If, like so many of us tend to do when faced with something unusual, you judged The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave based only on its looks and its B-list movie title, you’d be left with a “WTF?” impression that landed somewhere between Pokemon and the Teletubbies.
You wouldn’t be wrong, but you would be selling short a turn-based RPG that’s a lot less kid-centric and a little more interesting than it initially appears.
In the game’s opening salvo, it’s time to go all ARG, using an Antenna Tower (i.e. the 3DS camera) to snare Denpa men, these dudes in colorful Teletubby-esque suits who apparently like to tool around our everyday environment on radio waves. They come in five colors and bear the often disturbing facial features you’d expect to get after setting the Mii generator on random spin cycle. The most useful have oddly shaped heads and antennae that give them special skills in combat, things like healing or reviving fallen Denpa men or unleashing windstorms and landslide attacks. Searching for them in crowded public areas where there are lots of radio waves–go ahead, break out your 3DS and start spinning around in the mall food court, we dare you—yield a greater variety of potential Denpa hauls. Given that there are around a hundred different kinds to potentially catch, experimentation is the key to, um, catchin’ them all. (Where have we heard that before?)
Why are you bothering to collect these fashion-challenged radio-surfers? Well, it turns out that The King of Evil—yes, he’s really called the King of Evil– has stolen both precious objects from this world’s cartoon citizens and a princess, too. (Unusual, I know.) It’s time to fire up a party of up to eight Denpa dudes and get dungeon-crawling.
Here’s where the Pokemon elements crop up their cartoon heads–which makes sense, given that developer Genius Sorority is also responsible for several Poke-games, including Pokemon Colosseum and Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness. Certain colors and types of Denpa are extra-effective against certain types of enemies, or, better yet, immune to their nasty poisonous and paralyzing attacks. Planning ahead helps make each crawl easier than it has to be, but in case you’re prone to stumbling in blind, the banana-colored citizens at the front of each dungeon can clue you in as to which colors and types of Denpa ought to be part of your battle roster.
Battles are turn-based affairs, pitched against monsters both weak and boss-sized (the Octo-Spider is especially inspired). As you’d expect, managing special items and special attacks is the key to long-term survival, and you can never, ever have enough dungeon-specific cures. I burned through a Walgreen’s store worth of deparalyzes and antidotes on the first run-through.
A few annoyances and curious design decisions plague the proceedings. In certain islands/levels, long stretches of unavoidable floor traps deal damage to your Denpa squad unless they’re all wearing a special type of safety shoe, setting you up for imminent disaster and death in the inevitable random monster encounters that follow. Dealing with death isn’t devastating—there are always more Denpa to capture–but it is a little weird. There’s a Spirit Shrine on the Denpa’s island base where you can pay for and use Offerings to resurrect your beloved Denpa pals…or, alternately, you could just fire up the antenna mode and catch them all over again for free. In a smart touch, the Denpa you catch are always close to whatever level your main character has attained, so you’re not stuck trying to level-grind new catches with cool antenna powers through dungeons you’ve already cleared.
The lack of customization features is irksome, to say the least. Instead, you’re stuck with whatever names and Mii-esque features the game generates for your Denpa warriors—and a lot of them fall somewhere between bland, bizarre and downright ugly. Given the immense wave of Mii-creating genius the gaming world spawned during the Wii’s heyday, the ability to have a Denpa that looked like Bowser or Barack Obama-–or even your own Mii—could have given the game an extra user-created edge. Maybe the sequel, which already exists in Japan, will add that feature if it ever reaches U.S. shores.
As a cheap and cutesy diversion, The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave succeeds on its own strange merits. It isn’t deep, but it’s definitely unusual. Unusual enough that you’re going to want to download the free demo version first.
+ Easy-to-manage, familiar turn-based gameplay
+ Catching and creating just the right Denpa lineup is fun
– Other than occupying island space, what’s the point of the Spirit Shrine?
– No character customization
Platform: Nintendo 3DS via eShop
Publisher: Genius Sonority
Developer: Genius Sonority
Release Date: 9/27/2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Source: Review code provided by publisher