Version tested: DS
- Developer: WayForward Technologies
- Publisher: Warner Brothers
You'd be forgiven for dreading the appearance of the Looney Tunes name nowadays. The heydays of the classic shorts are long gone, characters replaced by pale shadows of their former selves trying to act hip in a world of Family Guy and Naruto. Stick to what you know - the old ones really are the best.
Drawing inspiration from that thought, Duck Amuck takes its cue wholeheartedly from the 1953 cartoon short of the same name in which Daffy Duck becomes aware that he's in a cartoon, tormented by an artist on a drawing board. This time around, though, Daffy knows he's in a DS game and you, the player, get to poke and prod his feathered form to provoke some kind of reaction. In doing so you'll unlock mini-games to play, the success of which contributes towards raising his anger level in order to reach some form of arbitrary ending.
How very meta! Daffy's DS debut is an experience like no other on the handheld. It's a title with some clever ideas, and yet, as a complete package, I can't wholly recommend it.
To explain first, the fun comes in finding the different ways to access each mini-game or animation. At the start it's you, Daffy, and two white screens. Do what you like: slash him with the stylus and you'll cut him in half, starting a game in which you must swipe multiple Daffys off the screen within a time limit. Close the case and he'll start screaming how dark it is. Prod him too many times and he'll walk off and re-enter with a set of paint pots, suggesting you stop messing with him and paint the scenery, thus opening up more games. Even doing nothing eventually produces some comment or other.
Just scratching and tapping away is a pleasure in itself. Daffy's an engaging victim, a self-aggrandiser with a wise-crack for every action. It's all in full speech, too. I've said this before, and perhaps it's not such the mean feat it once was, but it always feels a little special when they get people talking on DS, don't you think? It's arcane grown-up console magic on a tiny little game card. Isn't technology wonderful?
Yet that eagerness to go wild soon dissipates. There are only so many animations and comments that Daffy can muster, and you'll inevitably be done with everything way too quickly. In his role as a glorified screensaver, it isn't long before the exploring and experimenting comes to a halt and Daffy's repeating the same unskippable comments over and over in your search for something new. Thankfully a blatant hint system stops the prospect of finding the few remaining mini-games becoming a chore, and you can instantly access unlocked ones via a menu without going through the animations each time.
But even if you can stomach the brevity, the other problem is that the mini-games themselves are more miss than hit. They aim to be short and sweet Wario Ware affairs, but they're usually too simple, and there's no going back to ramp up the challenge or try for high scores. That may have provided some longevity to the experience, but all you've got beyond the initial flair are special bonus items to look out for around the scenery.
As such, it's a short-lived love affair. Duck Amuck is a title that does its utmost to show (a lot like Rub Rabbits) what the DS can do with all its gimmicks, but it fails to live up to its qualities on the game side. As much as I loved it for the first few hours of play, it outstayed its welcome shortly after. To quote Daffy rather inappropriately, it's dethspicable.
Bomberman Story DS
- Developer: Hudson Soft
- Publisher: Rising Star
Once upon a time Bomberman appeared in a fun, frantic multiplayer arcade-style game. How wonderful it was! Everybody declared it a success. But rough times lay ahead and there was no living happily ever after as far as his evil stepfather was concerned. Old Man Hudson greedily milked his popularity dry with a series of ill-conceived forays into unsuitable genres. Today Bomberman silently weeps at each misguided effort, clinging on desperately to the solid nugget of reputation created by the purity of his first outing. The end.
What a depressing story. Much like iconic stable mate Pac-Man, Bomberman hasn't had much luck expanding beyond the original concept that made his name. The simplicity of the Bomberman experience has kept him as a one-note character, and while the spin-offs are never inherently awful - discounting Act Zero (out of ten) - they've never been a success either. Indeed, this isn't the first time he's been involved in an RPG of dubious quality, yet Hudson still keeps trying to shoehorn him into genres such as this in order to exploit the cachet of his name.
