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Ignore the cumbersome title and all of the dudes in leotards. As offbeat as it seems, The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave is actually not that weird. This downloadable adventure for the 3DS handheld system is actually pretty traditional, sharing a lot in common with some classic Nintendo role-playing games (RPG). In fact, developer Genius Sonority appears to have played up this theme by filling its game with allusions to some popular RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda, Find Mii, Pokémon, and Earthbound.
First, consider how the main (randomly generated) character makes a humorous, self-aware comment when you first enter one of the early dungeons, a forest with wind blowing throughout. He notes how that setup isn’t very original. I’m pretty sure that’s a nod to the similarly themed temple in Zelda: Twilight Princess.
At times, TDM feels like a nice remix of Find Mii I and II (the social, Mii-powered games included in the 3DS). All of three of these titles feature a conga line of warriors who go around beating up bad guys. The color of each team member’s outfit determines what kind of magic spell he can cast. And all the heroes have that whole, “Mii avatar in simple clothes” look.
Your party in Find Mii typically consists of computer-controlled avatars that migrate over from other 3DS owners who pass by. The Denpa Men, on the other hand, are basically Teletubby-looking creatures with goofy facial expressions. You find them by using the 3DS camera, looking at the real world around you, and finding these would-be warriors superimposed on your screen. Every real-life location supposedly offers different augmented-reality Denpa Men for you to recruit (see the trailer below).
With this in mind, both TDM and Find Mii encourage players to take their 3DSes around town to get the proper experience. This type of social interaction is something Nintendo has definitely promoted in recent years.
Moving on, what look at the Big-N’s portable role-playing games would be complete without one of its most valuable franchises? The way you fight enemies in TDM, by taking advantage of each unit’s elemental strengths and weaknesses, should be very familiar to any Pokémon fan. The player needs to catch a variety of Denpa Men in order to assemble a well-balanced team, and occasionally a rare shiny one shows up, too. Sound familiar?
Finally, I’d like to point out the most obvious (for me, at least) Nintendo-RPG connection: Earthbound. TDM has a very similar vibe to that Super Nintendo-era cult classic that extends past their overall quirky personalities. In fact, I picked up on it within minutes of trying out the 3DS eShop demo. I confirmed my suspicions when I read that Genius Sonority employs former members of Creatures Inc. (formerly Ape Inc.), the team who worked on Earthbound.
To me, the references are all in the details. In both titles, the enemies are visible on the field, and sneaking up on them gives you a chance for a preemptive strike. The battle screens are from the first-person perspective (which is arguably a Dragon Quest aesthetic, but still). TDM’s “dwarf” people speak in broken English, much like Earthbound’s Mr. Saturn creatures, and they all have tan complexions and exaggerated noses.
I also hear strong audio similarities in the music styles, funky synthesizers, and drum samples … but that might be a little harder to prove. From my research, it doesn’t seem like any of the composers from Earthbound are part of Basiscape, the music production company responsible for TDM’s soundtrack. But who knows whether or not that team of musicians considered Genius Sorority’s development history when creating the music.
Both games do, however, have an option for automatic fighting in their turn-based battles. Instead of picking each character's moves, you can just select that feature to let the computer take care of the strategy and heavy button-pressing elements.
Lastly, I see a fun tie to Mother 3 (the Japan-only sequel to Earthbound, aka Mother 2) where the enemies are mainly silly animal hybrids.
All of these homages don’t detract from The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave, though; they strengthen it. If people can look past the unconventional name and characters, they’ll find a straightforward and sweet quest that brings with it plenty of the charm of Nintendo’s cherished RPG history.