Mod Squad

We go hands-on with Digimon Data Squad. Why? Because one of you is bound to be interested, right? Right?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: August 26, 2007
Fine, we'll admit it: Digimon Data Squad is probably a game that's meant for gamers about 10 years younger than most of our reader base, but when Namco Bandai Games sends over a preview build (even if we didn't ask for it), we feel kinda obligated to give 'em some coverage. And hey, had we not actually popped the game in, we wouldn't really have known what kind of game it actually is. Well, we had an idea, and yes, the game is pretty much what we expected, but hey, who doesn't love collecting little monsters?

Freedom-hating Communists, that's who.

If you haven't yet been bitten by the Digimon collect-a-thon bug (or you're, say, over the age of 15), you'd be excused for just assuming it's some kind of Pokemon wanna-be. Rather than just collecting a bunch of random monsters, though, Digimon is more about taking one monster and evolving them into something else, and it's here that Digimon Data Squad actually managed to impress us. But then we're probably getting ahead of ourselves here.

Marcus Damon is your typical early teen hothead. He's itching for battle, thinks he knows everything and is exceptionally fond of screaming "Yeaaaaaaaahhhhhh!" for no damn reason. Marcus is also a member of DATS, a secret government group that essentially keeps track of Digimon that hop out of the Digital World and into ours to cause trouble. When the little monsters cause a ruckus, DATS is dispatched to kil--err "return the Digimon to DigiEggs" and any humans involved have their memories of the experience wiped so as to prevent mass hysteria when the world finds out that digital monsters can cross over. Problem is, it's happening a lot more often these days, and five children have been seemingly kidnapped by rogue Digimon, so DATS rolls out to get to the bottom of things.

Marcus isn't alone. He's got his little mini-T-Rex-lookin' pal Agumon, plus fellow DATS members Thomas (a genius and Marcus' rival) and Yoshino (an 18 year-old girl who apparently just loves hanging out with a couple of 14 year-olds to keep them in line), plus their Digimon, Gaomon and Lalamon, with respects. And yes, all of the monsters in the game end in -mon, which is just wonderfully... wonderful.

We spent a few hours with the game getting to know the basics, which weren't terribly complex. Marcus dropped into a beach resort to track down a rogue Digimon and it was here that we learned the process of fighting and evolution. The game is extremely random encounter-heavy (seriously, it's hard to walk around for more than about 10-15 seconds without dropping into a battle), but all those fights gave us ample time to learn how pitting digital monsters against each other works.

Agumon, Marcus' pal, has his own ideas about how the battle should go, so while you'll see four basic options at the start of a turn (Action, Guard, Support and Escape), those main choices are further broken down into subsets of choices. The background is filled with little hexes that indicate what a particular Digimon wants to do, be it run away, attack with a specific blow, heal, buff up, and so on. You can select the main option in most cases and just go with whatever they want to do most (which is good because it keeps them happy with you as a trainer), but if you want to slip off those main choices and pick out a specific attack or buff, you're more than welcome.

Digimon aren't finicky, but they will get discouraged from time to time, which is why you'll have to cheer them up or egg them on with a push or a shove from time to time. Fight enough battles and you'll be given the chance to evolve your monster into a new form. Not only are these usually more powerful, but they completely change the suite of commands available during fights. Mid-battle evolution is sort of random, though, so if you want to direct the little critters along a specific path, you can drop into the Evolution Map to see the various branching paths for evolution, and even see what kind of pre-set conditions must be met. These range from having a pre-existing evolved state to running a certain number of steps to being a certain level.

We could see this aspect actually getting rather addictive if the game eases off a little with the random encounters. As it was, we spent about half of the game in battles rather than scooting around, and after we hooked up with Yoshino in a forest level to track down Thomas, we quickly became a little burned out on the battles. Still, we did see some basic puzzle solving involving a couple of switches and of course there was the near-constant element of fighting, leveling up the Digimon and then evolving them when the time came.

What we saw of Digimon Data Squad did a good job of acclimating newcomers to the world, and we're sure fans of the series will eat the game up -- especially if they're looking for a fairly straightforward role-playing game. The final game lands around the middle of next month, and if we happen to come across a final copy, we'll make sure one of our crack freelancers has free run of the game and reports back with a review pronto.