds to recuperate. Before long, though, you're learning how to beef up your warrior with levels and equipment. You're mastering the fine art of swooping in for the victory just as two rivals have worn each other down to slivers of life. You're warping across the map to rest up at a safe town, or using items you've gathered to wreak havoc from afar. You're coming to understand that your opponents will always be lucky in battle but that maybe you can plan carefully and be luckier still.
What everything comes down to in the end is the realization that while there have been other good party games, there haven't been many great ones like this. I've already yammered on for far too long, I know, and I could keep going for longer still. Instead, I'll cut things short and leave you with the sentiment I expressed at the start of this review: Dokapon Kingdom is some of the most fun that you're likely to have with any game currently offered at retail. Believe it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 21, 2009)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
If you enjoyed this Dokapon Kingdom review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!