Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker

And don't forget the joker! As Motorhead once so memorably sang

It's impossible to overstate just how massive the Dragon Quest series is in Japan. So big, in fact, that the recent announcement of the forthcoming Dragon Quest IX on the DS is a pretty big deal indeed, the series so far being a mostly Sony-based extravaganza.

Before that arrives however, we get this - a spinoff that tips its hat to Pokémon in a big way. It's not all-new, though, as previous Monsters games have appeared on the Game Boy Color, GBA and then been compiled for the PlayStation.

Not much has changed since those games, really; it's as transparent a Pokémon knock-off as before, but the difference, as always, lies in being able to use three monsters to fight at once for an extra slice of strategy, and you don't evolve your beasties. Rather, you fuse different sexes of monster (oddly, species doesn't appear to matter) and then choose the offspring from a number of different available outcomes. Natty stuff.

Brief encounter
As a Pokémon clone, then, this is of a high standard - and frankly, it looks fantastic, all cel-shaded wonder and larger-than-life characters. However (and bear in mind we've been playing the Japanese version - don't, unless you can read the lingo) our impressions point towards a relatively short playing time, and, fighting and monster-fusing aside, this is a basic RPG that, like Final Fantasy 3, relies on old-fashioned RPG concepts.

Nonetheless, it's an accomplished game and we look forward to an English version with hearty grins.

The verdict

A welcome twist on the Pokémon formula, but only an English translation will really uncover the game's possible depths. For now, it's fun and a joy to look at.

Nintendo DS
Square Enix