The DS' touch screen and microphone abilities have given developers ample opportunity to innovate. But for every genre-busting use of these features, there's a Tao's Adventure. The only thing worse than this turn-based RPG's inhumanly counterproductive interface is the total lack of anything remotely fresh, or hell, even fun.
In order to do virtually anything in this game, you have to tap a field of small, just slightly legible text on the touch screen. You can't end a conversation, search an area or pick up an item without taking your attention away from the gameplay. Your eyes are forced to slide down to the bland, eye-straining menus more than anything else in this quest. And it's not like the actual adventure is worth the trouble.
Apparently, all it takes to save the world this time around is to climb the evil-encasing Demon Tower, floor by floor, and throw spells at the various monsters inside. Tao uses "air casting" to sling such magic, and to you that means literally crafting symbols with the stylus. By drawing the proper shape, you summon the appropriate, elemental magical effect. Drawing a "V," for example, casts Bound, a spell that can teleport you from place to place. That one touch of cool interactivity is buried deep below the rest of the game's horrific interface.
To capitalize on the why-won't-it-stop popularity of monster collecting, Tao has you catching critters and putting them into battle. But simply finding and using the creature is a perfect example of how unintuitive the game is. Once you get a monster egg, you have to leave the tower to get it checked out by the contrived villagers who're busy waiting for you to save them. Then you have to bring the egg back to the tower to hatch the damn thing and, if you want to, trade monsters with friends through some local wireless action.
The whole plan comes apart when it takes three tries of tapping "Use Magic" to cast an exit spell. And if you were clinging to some hope that maybe the DS' buttons could work around the laughably bad interface, oh no - the buttons do nothing at all. Not one thing. You move Tao with the D-pad while the other buttons glare at you, curiously wondering why they're being totally ignored.