Earlier this week, we took a brief look at Nintendoji, a Nintendo title only available to gold or platinum members of the Japanese Club Nintendo. And because of its very limited release, both Japanese and Westerners are unlikely to be able to ever play it -- which is a real shame as it is a fun, cute and more than a bit of an addictive game.
Good — Cell Shaded Sumie
It’s no secret that I love me some games with sumie inspired graphics. The character models in Nintendoji mix sumie aesthetics with the cel-shaded style of Wind Waker. So what we’re left with is an art style full of dark or muted colours perfectly setting a world of abandoned temples to explore. And while as a game designed for the DSi it doesn’t live up to the image quality of 3DS games, the art direction more than makes up for it.
Good — Puzzle and Dungeon Gameplay
Nintendoji plays largely like a turn-based dungeon crawler. Each turn, you draw several priestly seals from your stack of them. Each of them has a number on it. If you choose and use said card, that number is the amount of spaces you have to move in the dungeon. In addition, many of the seals have a special magical effect -- like using wind magic to fly directly to your final square, for example -- if you have enough magic collected.
On each floor of the dungeon there are crystal balls you need to activate to proceed and monsters you need to avoid (or kill if you have the right items). The trick is to plan your movements carefully so you don't run out of your priestly seals.
In some ways, Nintendoji is as much Minesweeper as it is a dungeon crawler -- and that is where most of the strategy aspect comes in. While you need to make the most of each priestly seal you use, you are also unable to see most of each map until you move within a few spaces of the unexplored area. Thus moving too brashly can lead you right into the mouth of a hungry monster. To counter this, you have a special power that tells you how many squares away the nearest monster is -- even if you cannot see him. If used correctly, navigating becomes much simpler -- but still challenging.
Good — Quirky Nintendo Humour
Nintendoji as a game has more than its share of tongue-in-check humour. The main priest at the shrine is the Kappa from fellow eShop downloadable title Sakura Samurai: Heart of the Sword. Moreover, the holy relics you find in the dungeon are taken right from other Nintendo games, be that a barrel from Donkey Kong or a giant turnip from Super Mario Bros. 2. While story is hardly the focus of the game, what little that exists is cute, quirky and 100 per cent Nintendo.
Mixed — A One Trick Pony
Beyond mucking about in the dungeon or shopping to prepare for your next trip, there isn't much else to Nintendoji. The only thing that really changes as you progress is the difficulty. Your movements have to be more carefully chosen and the enemies aren’t the pushovers they once were. Moreover, it takes a fair amount of replays of past areas to stock up on the money and supplies you need for the later levels of the game; so your progression will occasionally grind to a halt.
On one hand, I don’t know if I should feel sad that few people will ever play Nintendoji or feel happy that the game was released as such a heartfelt gift to Nintendo’s most supportive fans.
Personally, I really enjoyed the game -- though I will admit I was more than a little angry each time a monster appeared suddenly and ate me because of a careless step on my part. However, if you like dungeon crawlers or Minesweeper-esque puzzle games, this game is a great way to spend a few hours. The biggest problem it has is simply the obstacle of obtaining a copy.
Nintendoji was released on April 4, 2013, on the Japanese 3DS eShop. It is only available to Gold and Platinum Nintendo Club members. There is no word on an international release.