(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played, and our site score also reflects the state of the game at that time. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)
KOTOMON (Out Now, $2.99 Release Sale) is out looking for fun and there isn’t a bowling alley in sight. When your world is filled with line-dancing enemies, the next best option is to gather up round little creatures, cha-cha-cha your way over and start hurling away!
KOTOMON’s game mechanics sound rock solid and pretty darn refreshing on paper. Like a mix of Pokémon, a bowling sim and a third person shooter, it has you scouring its landscapes for monsters to hatch and then rolling them to knock down scores of distant enemies. The beauty of using little critters as ammo is that you have to care for them — as long as they’re healthy they’ll dutifully return to your roving conga line for another throw, but if they get knocked out while they’re walking around you’ll have to brave enemy fire to prop them back up. As you add more monsters to Kotomon’s following you’ll find that they have a range of effects when held or lobbed, so once the game gets up to full speed you’ll be switching them in and out to find the perfect five-monster team. The fact that our quirky hero moves to the sound of maracas and all other beings in this world are constantly doing a little jig adds some hilarious spice to the whole package.
Just the sound of it has me salivating again, so there’s no doubt in my mind the formula was worth a try. Something went tragically awry in implementation, however. One of the bedrock elements in a free roaming, third-person shooter – or any action game with a 360⁰playing field – is a camera that follows over the player character’s shoulder. Instead of doing that, KOTOMON fixes your view to just a sliver of its wide battlefields, meaning you can see maybe a third of everything you might need to.
The repercussions run deep. KOTOMON tries for a simple one-tap aiming system, where Kotomon tosses whatever monster he’s holding directly ahead of him — but there’s no point in this when Kotomon’s line of sight doesn’t match the player’s. If you’ve passed up an alcove packed with enemies and find yourself completely flanked, you can’t effectively target them because you can’t see them even if you’ve skillfully turned Kotomon to confront the sudden threat; you have to laboriously reposition to get those enemies in view. And when Kotomon and the player are facing the same direction, it seems that targeting wherever the player taps would be so much more efficient. It’s thanks to an heroic homing function once monsters are launched that the game is basically playable at release.
There’s also how difficult it is to keep track of your pet monsters. The lot of them love to spread out and eat little energy pellets strewn over the land and that means they’re quickly out of sight. A little “Help!” message appears along the screen edge to guide you when they get knocked down, but it’s the landscape that’s most threatening. Levels pockmarked with lava pits are the biggest offenders — here you’ll get sudden Game Overs as the poor critters slip into the drink well out of view. At a very minimum, the game screams for a call button that summons the monsters back to Kotomon in updates. Not only would this make it far easier to do an effective head count and keep the little chicks in line, but it could serve a useful gameplay purpose: they are Kotomon’s only shielding in a firefight.
Finally, we come to the drifting virtual joystick. KOTOMON reminds me why I have such a strong bias against these: I found my thumb inevitably migrating somewhere that blocked the action, try as I might to plop the joystick as far down on the touchscreen as possible. Add a stationary virtual joystick option to my wish list for updates!
Suffice it to say KOTOMON needs an overhaul, but it’s an overhaul I’m enthusiastically awaiting. Even in its present state the game enjoys moments of brilliance. When you’re making a long approach toward a throng of hardened enemies and have time to reflect on what a huge battle is in store, KOTOMON feels like the delicious hellpsawn of Teletubbies and DOOM — and that’s something I can totally get behind. The game’s soundtrack is an interesting exercise in minimalism, the music essentially procedurally generated by the onscreen action as sound effects take over.
iFanzine Verdict: KOTOMON should have been a refreshing monster collection/shooter mashup but suffers critical failures in its camera and aiming systems. We’re looking forward to updates that give this one the playability the game mechanics deserve.
Addendum: Version 1.1 makes the monsters avoid lava pits and improves monster handling.