Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

In Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker, you play as a young man with an enormous chip on his shoulder--though it's understandable considering that in his case, being grounded means being hurled in a dungeon for ten days.

His father, Warden Trump (a shoo-in for Father of the Year), releases you on the condition that you participate in the Monster Scout Challenge as an agent of the mysterious CELL organization--meaning he probably wants to get his hands on the prized Scout's Mark. And thus, you're effectively been launched into your monster-collecting adventure.

Joker is the first DQ Monsters title we've seen stateside since it was called Dragon Warriors Monsters, back in 2001. You'll still be out there scouting tons of monsters by impressing them with your battle-hardened team, but this time you'll be doing it in cute 3-D graphics on your DS.

The challenge starts after a warm-up with your starter monster (Dracky, Platypunk, or Mischievous Mole--it doesn't matter which you choose since they are all readily available monsters), and the opening task is to collect ten "Darkonium Crystals" around the seven islands of Green Bays. Along the way, you'll meet your rival, as well as a powerful Incarni-type monster who needs you to help him visit the seven shrines of the islands to avert some sort of catastrophe and win the Scout's Mark for him. I foresee a conflict of interest.

Battles employ three-monster teams at a time, and although you can give specific commands, you'll mostly pick effective general strategies such as "show no mercy" or "focus on healing." The fights are about as lively as what you're used to from Pokemon, except the camera is insane, switching angles so often that you will often lose track of who's hitting who even when you've nicknamed your monsters. While it sometimes feels like scouting's a little tricky and requires a bit of luck, the impressed rating is a percentage, so there is always at least a slight chance they'll convert.

Victories mean experience points, and as your monsters level up they are occasionally awarded points to put towards skills. Standard monsters generally have two trees: one for attacks and buffs and one for permanent stat boosts, but once you start synthesizing at the scoutpost, you can get monsters with three tree skills, with some inherited.

Joker could've used a heaping helping of the friendly big touch-screen button style interface that the latest Pokemon mastered, but ultimately with these monster hunter games, it's really just just up to your brand preference.

PROS: Nice 3D graphics, easy to use battle strategy presets.
CONS: The battle camera has ADD, scouting is tricky, and it's another monster catch-and-battle game in a market that's clearly glutted.

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