Pokémon Dash Import Hands-On

We check out the new racing game starring Pikachu on our newly acquired Japanese Nintendo DS.

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Pikachu is finally making his debut on the Nintendo DS in Pokémon Dash, which just hit stores in Japan, with the launch of the new handheld. We checked out an import version of the racing game to see how it finally shaped up.

Run Pikachu ragged with the DS' touch screen in the upcoming Pokémon Dash.
Run Pikachu ragged with the DS' touch screen in the upcoming Pokémon Dash.

The first thing you'll see when you start the game is a huge Pikachu greeting you on the menu screen, which should be a big treat for fans of the cuddly electric mouse. You can play with Pikachu using your stylus, pulling his body parts around and making him stretch like an elastic doll. The Pikachu actually made us forget about the menus for a short moment--but, moving on, there are three options you can choose from on the screen: single-player, multiplayer, and options. Single-player allows you to enter a race against computer opponents, while multiplayer allows you to race with up to five other players. The options screen doesn't have much to offer--it lets you set the controls, erase your race records, and rewatch the game's ending once you've beaten it.

Pokémon Dash is essentially a racing game in which you control Pikachu through a bird's-eye view, making him race on a large field map against other Pokémon such as Meowth and Teddiursa. The only thing you'll be using when you play the game is your stylus--the direction you stroke your pen is the direction that Pikachu will run in (although you can make a change in the options menu to make it run the opposite way instead.) Since a single stroke makes Pikachu dash for only a short distance, you'll have to keep stroking to make him run around. Having to repeatedly stroke the screen can tire out your hand after a while, but you might feel like you're getting some actual exercise while is running Pikachu around the screen.

Each of the racing courses in Pokémon Dash has checkpoints scattered throughout the field, and you'll need to pass through all of them before your rival Pokémon to win the race. The number of checkpoints might be as small as five or as large as nine, depending on the course, and you'll have to be careful about the order in which you pass through them, or they won't be counted. You play on the lower screen of the handheld, while the upper screen is used for a radar that displays the locations of the other Pokémon and the checkpoints. But the radar doesn't depict the terrain of the course, so you'll have to be keen about finding the best way to run around and reach the checkpoints.

The courses in the beginning of the game are pretty simple, since you'll just be running on grass and paved roads, but they get harder and harder as you move forward, and eventually you'll need to memorize the maps so you can navigate them in the most effective ways. Although you can run relatively quickly when you're dashing on roads and grass, you'll move very slowly in forests, sandy areas, and swamps. So if there's a vast dune between you and your next checkpoint, it's usually best to find a way around it, or to acquire an item that allows you to run in those kinds of areas at your normal speed. Often, the checkpoints are located on islands other than the one you start off on. Since Pikachu can't swim, you'll need to find an alternate means of crossing the water. You can search the shoreline for a lapras that you can ride, or you can pick up a bunch of balloons that will let you fly from one place to another.

When you're using the balloons, the upper screen of the DS switches to a field view around your next checkpoint. Since your main view of the game (on the lower screen) zooms out when you're using the balloons, you can use the upper screen to figure out where you should land. When you're ready to land, you can start popping the balloons one by one to make Pikachu descend. There are no problems if you fall from a great height onto soft terrain like a swamp, but if you hit asphalt or something hard, you'll hear Pikachu make an unpleasant squeak as he splats on the ground. When that happens, you'll lose some extra time as you struggle to shake the effects of the fall off, although you can shorten this time by stirring your stylus on the screen.

You can even unlock new courses with certain Pokémon GBA cartridges.
You can even unlock new courses with certain Pokémon GBA cartridges.

Pokémon Dash has five racing cups, and each cup consists of five different courses, for a total of 25 courses in the game. But that's only by default, because you can unlock new courses by inserting a Pokémon GBA cartridge into the DS's GBA slot. However, you won't be able to do this until you've played through the single-player mode and taken first place in all the cups.

If you have a passion for Pokémon--or Pikachu in particular, since he's the main character--importing a copy of Pokémon Dash might be worthwhile. Since it's an action game, the language barrier shouldn't get in the way of your enjoyment. Less-adventurous gamers will have to wait until March to get their hands on the North American version of Pokémon Dash. Either way, we'll bring you more on the game soon.

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