Review: LOL (Nintendo DS)

LOL
Genre: Party Game
Developer: Route 24
Publisher: Agetec
Release Date: 06/02/08
Buy it Here: LOL


While it is generally known that I have varying degrees of dislike for most publishers and developers, I must admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for Agetec. They’ve published a metric ton of awesome niche games in the US, from Rising Zan (he’s the Samurai Gunman, you know) to Clock Tower 2/3 (the awesome one with Mister Bates and Ghost Head) to Disaster Report and Raw Danger to several SNK games during the late 90’s to PoPoLoCrois and beyond. They’re also pretty much the only reason FROM Software has any stateside recognition at all, thanks to their insistence on publishing practically everything the company developed from 1999 until they jumped into bed with Sega, thus introducing the US market to wonderful games like Armored Core (and its eight billion sequels), Shadow Tower (though, sadly, not the sequel, for unspecified reasons), and Echo Night Beyond. And Kuon, unfortunately, but in for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose. Just recently, they fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine by FINALLY bringing a console version of Fire Pro Wrestling stateside.

So, yes, I like Agetec. That said, I have to admit, I had two strong reservations about LOL:

1.) The idea of naming media products, IE books, music, movies, etc. after elements of the digital age, be they technological advances or internet names/memes/chatspeak is silly and doesn’t cast your work in the best light. You know, stuff like Britney Spears naming a song “E-Mail My Heart” or Fall Out Boy writing the title of a song like abbreviated text speak? Like that. So the idea of naming a game LOL ranks somewhere between RickRolling a Mets game and giving that annoying frog thing from Jamster its own series of video games in the “bad ideas the Internet has directly caused” department.

2.) The promotional materials, website, and game itself all echo the message, “Remember: If the game is boring, then YOU are boring”, which is wonderfully egotistical, true or not.

So, in fairness, we will begin the review by saying this: the above is absolutely true. If the game is boring, you, in fact, are boring. Or your friends are. Whatever. LOL lives up to its name by being laugh-out-loud hilarious, so long as you’re in a group of reasonably funny people, and it’s enjoyable. I admit it, openly and freely. But being funny and entertaining aren’t the same thing as “being a must own game”, and LOL isn’t quite that, sadly.

I don’t know what I can say about LOL’s story/game modes, as there’s NO story and only one game mode, though the game mode itself is open-ended enough to get by. Basically, whoever owns the game starts it up, then everyone else jumps in with DS Download play, and you can take turns (unless the owner is a selfish jerk like me) asking questions or creating challenges. In-between creating challenges, IE while you’re waiting for other people to finish what they’re doing, you can tap various running Easter Island head looking things to amuse yourself (and annoy others), and there are a decent amount of options in the design proper, so we’ll say that considering there’s only one game mode, it’s a fairly open-ended game mode, and give it a pass.

Visually, LOL is bright and colorful, and it’s stylish as all get out. The interface is functional as well as pretty in form, and looks good overall. Aurally, the music is cute (though sporadic) and fits the tone of the product, and the few sound effects and voices that pop up are clean and sound good. This isn’t so much a game about graphics and sound, but what it here works well and looks and sounds cute and stylish, so all in all it’s a winner.

That said, LOL is all about its gameplay, which works like this: at the beginning of each round, one player poses a question or challenge, and everyone has to try and do their best job fulfilling that challenge, whereupon at the end all of the results are revealed and everyone votes for that they think is the best. Then, a new leader is chosen, and a new round begins. Making a challenge is as simple as writing and/or drawing out something on the touch screen; your challenge could be as simple as “Draw a smiley face” or something more complex, say, a riddle like “What goes up a chimney down, but not down a chimney up?”, or something like that. Everything you need to play is on the bottom screen; there’s a pen tool to select what size pen you want (of two), an eraser tool to select what size eraser you want (of two), a button to clear your entire screen and a little head you can tap on to copy the top screen to the bottom screen (if you’re doing a challenge; if you’re making one there’s no need to do this). With these tools, you are to draw or write a response to the posed challenge. Once you’re done, you tap done and, if other people are working, you’re taken to a mini-game that involves tapping the aforementioned Easter Island head monster things, which seems to serve no purpose but is amusing (even if I AM too slow to ever hit the red ones). When everyone’s finished, the leader of that session reveals all of the pictures, and then everyone votes for their favorite. The winner(s) get a gold crown, and then the owner of the cartridge chooses who starts the new round. This eventually continues until you quit playing.

So, yes, the gameplay is very simple, but as noted above, it’s very entertaining if you’re not boring people.

