As a diehard fan of games where you play as a child who is not old enough to enter sixth grade, but is somehow allowed to travel the world with multiple fire-breathing monster friends, I hear "Well, it's just a Pokemon rip-off" a lot. But usually, that claim is pretty unwarranted. No matter how much their concepts resemble the tried and true formula of Pokemon sometimes, stuff like Digimon, Monster Rancher and Yo-kai Watch each run on their own specific energies. Digimon is charmingly sci-fi oriented and complex, Monster Rancher requires a certain brand of joyful obsession, and Yo-kai Watch is just straight-up pleasant. If you want a real dumpster fire Pokemon rip-off, play Crystal Monsters, which came out ten years ago tomorrow on July 26, 2010.
It was released for Nintendo DSiWare, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver had just been released, which are perhaps the best video game remakes of all time. And the next year, America would receive Pokemon Black and White, which were underrated at the time of their debut but are now mostly recognized as refreshing, amazing entries in the franchise. So if you're gonna release a Pokemon rip-off that does less than nothing right, any release date would've been better than during this particular renaissance of Pokemon DS gaming.
First of all, the game barely works. I know that "2008 mobile phone game translated into actual handheld console game" would imply a certain amount of ineptitude, but Crystal Monsters flies neck first into whatever bar for quality that you expect for it. The controls lag in a way that seems cruel, and the game's connection to the D-Pad is purely sarcastic. Crystal Monsters isn't really a game that you can become good at. Rather, your success solely depends on how good you are at bottling your frustrations about it. If you don't toss your DSi into traffic, you win.
And while Pokemon presents a delightful assortment of monsters for you to batter and collect, Crystal Monsters presents the opposite. They mostly look alike, with many are just re-colored versions of other ones. And you have to play a little mini-game before they'll join your team, for all those that looked at Pokemon's Pokeball mechanic and thought "This would be way better if it felt unnecessary."
Your quest is to become a great trainer, but you're pretty alone in it. Unlike Pokemon, where shorts-wearing kids pop out of tall grass at every corner to demand respect and then lose terribly to you, Crystal Monsters is remarkably barren of competition. Instead, your primary focus is collecting those aforementioned boring monsters which pop out randomly as you take those steps that you can't adequately control.
However, Crystal Monsters does take advantage of ONE aspect of the DS technology that Pokemon never took time to master: Incorporating pictures into the gameplay. With the DSi's camera, you can take pictures of stuff and then paste them clumsily onto the faces of monsters. If you ever wondered what a Great Value Pikachu would look like as a screeching abomination that wore a skin mask of its master, Crystal Monsters is for you.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for the internet. You can follow him on Twitter!