Review: DualPenSports

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It’s surprising to me that Nintendo has yet to attempt its own portable rendition of its popular Wii Sports series, particularly for the 3DS with all of its fancy touch screen and motion control capabilities. But what Nintendo won’t do, Namco Bandai has done with DualPenSports.

DualPenSports, a simple collection of touch-screen sports mini-games presented in a colorful, kid-friendly aesthetic, probably comes across as a shameless piece of shovelware. But don’t judge this game by its generic, gimmicky cover. Give it a shot, and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how fun and addictive it can be.

Seven sporting events are featured in DualPenSports – archery, baseball, basketball, boxing, paragliding, skiing and soccer – and each one is designed around a unique control scheme concept using a pair of styli (which come included in the box), one in each hand. The gameplay is presented on the top screen, while the bottom screen is divided in half, each section dedicated to a specific action.

In baseball, for example, you slide your left-handed stylus down to wind up your swing, and then you flick forward to hit the ball, flight distance and trajectory determined by the timing and angle of your stylus movement. For skiing, each stylus functions as a ski pole; you draw on the bottom screen from left to right to turn right and from right to left to turn left. Boxing is the most complicated. Each half of the screen is divided into three parts for hooks, jabs and body shots, and the center of the screen is reserved for defensive moves. Holding the stylus down at the top and bottom blocks high and low punches, and tapping the center at just the right moment allows you to sway to the side and line up for a counter blow.

I won’t go through the whole collection, but I think you get the idea. The control concept is inherently flawed for a portable game, in that it is mildly awkward to play on the go. Holding a stylus in each hand and hunching over the 3DS sitting in your lap isn’t exactly stable or comfortable. But when you’re sitting down with a flat, rigid surface to play on, the scheme works well and provides a fun way to build hand-eye coordination and strengthen the dexterity of your weaker hand.

Of course, the 3DS is not a multi-touch device, meaning the touch screen is only able to read one stylus input at a time. So technically you can play most of the game just fine with only one stylus. This makes it easier to pull out and play in transit, but also makes many of the games more challenging since you must quickly jump the stylus from one side of the screen to the other. Skiing is especially difficult one-handed, and the included ‘Fingergility’ exercises are nigh impossible without using both hands.

The sports themselves come in two flavors: Rank Match and Score Match. Rank matches have you competing against rival AI athletes in events such as home run derby, penalty kicks, full-on boxing bouts, slalom races, and so on. If you win a match, you earn ‘Athli’ points, and as your career point total builds you rise up through the ranks until you’ve completed 64 matches. Should you lose a rank match, though, you lose points and drop down the rankings.

Score matches have more of a ‘beat the high score’ arcade style in which you simply amass points until you’ve missed three attempts. So for archery, you shoot at targets that ride along a track across the screen, in similar fashion to a carnival shooting gallery. Similarly, in basketball and soccer you must score while also hitting bonus panels that float above the hoop and are placed in blocks across the front of the goal, respectively. Then there is boxing, which has you hitting blinking targets on a stationary punching dummy – the quicker you strike, the more points you get. Each sport’s score match has five difficulty tiers to go through, with bronze, silver and gold medals achievable per tier.

Also built into the game is a ‘Today’s Challenge’ mode, which challenges you to complete a bonus event every day and charts your progress on a calendar. These challenges are appropriately more difficult, with special stipulations requiring more skill and focus, such as winning a boxing match starting out with only a sliver of health or surpassing a specified score in basketball via swish shots only. If you complete a challenge, you get a stamp on the calendar and a huge bonus to your overall Athli total. Beating three daily challenges in a row also earns you an even trickier bonus challenge for another opportunity at even more points.

Honestly, the only major feature that’s missing is online multiplayer. Local wireless competition is supported, but good luck finding someone around you who owns a 3DS, let alone a 3DS and a copy of DualPenSports. The game is tremendous fun without online, but global athletic competition would have sealed the deal on this being the undisputed champion of the current 3DS game library.

Something else that I would like to have seen included, is an in-game shop where you could exchange Athli for extra equipment and unlockables. As is, customization gear is only earned as you cross certain point milestones, and the longer you play it seems like you are working a lot harder just to get one measly bonus item. The reward system definitely could have been a bit deeper and more satisfying.

Speaking of character customization, it’s also kind of a shame that you can’t import your Mii into the game. Instead, you use the provided editor to create a personalized sports star and use unlocked gear to change his or her outfit as you progress. This is fine, but any game that allows you to import your Mii gives it a more personal touch. That personal touch is missing here.

Personally, I also would have preferred football, golf and/or tennis events over skiiing and paragliding. The skiing and paragliding games are great, but those other sports are more popular, and the dual-pen system is ideally suited for all three. I can see this scheme working like a charm for field goal kicking or QB passing drills in football, long drive challenges in golf, and some form of serving event in tennis (perhaps like Virtua Tennis’ bowling mini-game).

With or without these things, though, DualPenSports is a special game. The game has great mass appeal in terms of its energetic graphics and music, the sporting events control well and are varied enough to keep the experience fresh for many hours, and the individual mini-games all strike a good balance between simplicity, accessibility and challenge.

Is DualPenSports a game you will want to sit down with and play for hours on end? Possibly — but probably not. But that’s really not a negative in my book. For me, DualPenSports is a game that always manages to find its way into my 3DS on a daily basis. I rarely, if ever, play it for any longer than 15-20 minutes at a time, but that’s why I like it and that’s why it works. I’ll start off with a daily routine of the ‘Today’s Challenge’ and the tap exercises to warm up my fingers; I’ll pull it out a little later for a few rounds of archery; I’ll sneak in some basketball or baseball sometime after that, and so on and so forth throughout the day. By the end of the day, I’ll have played all of the sports at least once, and I’ll immediately be looking forward to improving my scores and moving up the ranks the next day. If this type of in-short-bursts gaming is something you look for in a portable game, DualPenSports is not to be missed.

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Pros:
+ Fun and varied sports mini-games
+ Unique dual-stylus control scheme
+ Appealing presentation
+ Comes with two sporty styli right out of the box

Cons:
– No online support for multiplayer
– Using two styli isn’t always comfortable for on-the-go play

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Indies Zero
Release Date: 6/21/2011
Genre: Sports
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (local wireless only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!