See, after about three games or so, it occurs to you exactly what you can do with this sort of thing (depending on what you’re personally interested in doing), and more importantly, what you don’t HAVE to do. As the game creator, you’re given a generally small rules set to work with (you can set the time the game can run, and that’s about it) in-game, but if you’re the sort of person who, say, likes Jeopardy, you could easily ask riddles or questions, with the “win” going to the person who gives the correct answer, or you could draw frameworks of things and the “winner” could be the one voted as the best.

On the other hand, as the contributors, you aren’t really beholden to the rules unless you specifically agree to follow them, which means you can basically draw or write anything you want and if everyone LIKES it, you still win. This becomes somewhat amusing when you, for example, decide you’re going to answer every question with, say, scathing remarks about another person’s taste in clothing or stupid out-of-context quotes from movies like “RUN FORREST RUN” or whatever. This then becomes FURTHER amusing when EVERYONE ELSE starts doing this and the entire game becomes absolutely absurd to the point that no one can stop laughing at how ridiculous it all is.

Now, Agetec recommends that the player be on a sugar rush (and even sent us little Tootise Rolls to help, which would have been awesome if Lucard’s roommate’s cat hadn’t eaten them… or so he claims), but since one of my friends is a diabetic, you’ll be pleased to know that you can play the game completely free of outside influence and have a blast, if you’re weird enough. Barring that, sugar or caffeine highs (among others) will also make the game even more amusing, especially for people who might not come up with wacky or amusing stuff otherwise. If you are imaginative or crazy or funny or vulgar or profane or ridiculous enough, you can EASILY keep games of LOL going for hours and hours, and even though the game is only designed to accommodate four players, more can easily jump in and out on one DS between rounds, or simply watch as the game is going on. It’s also neat to see a game that is DESIGNED with the idea of DS Download play as its primary mode of use, as the game functions identically whether you be the owner or the downloader, and only one person need own the game, which is good.

Which, unfortunately, brings us to the one single biggest problem with LOL: it is a $20 video game whose core design can be replicated for less than its cost. Basically, when you BUY a video game, you expect it to do something that is entertaining and enjoyable, perhaps even memorable, but more importantly, you expect it to do something that cannot be replicated for less cost. LOL is a product that produces an experience only slightly more in-depth than PictoChat, and you could replicate the experience (sans the cute graphics and tunes) with some pens and a few notepads. Now, in fairness, were you to play LOL over a very long period of time across multiple sessions, one could argue that yes, a notepad and pen per person would be more expensive than LOL, but the experience isn’t one you’re going to want to play for hours and hours all the time. It’s a game where you draw pictures and/or write words and everyone laughs, no more and no less. It’s fun for parties, possibly, and to entertain your friends when you have down time, certainly, but it’s not something you’d find to be an integral part of a party experience. It’s cute and entertaining, and it’s not expensive, but it’s also rather limited in its options, unfortunately, and while it’s a lot of fun that doesn’t need a lot of extra stuff, it’s also not something that really lends itself to repeated plays unless one is bored with one’s friends.

LOL is really an amusing experience when one has the right sort of people available to play around with it; aside from the quirky and amusing style of the game, it’s something ANYONE can play and have fun with, and the more people you play it with, the funnier and more fun it becomes. I mean, hey, I’m a paragon of virtue who’s totally beyond making disgusting visual sight gag jokes for the amusement of others, and I STILL couldn’t stop laughing when the pictures were unveiled at the end of every round. It’s just that kind of game: goofy things are drawn because it is a goofy experience. Yes, you can replicate the experience with pen and paper, and yes, the game has shown you its entire bag of tricks in, oh, five minutes, but it’s $20 for a game that is presented in such a way as to make it feel somewhat stronger than its component parts. You don’t need to be a great artist or a clean writer to play and enjoy LOL, you just need a messed-up mind, some friends and some free time, and you’ll be totally (title of the game)ing for a good long while.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: UNPARALLELED
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: ABOVE AVERAGE
Appeal: POOR
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE

Final Score: ENJOYABLE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
LOL is a party game that lives up to its name: you can only play it with friends, and that’s the only way you’d WANT to play it. It’s presented well, simple to play, generally affordable (and designed with Download play in mind, thus meaning only one person need own it for everyone to play it) and it’s absolutely hilarious when you get into it and start just drawing and writing whatever comes to mind for ha-has. It’s hard to justify owning a game that can be replicated by a pen and some paper, mind you, and you won’t be playing it ALL THE TIME or anything, but as something to break out now and again just to laugh at, LOL certainly does its job well, and as a budget-priced title, it’s pretty much worth the asking price.

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