They say that the best things in life are free. Who are ‘they’ exactly? Well, no one knows for sure, but the saying holds true in Photo Dojo for the DSi Ware service. It's a game that places you (literally) in the ring against your friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you ever wanted to smack in the face. So does this freebie stand with the big boys, or does its price reflect its worth?
On paper, Photo Dojo is a straightforward fighting game similar to the ‘beat 'em up’ games of the early 90s, like Double Dragon or Streets Of Rage. That covers the ‘Dojo’ part of the title, but it’s the ‘Photo’ that truly makes Photo Dojo a unique gaming experience that can only be found on the Nintendo DSi. By using the DSi’s built in camera you can take pictures of yourself or a friend in several fighting and taunting poses and then upload them into the game to battle each other with. Not only that but you will also be responsible for your own sound effects and dialogue which, along with the poses, can lead to some hilarious moments, especially when you launch a patented potato salad fireball at your own mother. That was great.
Once you have created your fighter it’s time to step into the ring against other fighters (or yourself, if you couldn’t find anyone to snap pictures with). In the single player mode you take on waves after waves of photographed fighters in an effort to raise your high score. The controls pay homage to the games classics roots; you move with the D-pad and attack with the face buttons, in the same vein as those 90s fighting games. It’s a classic gameplay formula that fits perfectly with Photo Dojo’s style, but it’s also a very light experience, and it would have been great to have had more single player modes included (time attack, for example), simply to help round out the overall experience.
The game also comes with a two player mode that plays more like a classic 2D fighter like Mortal Kombat, where you and your opponent beat up on each other until your life bar reaches zero. It’s this multiplayer mode that will be the focus of most of your playtime. The great fun of Photo Dojo is found when you show off your creation to a friend and have them show off theirs. It’s just unfortunate that both players have to share a DSi system (player 1 on the D-pad and ‘L’, player 2 on the face buttons and ‘R’) to experience this mode, and while it’s easy to see why Nintendo did not include online multiplayer (and you thought Chat Roulette was bad), it’s a mystery why they didn’t take advantage of the DSi’s local wireless capabilities to handle the multiplayer.
The presentation elements in Photo Dojo are solely the responsibility of the gamer. From the looks of your fighter, to the backgrounds, right down to the sound effects; you are in charge of how Photo Dojo looks and sounds (with the exception of background music). For the most part the cameras do a good job of capturing the various poses as long as you are in a well enough lit area, however every picture you take will be surrounded by a ‘halo’ of your surroundings, this is due to the cameras limited cropping abilities and sadly can't be removed. Also, while it is possible to take all of the pictures yourself using the DSi’s interior camera and a timed shutter, it is highly recommended you get someone to help you take the photos for best results.
From launch to June 11th 2010 Photo Dojo is a free download on the DSi Ware, after which it goes up to the measly price of 200 DSi Points, which is a ridiculously small amount to pay for a game this fun. But be warned - Photo Dojo is all about the experience and hilarity of putting yourself in a game along with your own catchphrases, but if you go in expecting a serious fighting game with deep controls and game mechanics then look elsewhere.
Ever since the launch of the DSi Ware service it has been criticised for not offering enough quality software, and games that were worth playing were usually overpriced when compared to their downloadable cousins on WiiWare. Well, both those complaints can be silenced now. The service may well have received its first killer app. in Photo Dojo, and while some control issues and the limited gameplay modes do hold it back somewhat, it’s a small price to pay for a game this unique and fun.