THQ's Ping Pals
is a baffling concept. It's apparently been made to one-up what's already included in every single Nintendo DS system. And though it's a slight upgrade to Nintendo's offering, it doesn't do anything to convince anyone that this is the better instant messaging program for DS owners to adopt. And even with the additional features it doesn't make it a better product.
Ping Pals is a pay-for-play local Instant Message program for a system that already gives 100% of the market that ability for free. The unique spin in THQ's product is the reward structure for actually chatting in the program. By using the software and typing messages back and forth between users, chatters can acquire credits which can then be used to buy items to personalize their chatting experience. Face parts, background artwork, and sound effects can "purchased" to customize the chat options, which, when compared to what PictoChat offers, is a far more elaborate instant messaging experience. The internal clock comes into play by rewarding users with money and access to rare items in the shop. But when you've already got a program for free that everyone's using, it's hard to convince a community to "upgrade" to one that simply allows for custom avatars, backgrounds and text colors.
Ping Pals does offer a few elements for users, namely single player chat sessions to give them the impression they're chatting with a close buddy...even when there's no one on the other end of the network. The program recognizes "Yes" and "No" entries, and the "Artificial Intelligent" chatters will continue to talk to you depending on the response. There's also a couple of chat-style mini-games, including a "Family Feud" challenge where players must guess the ten top foods, things on the beach, or other survey questions. For multiple players, you've got a Pictionary-style mini-game as well as a "Hot Potato" goof-around where players send a bomb back and forth between each other.
But the interface can't compare to the simplicity of what PictoChat already offers. In Ping Pals, the available chat space per message is significantly smaller than PictoChat, which means tinier pictures per message sent. Chatters can't freely combine chatting and drawing in one message, either. And even with the customization that this program offers, the freedom of choice may actually hinder the chat session since certain text colors are absolutely illegible on custom backgrounds. And what's the point of a text chat session when someone has to shout "I can't read your text!" halfway across the room?
Granted, Ping Pals does offer a downloadable version of the software for cartridge-free players, and if the owner of the cartridge could transmit the program at any time this feature might have been worth it. But as it is, the owners of the cartridge must kick out of a chat session in order to transmit the software to the system, which will kill the chat room if that system was hosting the session. The only upside to the download is that cartridge-free systems can retain the program in memory for as long as they don't turn off their system. But that's a very small upside.
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