Version tested: DS
- Developer: Arkedo Studios
- Publisher: Eidos
Let's tackle that name, for starters. How they must have chortled and left for an early lunch when they came up with that. This is a game with bricks in it, yes. It's an Arkanoid clone (or Breakout if you want to be retro-pedantic), dressed up in new clothes. Nervous, though? Nope. That's as far as the ill-fitting pun gets
Title criticism aside, there are nine different variations on the theme of batting balls at bricks to make them disappear. One puts the emphasis on speed, for instance, testing your reactions; another removes gravity from the ball, forcing you to hit it with force to gain height; and another asks you to switch paddles to match the colour of the incoming ball. Nine levels of each precede a boss battle.
Some levels are pretty easy, some are frustratingly hard. Given the nature of the two screens, and the occasional fast-moving ball, we sometimes wish that the gap that separates the two halves of the board wasn't quite so large. It often makes lining up a shot a little, how would you say, imprecise.
Yet, we'll forgive it some of its shortcomings as each world has its own distinct bright and colourful visual style, even if the chunkiness does hinder play sometimes. Overall presentation is somewhere between the kitsch graphics of Rub Rabbits and the stylishness of the GBA's bit Generations. This is a good thing, as beneath it all it's still just Arkanoid. It's still just that game where you can't seem to hit that last brick in the top right corner no matter what angle you hit the ball. It's a game relegated nowadays to mini-games in bigger budget titles, or as shareware projects for bedroom programmers.
Not to say that this isn't a nice distraction; it's a fine showcase for some good ideas, doing for Arkanoid what Flipnic did for pinball. But its novelty value doesn't make it a game you'll come back to for long, though.
Full Metal Alchemist: Dual Sympathy
- Developer: Bandai
- Publisher: Empire
Oh, is it time for more wide-eyed shouty-boy action already? Dual Sympathy is the new DS iteration of the popular Japanese comic and animated series Full Metal Alchemist, a fantasy tale set in early twentieth century Europe about a boy and his brother using the power of alchemy to save family and friends. Their epic story touches upon such heartfelt emotions as loss, responsibility, guilt, and sacrifice, played out in the midst of deeper social topics like religion, terrorism and war (with plenty of wide-eyed shouty-boy action, of course). Every reason indeed to turn this game into a scrolling beat 'em up.
And not a very sophisticated one at that. Two buttons do all the work - punch and jump - with a special attack and a shield-stroke-stepping stone operated via the touch screen. It does throw in the occasional simple obstacle to overcome with your powers, but most of the game can be got through pretty quickly by punching.
That time spent in battle is relatively short compared to the time spent in cut-scenes. Displaying stills from the anime and the occasional sentence of speech allows the game to put battles into context. Coming in cold, however, it's nigh-on incomprehensible, either through poor translation, or more likely the fact that it tries to compress dozens of plot threads and characters into short info bursts. One for the fans, then, and even then only the ones who've watched everything as spoilers abound.
Completing the main single player game does allow further characters to be unlocked in order to view a sliver of a different cut-scene, yet they don't really add any significant difference to how you play. Worst of all, it's missing any multiplayer option, as fighting along with a friend might have added a little bit more enjoyment. Obligatory mini-games don't really make up for it, making this a brawler that's more a nod to easily pleased fans than an essential purchase.
- Developer: Shin'en
- Publisher: The Game Factory
Another game based on a cartoon our aging adult minds have never heard of. It's a CG-animated kids' TV series from the US, this time converted into a puzzle game. It's your bog-standard top-down maze push the switches, move the blocks, collect x of y to open the exit sort of puzzler.
Each of the five aliens you control has its own unique abilities: one can bash, one can move boxes, and so on. Switching between them at prescribed points allows everyone to work together to figure out each of the short levels. You know the drill. There's absolutely nothing here you haven't seen a dozen times before.
The trouble is, it's a little too easy, even for a game aimed at children. Puzzles never get beyond the tutorial level, lacking any fiendish designs in the later stages, meaning even the most cack-handed will complete this in a fistful of hours. Only a timed mode and some pretty poor mini-games are your reward, otherwise you probably won't go back. Pet Alien may provide a starting point for anyone unfamiliar with this genre, but that's as much praise as we can pin on it when there are other, better games of this type to cut your teeth on.
Drawn To Life
- Developer: 5th Cell
- Publisher: THQ
A game in which you get to design your hero and his environment sounds like a great idea, but, hang on, if the game turns out to be bad, does that mean we've only got ourselves to blame? Better give it a ten, then.
Certainly it's an intriguing premise, designing our own character to guide through this platform adventure. In theory, at least; the Microsoft Paint style interface is versatile enough, although stylus input is often too imprecise to make something worthwhile without a lot of effort. Also, unlike the PS2's Magic Pengel and Graffiti Kingdom, to which this bears a spiritual resemblance, no attributes are attached to how you draw something. Realising your artistic skills haven't evolved since primary school (as my long-necked, sausage-handed avatar will testify) isn't too much of a problem as everything is confined to set boxes. It's often more a case of colouring in as much as it is drawing.
And, yes, you can fill your world with crudely-drawn genitalia, God bless.
The RPG parts take place in a hub village of cutesy animals viewed from an overhead perspective. They're relying on you as the Godlike creator to step into the wild to seek out the missing pages of their magic book and rescue trapped villagers. Heading off on these missions leads to the game's 2D levels, tackled with gusto by your noble hero / walking penis.
Unfortunately, the worthwhile drawing concept is let down by some rather ropey platforming action. Levels are somewhat uninspired, reminding us of the doldrums of the Amiga era. Jumping feels too floaty, and shooting imprecise. More irritating, you can't save mid-way through the longish levels. The action becomes something to push through to follow the story rather than to enjoy in its own right, and even jumping on a pair of wonky breasts doesn't improve it.
It's a bit of a shame because, as said, it's conceptually a good idea that at least encourages some form of creativity. If they had found a way to improve the platforming, or just focused solely on the RPG adventure parts, we could have been looking at something a lot better.
Prism: Light the Way
- Developer: Morpheme
- Publisher: Eidos
There are 'mindless' puzzle games that anyone can get a grip on, like Tetris, and then there are the logical puzzle games like Armadillo Run which need a doctorate to play. This is one of the latter. Reflecting a beam of light at a set point is fair enough. Adding a handful of mirrors, two-way splitters and the titular prism - an object that separates your white beam into three different colours - and then asking you to hit several points at once, is another matter entirely. A third of the way into the game our heads started to hurt from sudden overuse.
The light reflecting concept is well-established, so if you're one for tricky logic puzzles, there's enough here to keep you satisfied: a main 120 puzzle quest, not to mention two-player challenges and an infinite mode which randomly generates grids to solve.
This was originally a mobile phone game, however, which goes some way to explain why the graphics are pretty poor. The play area is squashed into the corner somewhat, and the backgrounds appear more functional than charming. Ease of using the touch-screen aside, it's something we'd prefer to flick to on the mobile while on the bus rather than dedicate the DS slot to. Nevertheless, it fulfils its puzzling duties.