A few years ago when Doshin the Giant was announced for the N64, I was intrigued. Nintendo does a god game, what could possibly go wrong? Well, putting it on the 64DD was one thing, and then only releasing the GameCube version in Japan and Europe was another. Thankfully, with a little Freeloader help, I finally get to indulge my curiosity and see how it all turned out. Short version- I liked it, and sometimes even loved it.
The central gameplay is that you are Doshin, a large yellow giant wandering a tropical island and helping the natives build up their culture by a few simple action- raising and lowering the ground and carrying stuff around. You can also turn into an evil version of Doshin called Jashin, who is red with little wings that are great for gliding from place to place. Of course, being evil and all, the villagers are terrified of this form, so it's best not to bring it out if you're trying to keep them happy. Still, in addition to flight Jashin does have a ground slam and a fireball, each of which are useful in various situations, so the villagers are just going to have live with it when the need for Jashin arrives.
The gameplay session of Doshin is set up differently from most other games. Each "game" is a day, and a gameplay day lasts a real world 30 minutes. The sun rises, the morning mists clear away, the villagers go about building things. They take a break at lunch and another at dinner, and then Doshin slows down as the sun sets, and stops while your followers swarm around your feet, waving. The next game of Doshin will pick up with everything you've done the previous game still there, but you're a new giant set back to your original height.
Height is important to a giant. The taller you are, the more you can do. Moving across the island becomes easier, you can lift heavier and heavier objects, and raising and lowering ground is faster. Unfortunately, the camera is in a fixed position from Doshin so it's not unusual for the end of the day arrive and you can only see yourself from the elbows down, and seeing as you only take up a third of the screen when the day begins that's pretty impressive. It actually works very well in presenting the downside of being a giant- it's a fragile world that's very easy to break, and your tribesmen are one of the things you can stomp if you aren't careful. One of the cooler things about Doshin is that his size is effected not by the good deeds he does but rather by the emotional reaction of the islanders. Do a good deed, get a heart or two to fill up the gauge running around the screen. Squish somebody, break a building, get a skull. Hearts run clockwise around the screen, skulls run counterclockwise, and when one or the other fills up the gauge you grow. It's an interesting system, but you really only progress in the game by being good.
Being good means fulfilling the villagers' desires. Raise and lower ground to give them a flat surface to build on, bring trees around so they have green areas to support life, tend to the odd disaster, and pretty soon you'll get a full sized village that's built you a monument. If you've been a nice giant they build you the nice version, if you've been evil you get the evil version, and the game doesn't reward or penalize you for either one you get. The monuments, from a game progression standpoint, are the point of the villages. There are 15 kinds to get, and an extra 16th one to complete the game. Thankfully once a monument's been built it's recorded forever, so you don't have to be nurturing 16 different villages at the end of the game.
There are games in the world that require skill, precision, inhuman reflexes, and a desire for utter mastery of every game play nuance. Doshin isn't one of them, in fact it's more like a tropical vacation. It's a relaxing game to play, and the breaking up of the play sessions into half-hour chunks means that there's almost always time for at least one round. I really enjoyed my time in Doshin, it had enough action that I didn't feel I was only an observer and yet it was still rewarding to guide the tribes to newer and more advanced cultures. Also, though it seems that Doshin's skill set is limited, I found myself constantly doing something, whether it was growing new trees, manipulating a village's opinion of me, starting a new village and dealing with all their requests, or just taking in the sights and watching my little tribesmen go about their business. I will admit that by the time I got the last monument or two I was beginning to feel done with the game, but I can honestly say that the game's charm never wore off entirely.
Which isn't to say that Doshin doesn't have its faults. Though the graphics have been cleaned up since its 64DD debut, they'll never be pushing the GameCube to its limits. The odd bit of polygon dropout happens on hills when you get far away, leaving small holes in the mountains. Sound effects are serviceable, and possibly annoying in places, especially something that I'm pretty sure is supposed to be the screeching of birds. Probably. The soundtrack is adequate, although in a nice touch you only get music when you're in a village, and it's loudest at the town square. One of the stranger glitches in the game is that you can frequently get fish on the land, dropped by birds who are supposed to be feeding on them but can't seem to hold on, leading to a fish flopping on the edge of a mountain. Another strange effect is that trees grow just fine underwater. Who knew?
Doshin the Giant is a hard game to classify. I really enjoyed my time as a big yellow giant, and the Nintendo charm was working throughout the game, always presenting me with some little detail to enjoy. On the other hand it does have its flaws and I was beginning to feel the repetition at the end. It's a low-budget art house game, with ideas and charm slightly beyond its ability to present them and the odd cut corner showing through. I completely enjoyed the relaxed pace, the charm of the villagers, and the joy of watching and helping the small tribes grow into bustling settlements. If any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you I'd recommend getting to your nearest European game importer and snagging a copy. I know I'm glad I did.
· · · James