Review: Coraline (DS)

Coraline (NDS)
Developer: Art Co. Ltf.
Publisher: D3
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 01/27/2009

*Yawn* Did I miss anything? I thought I’d hibernate through the long winter’s drought of games and set my alarm for when something interesting came along. Oh. Hrm. Turns out I’d accidentally set it to “Movie-Game”. Crud.

Ah, but wait! This is Coraline, of the Neil Gaiman Coralines. Surely there must be some redeeming characteristic. It was a great book and a fun movie, so there must be some rare, shining nugget of fun nestled away somewhere in this DS cartridge!

You’re laughing at my pain already, aren’t you?


Story
The story follows the movie pretty closely at the beginning, if a bit on the fast-forward side. An odd young girl moves to a run-down boarding house in the middle of nowhere. She’s bored, her parents are busy, she finds a magic key, she goes to wonderful Otherworld only to find out things are not always what they appear to be. Adventure ensues.

Except that it doesn’t, but more about that in the Gameplay section.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you this early on that Coraline is a seriously boring game. It seems that even the developers felt the same way, because by the end they start jumping over entire scenes of the film in favor of the dash of the stylus and a picture. 10 minutes of good action reduced to opening a bag and getting spooked. Story? Who needs it?! The kids get the gist. Kids are in to gist these days. They love it! Can’t get enough of it! More gist! More, I say!

So yeah, the story starts off strong, and then falls to pieces faster than you can say, “I could have bought the novel for less than this.”

Story Rating: Bad


Graphics
The graphics in Coraline aren’t that bad, actually. They do a good job of faithfully adapting the unique visual style of the film. Of course, the characters don’t do much on the screen, but from a 2-dimensional rending of a 3D model viewpoint, they’re nice. The house is also modeled quite well, looking almost exactly the like house in the film. The Otherworld version gives a good effort, enough that you can feel a difference between the two as opposed to just seeing it, but it starts to look a bit cheap. By the time you start looking at the background screens, the menus, and the rest, the bloom is really off the rose. Simple, flat, lifeless drawings which don’t really do anything or set any kind of mood.

You can tell that a lot of energy went into the main part, without much left over for incidentals. Which is understandable, but leaves us with an uneven feeling.

Speaking of odd feelings, this is the first, and hopefully only, time I have seen giant K-sized breasts bobbling up and down on a DS game. This was traumatic enough in the theater, a portable sized version was not necessary, thanks.

Graphics Rating: Decent


Sound
Hang on a sec, let me start the game again….

Yeah, okay. Sorry, I had the sound off most of the time because of the mind-numbing repetition and I needed to remind myself what it sounded like. There are two major songs, one for the regular world and one for the Otherworld. There’s a nice hint of creepiness, but it’s so subtle as to be quickly forgettable. Each theme seems to last only 20 seconds before it’s repeated, so they get annoying pretty quickly.

The sound effects are so poor as to almost be an afterthought. The sound of clacking buttons is nicely presented, but a hand made of needles should not sound like popsicle sticks being smacked against one another. Likewise, a cat’s meow should not sound like an adult gargling the word “meow” over and over again. Fire should (and did) sound like the crinkling of paper, but I swear in my head it just sounded like someone whispering “crinkle crinkle” into the microphone.

Sound Rating: Poor


Control/Gameplay
Coraline is an Adventure Game, so some gameplay elements are givens. There will be a lot of walking around. There will be a lot of talking to people. Items will be gathered to be put to use later. And finally, puzzles will be solved. A good adventure game must strike a very delicate balance between these four aspects. A bad adventure game seeks to strike these qualities with a large sledgehammer. Peter Gabriel, take it away….

Walking around runs pretty smoothly here. There are the usual invisible walls and odd corners, but Coraline moves about without too much trouble and at a good pace. Positioning can be a bit of an issue, however. I spent a good 10 minutes of wandering around before finding that I was standing on the wrong side of an object to complete the task at hand, and several times I had to keep walking back and forth in front of something to get the interaction icon I was looking for. It wasn’t troublesome enough to ruin anything, but it was an inconvenience.

Talking to people was a bit on the rough side. Some events wouldn’t trigger unless you talk to people multiple times and in the right order, but that’s not too unusually. What is odd is how long it takes to load up the text. And how long it takes for them to gesture before continuing on to their next sentence. And why.

You have to hit the interactive icon.

Several times in a row.

For some people to complete their thoughts.

To make matters worse, at one point you’re locked in a room with the people, and have no where else to go and nothing else to do except talk to them. And they keep stopping and allowing you to choose to continue. It’s not even different subjects, or even paragraphs. It’s one continuous monologue broken up into six or seven parts. Astounding….

