For those of you who might not know, when you buy a Nintendo DS, PictoChat is included in the package. PictoChat is a form of chat software that takes advantage of the system's wireless network capabilities by letting you exchange text messages and drawn pictures with your friends. While it's not the most full featured of chat programs, it certainly does its job. So why, then, would anybody want to spend $30 on the same exact thing...but with a bunch of lame collectible items and bad minigames? Well, that's just what THQ wants you to do with Ping Pals, its first offering for the DS. In essence, Ping Pals is PictoChat with a lousy personality, and there's absolutely no reason why you should waste your time with it.
When you first boot up Ping Pals, you'll have the option to create your own little chat room, or you can join someone else's (provided someone else with a DS and a copy of the game is sitting nearby). In either event, you'll then find yourself with a keyboard and a drawing space that occupies the touch screen. You'll also find a chat window with an avatar that represents you in the main window. For pure chat purposes, you need only switch between icons that represent the drawing board and keyboard to use either. Then again, for pure chat purposes, you really only need the PictoChat software, because it's exactly the same thing, minus the avatar, and it's free with the system to boot.
Ping Pals really tries to differentiate itself with its character customization and minigames, neither of which is the least bit interesting. The character customization system is fairly simple. You just pick from a male or female form, and then you use the game's dressing system to gussy your character up in all sorts of ways by choosing different facial accessories, clothing types, and hairstyles. There are also additional sounds and backgrounds available as well. You start out with only a few items in your collection, but you can buy more via an in-game shop mode. However, your available item cache tops out at 300, and only certain items can be purchased each day. Interestingly enough, there are far more than 300 items available in Ping Pals, but because only 300 can be had in each cartridge, you'll have to buy items from your friends, because their cartridges will likely feature many different items that you can't get.
While that might seem like a neat idea, it just doesn't really work that well in Ping Pals, mostly because very few items are really interesting. There's a certain degree of novelty to some of the avatar accessories, but there's no sense of rarity that other games like this have brought to the table, such as Animal Crossing, for example. It's just, "Oh, cool. A ninja mask and a funny hat. Great."
And before you can even get to these assorted items, you'll have to participate in a scrambled collection of minigames to earn coins. There are two single-player games as well as two multiplayer ones. The single-player offerings consist of really terribly conceived guessing games that involve such enthralling activities as trying to guess a number between one and 10 and playing a half-baked version of Family Feud where you'll try to guess the 10 correct associative answers to such categories as "scents of candles" or "things you'd see in the Navy." While some of these categories have fairly obvious answers, many correct ones are next to impossible to guess. Using the Navy question as an example, none of the following answers, such as "ship," "boat," "sailor," "seamen," or "naval base," were on the list. Seriously, how many things does one really see in the Navy? The multiplayer games aren't any better. One is an intensely lame version of the game of hot potato, which, incidentally, requires more than two players. Meanwhile, one is a bad version of Pictionary, which, on top of not being very much fun, is also kind of broken. For instance, it will give you a category of "special events" and then ask you to draw "Transylvania." What?
Ping Pals doesn't offer much to please the eye or ear, either. Graphically, there's just not much to the game. Sure, the chat software is a little slicker-looking than the standard PictoChat program, but just barely. Your avatar never animates, so all you ever see is a fat static image of your guy or girl just sitting there the whole time. Apart from that, there are many menu screens to sift through, and not much else. The audio mostly just consists of some looping theme tracks, and a few little blips play when you select various menus. It's all inoffensive stuff, but none of it really sticks with you either.
In the end, it's impossible to rationalize Ping Pals' very existence to any satisfactory degree. Why make a game just like PictoChat when PictoChat already exists on the DS itself? After playing Ping Pals, you're unlikely to come up with any acceptable answers to this question, because none of the extra content it provides is worth paying for. Chalk this one up to poor decision making, lousy timing, or a combination of both. Just don't chalk this one up as a game you should play.