Since the introduction of Nintendogs, pet simulation games have become a dime a dozen on the Nintendo DS. Namco Bandai takes the idea one step further with National Geographic: Panda. While the main goal of the game has players taking care of pet pandas and watching them grow and learn, the National Geographic branding adds a layer of depth which generally lacks from the genre.
What differentiates this title from others like it is the educational content it offers players. Gradually revealed through play are over 20 National Geographic articles on pandas which teach players about things like the history of the study of pandas and their natural habitats. Read More...
When starting the game, players will be presented with a single panda, which they must name. The cute and cuddly creature spends its time hanging around its Panda House, or playing in the Panda Park. After a few days, a Panda Hill will also become available where your panda will be able to play and explore.
Through playing with your panda you will teach it new tricks like climbing up a tree, doing a summersault, using a slide or learning to balance on a ball. An exclamation mark will appear in the corner of your DS screen when a panda is about to learn a new trick. Touch the panda with your stylus to guide it through this new trick. You can touch the exclamation mark to find out exactly what this new trick is.
You will need to check your panda’s status every once in a while to see if it is hungry or thirsty. This information is found in the home menu by pressing the question mark next to your panda’s name. There you can also find out how many hours and days you have spent together.
In order to feed your panda, you will need to purchase supplies at the general store through a daily allowance. The money is also used to buy toys and clothing accessories for your panda. There is no way to make additional money in a day, so you must be careful in choosing how you spend it. However, as you advance in the game more pandas will join your group, each increasing your daily allowance.
In my case it took four days of playing - roughly one real-time week - before a new panda was introduced. A total of four pandas will eventually call your Panda House a home. They will interact with each other, like when playing on the seesaw and will even teach each other certain tricks. After 10 days of playing a third panda came along. I have yet to meet the fourth.
Every day you play the game, one of the 24 included National Geographic articles on pandas will become unlocked for you to read. In these lie a ton of educational information on the life of pandas, their habits in the wild, their breeding routines and more. I didn’t initially see how to access the articles - they are only accessible by tapping with your stylus on what looks like a National Geographic poster on the wall of your Panda House.
The game’s production values are good, with excellent panda animations and fur-mapping effects. Aside from the colours being a little bland and a couple of camera issues which led the pandas to float in the air or disappear from the screen, the graphics are average for a 3D DS title.
The sound design is excellent, with a number of panda sounds playing when it does certain things, like eating and playing. Soft melodies are also included which are well suited for the game and can also be accessed through the options menu.
When it comes to gameplay, National Geographic: Panda feels a little light. Once you have gone through the routine of playing, feeding, grooming your pandas and reading the day’s chapter a few times, the pattern becomes redundant. It may have been interesting to include mini-games to play with your pandas, or a larger variety of chores. That being said, it is easy to pick up the game for a couple of minutes daily, making it a good pastime on short bus trips for example.
National Geographic: Panda is a nice simple game, which I would mostly recommend to younger gamers or to specific fans of the cuddly creatures. Though it feels a bit shallow, the game has very good production values and unique educational content making it stand out against other games in the same genre. As a bonus, a DVD version of the 1995 film Secrets of the Wild Panda is included.
+ Good production values
+ Detailed educational content including bonus DVD
+ Pandas are adorable
- A bit redundant
Game Forward score: 3/5
Nathalie Caron > Game Forward
National Geographic Panda (DS) Quick Facts:
Developer: Namco Bandai
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Price: $29.99 US/CAN
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)