99 Moves (DSiWare) Review – “A Move in the Right Direction?”

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EnjoyUp Games’ next installment in the “99” series of games is another pick-up-and-play title aimed at quick, simple fun on the DSiWare platform. Somewhat similar to their other game, Abyss, 99 Moves plays like a cross between Snake and Boulderdash with puzzle elements. Does 99 Moves move the casual market on the eShop forward or backward?

To find out, let’s explore 99 Moves’ gameplay dynamics. Like Abyss, 99 Moves has 12 levels to get through. You can use the D-Pad or Circle Pad to change your character’s heading, but he will continuously move in the direction you indicate until you change it. Each time you change his heading, one of your 99 moves – hence the name – is used up. You need to try to make it to the exit in each level without using up all of your moves, and this entails navigating through labyrinths with moving obstacles to avoid. You will begin to accrue points the longer you avoid hitting obstacles, and you can also run over special power-ups that will grant you 99,000 points each. It’s simple and surprisingly fun, with such a low barrier of entry that just about anyone (and their grandmother) can get into.

99 Moves follows the series’ hallmark of simple, retro-style graphics and sound, and it gets the job done without being too overt. The game uses simple Atari-style graphics and sound, and it works in a charming way. However, it’s really all about the gameplay with EnjoyUp’s games, and there’s some solid fun to be had. The missions are fairly varied, and there’s a nice sense of risk-versus-reward in the multiple paths you can choose; usually you’ll know right off the bat which path is harder to get through, but you can be sure there will be a score bonus power-up waiting at the end if you make it through. The area where 99 Moves falls short is in its replay value; there really isn’t much of it here. This is an area where many casual games thrive; the fact that you can get so much gameplay out of such a small cost. However, given 99 Moves’ one-shot nature, it makes the $1.99 price point much less appealing. The game comes with 12 missions to get through, but once you beat them, there’s very little incentive to go back to them other than to reach the top of the offline leaderboards. However, unless you share your system with a friend or family member, you’re really only competing with yourself. If EnjoyUp Games had included some sort of online leaderboard system, or a level creator / random level generator, it would have gone a long way towards improving on the game’s value.

99 Moves is a fun, simple game, but simply doesn’t deliver enough value to really make it a worthwhile purchase. It’s not to say that $1.99 is a lot of money to spend on a video game, but don’t purchase it with the expectation of getting hours and hours of gameplay out of it. If you’re okay with that fact, then 99 Moves makes a worthwhile, if short-lived, diversion.

Overall Score: 6.5 / 10= Reconsider an immediate purchase…

ThunderCats Review (DS)

ThunderCats is a side-scrolling adventure game published by Namco Bandai and developed by Aspect Digital Entertainment. The game is inspired by the ThunderCats animated series from Warner Bros., and was released for the Nintendo DS.

Story: 2/5

ThunderCats is a game based on the new animated series, and as a tie-in, it shares many of the shows story elements. So much so in fact, that the game borrows exact scenes from the show to piece together a story line for the game. In the game, Thundera has fallen into ruin by Mumm-Ra and his evil Lizard Army. The leader of the ThunderCats (Lion-O) must wield the Sword of Omens, and along with his ThunderCats companions, stop at nothing to reclaim Thundera and obtain the Book of Omens. Along the way, the ThunderCats come into contact with other allies that help them on their journey, as they inform them of the dangers that lie ahead on their quest to stop Mumm-Ra. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll have a better understanding of who all these characters are, and why this quest is so important. Yet the game just takes snippets of scenes from the show, and tries to combine them together to give Lion-O a reason for why he is on the next level. It was nice seeing so many cameos and story elements from the show, but had I never heard of ThunderCats, I wouldn’t really know the important details that the game’s story fails to deliver.

Gameplay: 2/5

I’m a big fan of ThunderCats, and was happy to see that a game was finally in the works. Unfortunately, the game isn’t as good as it could have been. While the game does a decent job of incorporating many elements from the ThunderCats animated series, the gameplay itself can be a bit rough. For starters, you can only play as Lion-O, and while the other ThunderCats are in the game, they only act as assists for the player. While it’s a shame that an opportunity to use the other ThunderCats is absent, at least we see them aid Lion-O throughout the game. However, Lion-O needs all the assists he can get, because combat can be a bit difficult for a number of reasons. First off, Lion-O has a very basic skill set: he slashes with his Sword of Omens, can double jump, and slide. Yet Lion-O has no way of actually defending himself. This means that while battling enemies that slash and fire at you, Lion-O will undoubtedly get hit again and again. I’m not sure why a block feature wasn’t implemented, as it would have come in handy to somehow block enemies that are firing at you from a distance. Not only that, but Lion-O seems to get stunned long enough to get hit two to three times before he actually falls backward. This can prove especially daunting during boss fights, and you will need to utilize every assist (you can carry up to three) to help defeat the enemy.

While Panthro, Tygra and Cheetara come in handy with their attacks (which normally eliminate any enemy on-screen or brings damage to a boss), I basically used Wilykit/Wilykat for the majority of the time, as they are the only ones that provide you with health and icons (to call a companion) during some of the more difficult stages and bosses. The game also had an unbalanced checkpoint system. I found myself redoing an entire level if I died, and even if you manage to make it to the boss battle at the end of the level, losing meant restarting the level from the beginning. While I did appreciate seeing many characters from the animated series during the boss battles, I felt that it was difficult to determine if some of my hits were damaging the bosses more than others. Without a life bar, or any visual indicator of my attacks, each hit felt the same. Whether I attacked with my sword, or used a special assist from the other ThunderCats, or even unleashing a powerful Sword of Omens attack (which builds up from enemy attacks and collecting sword icons), there was nothing to let the player know how damaging any of these attacks were. Luckily, the game wasn’t long enough for me to become too frustrated with these issues, as I completed it in about an hour and a half (which is something else to consider when purchasing a game of this length at $29.99). Overall, I feel that ThunderCats could have been more enjoyable if these issues were better handled.

Graphics: 2/5

As a DS game, ThunderCats is not going to be a graphical powerhouse. Lion-O and the other ThunderCats characters are simple sprites that are hard to see because of their size. The backgrounds are uninspired, and the cut scenes are nothing more than stills from the show. I suppose that this is to be expected from the aging system though.

Sound: 2/5

“ThunderCats, Ho!” is a very popular phrase from the ThunderCats, and I loved hearing that when I was a kid when watching the original cartoons, or even from the more recent animated series that the game is inspired by. Yet I got sick of hearing this when it’s the only sound in the whole game. When Lion-O starts a level, when Lion-O unleashes his Eye of Thundera, when you continue after losing a life, when Lion-O requires an assist from a companion; he constantly responds with “ThunderCats, Ho!” It gets old fast. The music is decent though and reminded me of old 8-bit games, but it’s nothing memorable.

Overall Score: 8/20 = 4.0 out of 10

ThunderCats is not a horrible game, but it’s not great by any means either. It was fun to finally play as Lion-O and to experience the world of ThunderCats as a console game. In small bursts, the game is somewhat enjoyable, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the game has its problems, and that many people will tire of it quickly.

PROS:

+ Finally get to play as Lion-O in a video game

CONS:

– No Defense against Attacks

– Repetitive Enemies and Levels

– No Checkpoints

– Annoying Sound Effects

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A special thank you to Namco Bandai Games for providing us a review copy of ThunderCats!