Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue
And now sod off, Kitty.
Given the invitingly demented image you're likely to have clicked on to reach this review, it seems fair to guess that we're addressing a mixture of the bored, the curious, the parent and the Japanophile.
The bored and curious among you would do well to pay close attention to the following. Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue is an extremely bright and colourful, saccharine-sweet, formulaic, unchallenging and unremarkable game that you'd do best to ignore. The parents among you would do well to cut your children in half to establish their age (unless there's a better way) and then give up if they're old enough to throw or catch a ball. The Japanophiles among you would do well to send us obscure sweets and cuddly toys so that we can spice up our fairly boring surroundings. Oh and, if you're anything like some of our Japanophile friends, to have a wash.
Completing Hello Kitty: Roller Rescue will probably take the average child less time than it takes to get bored of a Pingu video. The formula goes like this: For one stage, roller-skating Kitty dashes around an incredibly fluffy and inoffensive environment bashing little block-men with her wand, occasionally having to do something as complex as retrieving a key to open a big gate marked with a pink arrow, and then stands in an illuminated circle and dances, which is the cue to fade to black. For the next, she does more or less the same thing, but perhaps with some slight variation in objectives and block-man personnel. For the third, she tackles a big block bad-guy who will be encased in some sort of nasty machine that has to be bonked several times with a nearby prop.
After repeating this three-stage approach five times, a final climactic showdown with the ultimate block-man takes place - and involves shooting his mech-like form repeatedly to give the people of Sanrio a chance to charge up a cannon and blast him into the stratosphere. That may sound like a spoiler, but it's hard to describe something as a spoiler when it takes place barely 90 minutes after you've turned on the console for the very first time. The final cut sequence, which shows you how the villagers were going about charging up the cannon, is literally the only thing in the entire game that prompted this reviewer to chuckle. (Or even emote, actually.)
Along the way, Kitty is paired with a few of her friends, who follow her around bashing enemies who aren't already being wanded in the face by the good Ms Kitty herself. Between levels, Kitty returns home and discovers that she's unlocked a few computer-generated cut-scenes, some new costumes, perhaps some game music, and a few character biographies, which give you startling insights into the world Kitty inhabits. For example, Kitty's friend "Runabouts", a talking car that no creature in her world would physically be able to get into, is said to make whatever you do "a trip to remember". Hardly surprising, since presumably they have to hang on for dear life, and he has a tendency to bash his way through walls. More of these profiles, cut-scenes and the like can be purchased using coins collected in-game. Yawn.
The sense of boredom isn't just a result of our lack of interest in the subject matter, mind you. The actual design of the game is ludicrously unadventurous, and even when it threatens to shepherd the player in the direction of actual thought, it balks at the prospect and has one of the characters explain precisely what to do. When you've finished hitting the same button repeatedly to clobber block-men, followed the arrows between areas, or walked up to a tree to knock down fruit that replenishes the stock of health-apples you'd genuinely have to try in order to deplete, you're left fighting these bigger boss-blocks. They act in very basic patterns and the tools and methods required to destroy them aren't exactly hidden, but even so the game makes a point of telling you that you have to bonk one of them on the head or deflect rockets back at him, for example. The only time it's a challenge is when you are unavoidably shelled on the head by some pillock in a circular tank. Literally unavoidably.
Indeed, just about the only things that are likely to threaten you in any way are actually down to poor design. The camera has to be ceaselessly re-centred with a shoulder button, and, even if you keep it under control, it still manages to completely disorientate you if you're fighting in close quarters. Meanwhile, brilliantly, some of the spring-like enemies that are key to defeating a mid-way boss spend most of their time trapped under him or in the scenery nearby. Collision detection in general is pretty woeful, actually. Oh, and before you start to worry, yes, there is a stealth section.
Come to think of it, we're not the only ones destined to be rather bored of the subject matter, either. The dialogue is so straightforward and uninvolving that most people would skip through it without even glancing at it. Most infants would, too. "I've decided to save the town from the Block Guardians," Kitty announces to her mother. "That's wonderful dear - we're all very proud of you," her previously shackled, caged and presumably soon-to-be-slaughtered mother responds. Have these people never seen Pokémon? Children actually have brains these days. This sort of straight-faced patronising gibberish just serves to slow down the process of evolution.
Hello Kitty's redeeming features can be summed up quite simply: it's extremely pink and straightforward, so the average three or four year-old will probably have no difficulty overcoming its obstacles. And, since there's a chance you'll have to watch them doing so, we might remark that the gentle loop of piano and strings that plays while you decide what to do on the "home" screen is serene and wonderfully soothing. We've actually left the game on in the background just to stop us banging our heads on the table as we write. It's doing its job rather well, as you can tell from the lack of head-splat-influenced sentence construction. Oh, sod it, someone's sat on the mute button. Aaaarrghkp'sdf'jlsdfz. Ahem.
Children. They are our future. Let us not shape them with tosh like this.