The main body of Story is a single-player dungeon crawler across various terrains interspersed with the occasional stylus-controlled mini-game (mini-games? Fancy that!). Bombs, naturally, are the one and only means of attack, and setting off one or more can blow up enemies and earn you experience points. Stat-juggling is minimal, and levelling up happens automatically, upgrading firepower, speed and bomb capacity after the requisite XP has been accumulated.
Given that there's no choice not to, such an imprecise method of dispatching enemies isn't particularly fun. As the baddies wander back and forth, all you can do is drop or throw a bomb and wait for it to explode, ideally knocking it into its body in order to stun it and stop it walking away from the blast. That second or two until detonation soon gets tedious, slowing the game down way too much. Add that to the endless destruction of item blocks and barriers, and the whole thing's a slog that would have been over twice as quick with a good old shooter. Imagine an inferior Zelda where all you ever got were bombs. Set. Pause. Explode. Repeat. If only it were faster-paced. Sadly the weak, simple story and level design can't make up for the wait.
Thankfully, inevitably, original Bomberman is here to back up this mediocre RPG and ensure it won't ever score less than a 5, much like its appearance in the last couple of DS titles. It's as great as ever, supporting up to eight players on a single cart or four over Wi-Fi. There are worldwide ranked matches to participate in, or Friend Codes can be entered for specific encounters. Different arenas and modes allow for a variety of game-types to cycle around but the core element of chaotic battling remains. In short, it holds the right blend of luck and skill to appeal to anyone, especially a group of chums - even if being first one out and waiting for everyone else to finish is always dispiriting. Happens to us all, though.
Then again, for all its excellence, you're getting the same experience here as you are in the previously released mini-game fest Bomberman Land Touch!, its upcoming sequel or the countless other Bomberman games they'll probably be releasing in the coming years. With that in mind, what bland single-player supplement you want to accompany the multiplayer goodness is entirely up to you.
World Snooker Championship Season 2007-08
- Developer: Blade
- Publisher: Deep Silver
Snooker: an odd game when you think about it. Who on earth came up with those rules? Somebody not very good at it, I reckon: "No, you can't just pot any ball you like. It must be the red. I don't care if the black's hanging over the pocket - you must pot the red! Do you get an extra go if you pot that? Well, um, yes. But I'm putting the pink back on the table! It's only fair on me."
Nonetheless, it seems to have stuck. If you can forgive its misguided waistcoat-and-bowtie haughtiness, snooker's one of the most entertaining boring sports to indulge in, especially now that pool tables cost a quid a go (bloody hell, I remember when it was 10p). Yet these days it largely gets ignored in the videogame market. With the mighty match-up of Archer MacLean and Jimmy White a long way behind us, World Snooker Championship is today's only real contender, trotting along contentedly in a one-horse race.
Its debut on DS plays pretty much as a snooker game should, although even though the stylus looks an awfully lot like a cue, the game doesn't quite necessitate adopting a snooker stance with it to hit the ball. Shots are instead made by sliding the stick back and forth, vertically translating speed of strike into power (the lazier gamer can push A). It's a little more tactile on the handheld, though no better or worse than the console control method.
Aiming duties are also assigned to the touch-screen. Dragging the stylus over the baize adjusts aim and a dot on the cue ball can be moved for spin and angle. Being such a small screen, however, it's difficult to be precise without a lot of faff, even with the aim assist. Miss a pot and leave the table wide open and you'll usually suffer the indignity of the AI player soaring ahead as you watch morosely. Then again, that's snooker for you.
A friendly mode and a number of similar tournaments topped with John Virgo's dry commentary make up the package, though you won't find much to differentiate between each game beyond which licensed name you play. Oddly, for those who want to develop or have an intuition for the game, I couldn't find any way to turn off the aim-assist in competition matches, only in a friendly. It seems a bit of a silly exclusion.
