National Geographic Panda is an interesting endeavor – it balances a pet simulation which also tries to teach players about pandas. And, luckily, it manages to have educational elements without being too overbearing. So, its more like playing with cute baby pandas while every day learning interesting new panda facts.
It is also a game that requires patience. You are given an allowance each day to take care of your one to four pandas, and don’t have any means to earn extra money throughout the day. Instead, the goal is to enjoy watching, playing with, taking care of and teaching the pandas, occasionally saving up to purchase more food, toys and environment extras.
The game begins with a very rigid, but short, tutorial introducing you to basic panda care and controls. You meet your first panda in the panda house (mine was a little baby girl I named Popo), where you wake and name it. After that, feed the baby its first meal of bamboo and it eats it in an adorable manner. You then get to go outside and play with the panda, and you help it learn its very first trick (a somersault). At this point, the game lets go of your hand and lets you play with the panda however you want.
I’d go so far as to say that National Geographic Panda is a more quality pet simulation title – more on par with Nintendogs or Yume Neko DS rather than one of the many Petz or off brand pet simulations. The graphics are detailed, the environments are realistic and the pandas have very realistic animations and personalities. Like Nintendogs, it is a pet sim where you could just leave it running, watching the adorable antics of the virtual creatures.
I found myself oohing and aahing over the adorable pandas in the game. They’ll yawn adorably, frolick together, fall on their backs in ecstasy if you pet them and just be incredibly cute. Its very endearing and even relaxing to interact with these virtual pets.
It does require quite a bit of patience. I’d guess it would take at least a month to really purchase and gain access to extra pandas, items, skills and environments. Only one National Geographic article unlocks each day, with 24 total, you have to make a commitment and stop by to unlock the articles.
On top of all that, there are special points that can be earned when you buy things in the shops, and these collected points can be used to buy extra special items for your pandas to play with or wear.
Plus, you only get a certain amount of money each day, and much of that can go toward purchasing food for your pandas. Your allowance does increase as you spend more time with the animals and continue playing, but the game can get a bit slow without a means to interact with and earn money with the pandas throughout the day.
So National Geographic Panda is very well executed and incredibly cute, but also somewhat slow. You have to be willing to really invest time in this DS title, stopping by every day for a few minutes, and take care of your virtual pandas if you want to reap the most rewards and learn as much as you can from the game.
Images courtesy of Namco Bandai Games.