Can you see the direction we’re headed with this review? Item usage is even worse than the talking. For starters, you don’t actually select any item to use it. As long as it’s in your inventory, it’s automatically used. Which is fine, but doesn’t explain the option to pull down the inventory menu and click on items. I suppose that if you forgot the little picture of a frog with button eyes was a frog with button eyes, clicking on it so the name came up would be helpful. But since the frog with button eyes doesn’t actually have any function in the game, it’s easy to forget about. Most items in your inventory, as it turns out, have no function. I suppose they set a tone for the kind of kid that Coraline is that she would collect crickets and poisonous mushrooms and snake skins, but once that is established is it necessary to make it into a game mechanic that lasts all the way through?

On a miscellaneous note, you can also collect clothes and change Coraline’s outfit with different top/pants combos, shoes, and hair accessories. Playing dress-up was probably the most fun that I had playing this game, and that consisted mostly of me saying “Hey, I remember when she wore that sweater with the stars. I wonder if they’ll glow. Huh. Nope. Oh well.”

Now, the puzzles, or mini-games as they’re called here. No. Just no. Someone should have smacked the programmers hands away from the keyboard after the “Drop the rock in the hole” mini game. To be fair, the game entices you early on with a bug squishing game, but that remains the highlight of your entire Coraline experience. You’re also treated to “Pull the drumstick off the chicken three times”, “Move three keys slightly to the right”, “Open this bag” and “Very slow slalom with few obstacles”. But my favorite had to be the one where the text on-screen actually said, “Turn the key. Can you open the door?”, and all you had to do was touch the lock. No turning, no dragging a key, just touching the screen once.

The whole experience comes across as Baby’s First DS Game with only the barest of stylus use or thought. I suppose Coraline could be useful in primate research regarding tool usage, but I think they’d just get bored and walk away.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Awful


Replayability
Rather than just a short, sharp “no” and moving on, I’ll be fair and point out that there are several sets of clothing to collect and purchase, as well as pointless items that will sit in your inventory. But the slowness and boringness of this game severely cuts into any desire to collect these bits and bobs. Coraline is another fine candidate to add to the list of games to help you break your OCD problem.

Replayability Rating: Dreadful


Balance
I’ve used every justification I could to keep from handing out a Worthless rating to this game, but I’m stumped. There is no challenge, so there is no balance. Even the most involved mini-game has a difficulty rating so low that I’m fairly certain I could beat it blindfolded whilst holding the stylus between my teeth. Balance here has become an abstract and pointless concept, like explaining depth to a Flatlander.

Balance Rating: Worthless


Originality
Of course, we have to judge on a sliding scale for Movie Games, because it’s nearly impossible for the plot to be original. But what of the rest of the game? Well, I have to award points for the most pointless use of the pointer I’ve ever seen. It takes cajones to come up with “slide the stylus from left to right once” and call it a mini-game. Otherwise, I got nothin’.

Originality Rating: Awful


Addictiveness
Every so often the debate comes up about the necessity of these categories. You’ll notice different authors prefer different styles, and we encourage that. I’m firmly on the 10 Category side of the fence, but games like this really make me question the necessity of stating the Addictiveness rating for such a mess. I like to think of it as a challenge of my writing skills. How many different ways can I say “no” without repeating myself. Let’s see….

Playing Coraline has about the same addictiveness as staring off into space and humming tunelessly to yourself. You don’t even really realize your doing it, and once you do, you stop yourself and immediately forget the whole thing ever happened. The only thing keeping this from getting the lowest possible rating is that I found myself able to play all the way through without quitting and just making up a review instead.

Addictiveness Rating: Dreadful


Appeal Factor
To quote the back of the box, “Some doors should never be opened…” Little did I know that this was a warning for the game, rather than just flavor-text from the film. Had I heeded this caveat and never opened the box, just imagine how much happier my life would have been. Precious minutes of my time would never have been stolen from me. Think of all I could have accomplished. Why, I could have finished that DS cozy I’ve been working on. Or perhaps looked out the window and try to figure out why that odd neighbor-child has been screaming for the last 20 minutes like she’s being slowly dismembered by a threshing machine. All the good I could have done, if only….

Appeal Factor Rating: Very Bad


Miscellaneous
It’s not an adventure game (at least, not a very good one), it’s not a miniature version of the movie, and it’s certainly not an adaptation of the novel. So what is Coraline exactly?

I offer you this: Coraline is not actually a “game” as we know it, but rather an interactive experience, almost like an ARG, set to simulate the experience of being Coraline herself.

You see, Coraline is stuck in a dull, boring world. Her only source of entertainment comes from her Father in the form of instructions to write down the number of windows and doors in her new home. That’s what Coraline: The Game is to us; counting doors and windows. By experiencing Coraline’s anguish and pain, her inability to affect the world around her and make it something special, we too long for another world, a place of bright colors and happiness. We too consider sewing buttons onto our eyes instead of going through this. And we too realize that the price is too high, and that with a little effort, we can make a change in our lives and in our worlds.

It’s amazing when you think about it. Such a deep and though-provoking experience disguised as a simple game.

Brilliant.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic


The Scores
Story: Bad
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Poor
Control / Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Dreadful
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: BAD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
I shouldn’t even have to say it, should I? Go see the movie, or better yet, READ A BOOK!

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