Obviously, this is a little late for your stocking. Not that it makes a lot of difference, because the chances Santa would have inflicted this on its woolly interior are fairly slim. For a start, 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix has all the profile of piano wire, and Nordcurrent's mini-game collection won't have dragged many eyes away from the dozens of AAA alternatives lining the shelves before Christmas. Nor should it have. As a title, 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix is correct on one count at least, but said 101 games are not particularly explosive (including those featuring explosions), and they are not, on the whole, mega. Nor even are they particularly well mixed.
Switching on for the first time faces you with a selection of eleven games to choose from, with the ninety others gradually unlocked by spending the coins earned from successful completion. Initially, the scores required to 'win' a mini-game are fairly low, and the rewards are correspondingly modest. As the games progress these rewards, and consequently the cost of unlocking, rises exponentially. Sadly, there's no real rhyme or reason to this progression, as the games don't actually get consistently harder - in fact, basketball, the first game available, still had us foxed at the time of writing. Players are free to unlock whatever they can afford, although it makes sense to work through as suggested.
Doing so is rewarded with an initially dizzying array of stylus-based diversions ranging from old staples such as Serpent (snake), to card-house challenges, simple shoot-'em-ups and shuriken-throwing. It was a while before we came across too many similarities, but all too often there was a definite sense of having been there, played that, and then visited a different Flash site. Many of the mini-games are reiterations of simple puzzle classics and done-to-death mouse-clicking challenges, meaning that anyone who's spent a few bored hours on the internet (whilst not in a position to relax in a gentleman's manner) will have come across a great deal of this before. No pun intended.
We'd love to be able to provide a fuller list of what we played, but in the interest of science we foolishly proffered our DS to a non-gaming friend to gauge their appreciation. We were unaware that starting a new game, as she duly did, wipes all previous progress. To be fair, the game does warn of this when poking 'new game' on the menu, but to many unversed in the special nature of personal gaming achievement it'll be all too easy to simply hit confirm, thus losing a good ten hours of someone else's life. A petty point perhaps, but for those of you who like to share things with your family and idiot friends, quite a poignant one.
But let's, in the spirit of the season just past, point out the positives. The activities available for your 18-or-so quid are generally well-presented, with a colourful and bold style that lends an air reminiscent of an MS Paint master class. Chunky sprites, pleasing animations and some charming background touches inveigle proceedings with a solidly 16-bit innocence that matches most of the pastimes on offer. Undoubtedly, many casual gamers, for whom this illusion is concocted, will discover much to recommend.
After all, they are unlikely to be so keenly aware of the sometimes floaty and dubious touch controls. Nor will they find a great deal to complain about with the thirty-second lifespan of many of the games included. That said, they might start to choke on the incredibly grating music, of which there is only one variety throughout, or wonder why there's no explanation of any of the games before they are unlocked. And maybe they'll be a little jaded by the way the difficulty frequently ramps up quickly and monstrously as the timer winds down, transforming a good run to mud and imposing tooth-grinding repetition. It's even possible they will start to wonder exactly where the appeal lies in playing 101 different, average games for thirty seconds each, instead of fewer, better games for longer.
Herein lies the rub. There is so little replay potential here, so little urge to top high scores or perfect shoddy make-do attempts, that completing each task feels more of a relief than an achievement. A palpable sense of 'thank the undefined omnipotent deity that I'll never have to do that again' sets in remarkably quickly. The package lacks the charm, frantic attitude and mental acrobatics of Wario, the polish and familiarity of 42 All-Time Classics, and the style and coherency of Rub Rabbits or Feel the Magic: XY/XX. In a crowded market, it's not the worst offering by far, but there are several better ways to spend your money, many of which are now residing in bargain bins and liquidation sales across the nation.
Still, at least there's no blowing into the bloody microphone.