More of a concern is that there's no wireless multiplayer. If you want to play a game with someone else, you have to swap the DS back and forth on each go. They've really missed a trick(shot) with that one. Indeed, there's no valid excuse for why it couldn't have been done, though it certainly does convey the fact that snooker is a lot of sitting around doing nothing on occasion. With those flaws in place, WSC is a competent game of snooker, granted, yet it could have been so much more. Next year, eh, chaps?
- Developer: Scholastic
- Publisher: Transposia
James sat slumped at his desk. His head was in his hands.
"Oh, God," he groaned. "I've got a game to review for this DS roundup that nobody cares about one jot, and I've got to think up something clever and incisive to say about it. What am I going to do?"
In those small, night-time hours, he cast his bloodshot eyes towards the game card on the desk. There it was. A mockery of the mini-game format that had bolstered the DS's success before the ugly realities of saturation set in. Mini-games! Why was it always mini-games? [Does this improve? - Ed]
He hadn't even heard of the I-Spy books, but a quick browse of Wikipedia, the reviewer's friend, told him all he needed to know. They contained cluttered, whimsical pictures in which the reader had to find certain hidden objects. Surely... surely that couldn't be what the DS game was all about.
He sighed. It had been just that: six static images and a command to find things within, prodding at them with your stylus upon discovery. What witty insight could he give to that? He sighed once more, before a sudden thought occurred.
"Funhouse? Bumhouse, more like!" he typed, leaning back with a chortle. That should please that unkempt Eurogamer rabble.
He wondered if he should mention how there were a couple of other mini-games in there. There was a match-the-object game of minor interest, another boring block-matching game and a Simon-Says-style one. But what was the point? Nobody cared about yet another shovelware DS game like this cluttering up the shelves. "Why don't you all just buy the books instead if you're so interested?" he thought. But nobody was. His only concern right now was to think up some decisive way to conclude this review and get some sleep. After a long pause, it came to him at last.
"I spy with my little eye, something beginning with 'T O O T'."
My Animal Centre In Australia
- Developer: Wizarbox
- Publisher: BrainGame
Bright pink colours border the game's box. A pretty girl holding a happy, bandaged koala smiles out at us. A Joey peeks playfully from his mother's pouch. A dolphin and seal play in the background. Eyes track to the right side of the picture. Eyes do a double take. There lies the unsettling image of a blank-eyed kangaroo embracing an all-too ecstatic dolphin from behind.
Unless I've grossly misread the situation, I think the message here is that in the absence of stimulating activity, we have to make our own entertainment. Not that there's any inter-species loving in this game. There is, however, a lack of stimulating activity. By which, if I can successfully dig myself out this hole, I mean that as a vet tending to animals Down Under (and usually down under as far as medical examinations are concerned), there's not that much variety in My Animal Centre.
There are six different kinds of animals to attend to, each handled in almost exactly the same way. They come in for diagnosis in your outback surgery, which involves selecting an instrument and pressing circles on the touch-screen at random until the correct problem is found. The really sick animals stay and you tend to their 'need' bars, ala The Sims, in order to keep them happy and healthy. If you get them through the requisite rest period, you'll earn money to spend on new equipment and upgrades.
Those koalas and wombats may look cute. Trouble is, instead of feeling like you're caring for the animals, it's the status bars that get all your attention. As long as they're filled, your day's work is done, so you find yourself mechanically topping them up as the game demands with the same monotonous but simple tasks of petting and feeding every time. They might as well have put lumps of rock in the cages such is the engagement felt. When that's done, tending to each sick animal takes such a short time out of your virtual day, you then spend the majority of it tucked in bed for hours on end, forcing time to pass quicker as there's literally nothing else to do.
Your progress is rewarded with upgrades to your home and surgery, but you don't get to choose where things go. Objects you purchase are placed where the game says so. A bit of choice in designing your own practice wouldn't have gone amiss.
It's less that the game needs more challenge given its intended audience of young girls; it just needs more to do. It takes no time at all to get bored of the same old thing and you'll have to make your own fun. Now, if there was a mini-game in which you had to try to avert your wombat's gaze from an alluring duck-billed platypus we might have been in a less indifferent mood about it all.