Review: Mixed Messages (DSI)

Mixed Messages
Genre: Party
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 04/13/09


So, ever since the Nintendo DS was released into the gaming marketplace, developers have been trying to make an application that takes the basic idea of PictoChat (draw or write out a message to other DS users) and turns this into a game of some sort or another. Some, like LOL, take this idea and do something mildly novel, if not earth-shattering, with it. Others, like, say, Diary Girl or Ping Pals… not so much. Well, Activision is giving it their shot with Mixed Messages, a five hundred point DSi download that essentially acts as a combination of Pictionary and the old school ground game “Telephone”. It’s not a bad effort, and for five dollars you could do a lot worse, but it still fails to be compelling for one major reason, which we’ll get to momentarily.

So there’s one mode of play in Mixed Messages, the aforementioned Pictionary/Telephone hybrid, which can be played by two to twenty one players. The game mode itself works like this: one person either writes a sentence or draws a picture of a supplied sentence, and when done, they pass the DSi to the next player, who does the opposite, until everyone finishes, whereupon the game shows you everything you’ve made up to that point. That’s… the entire game, essentially. Since most of the “graphics”, as they are, are supplied by the player, the overall quality of said graphics will be determined by your level of artistic ability (hint: mine are terrible), but the actual visual presentation of the game isn’t bad. The game environment is clean, and the odd images of small children that pop up are cute and compliment the concept well. The game music mostly sounds like cutesy steel drum tunes with some record scratches thrown in, played forever, and while the music is in no way bad or annoying, it gets old in a hurry.

The gameplay of Mixed Messages amounts to either typing on an in-game keyboard to spell out words or drawing an image on the screen. The typing aspect works out well enough and is easy enough to use, so long as your screen is reasonably well calibrated. The letters are a little on the small side, however, which might make playing the game tough as the system ages. The drawing aspect isn’t bad, though it’s limited; you’re given two pen sizes, two eraser sizes, and the ability to flip your image around as needed to draw the required image exactly the way you want. There aren’t exactly a great amount of options when it comes to drawing, but on the other hand, you’re not drawing the Mona Lisa on your DSi, either, so it really kind of balances out in the end.

Mixed Messages manages to be a solid enough product by itself if you’re a fan of Pictionary or Telephone, but it does have two interesting features that are worth mentioning. The first is that it retains the names of prior players (each player has to pick a name before they start) each time you play, so your friends can just type in the first letter of their name to find their name already in the game, ready to go for a whole new round of play. The second is that the game retains previous play sessions as well, meaning you can actually keep old, hilarious game sessions filed away in the game to show off to those who haven’t seen the game, or to reminisce with friends about the sillyness of prior sessions. This isn’t a huge bonus, but it is pretty neat and it’s something other, similar games should really consider for future versions, if there are going to be any.

Mixed Messages is hard to recommend, however, for a few reasons. The biggest reason is, of course, that it is essentially a prettied-up version of PictoChat with a moderately different interface, and while it IS playable with multiple people using one DSi, the odds of you being able to gather up enough people who won’t get bored waiting but are bored enough to play in the first place is fairly low. Since the game is also a glorified version of Telephone, you also have no control of what someone will draw/write, meaning that the game can go off in a completely different direction if another player sees a drawing, says “Pfft, forget that” and draws a gorilla punching an ice cream truck or whatever. While the game can be fun to a point, there’s also honestly NO POINT to the game except to see what ridiculous stuff comes out of the session in the end, and since this all takes place on one DSi, this means you have to play the session, finish the session off, then pass the DSi around AGAIN so everyone can see what happened, which is silly and boring. Oh, and last but not least, you can play the game, exactly as it’s designed, with a notepad and a pen, and it’s hard to congratulate a game for replicating that sort of experience.

If you have lots of friends who like to sit around and make up wacky stuff, and none of them are easily bored, AND none of them but you owns a DS unit, Mixed Messages might be fun enough for five dollars. It’s simple to play, easy to work with, and could be fun if everyone is imaginative and can draw well enough to get by. That said, it’s a glorified upgrade of PictoChat that can only be used for one purpose, other versions of this idea have been floating around for years that have done similar things, and frankly, you could play the game without a DSi if you have a pen and some paper. It’s not that Mixed Messages is bad so much as that it’s unnecessary; you don’t need to own it, you don’t need to play it, and quite honestly, it doesn’t need to exist.

The Scores:
Game Modes: BAD
Graphics: MEDIOCRE
Sound: MEDIOCRE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: DREADFUL
Appeal: DREADFUL
Miscellaneous: DREADFUL
FINAL SCORE: PRETTY POOR GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Mixed Messages is the sort of game that will go over well in a group of people who have over-active imaginations and nothing in particular to do, and those who often spend their free time in such groups might find this game interesting enough to drop five bucks on it. It’s essentially Pictionary-meets-Telephone, as players type out silly sentences and draw silly pictures with the end goal being to see how bizarre everything turned out, and in that respect alone it’s not completely without merit. However, other games have done this sort of thing before to differing degrees, it doesn’t do a whole lot more than PictoChat itself does, the actual game itself isn’t especially exciting, there’s no point to the game BESIDES seeing how ridiculous everything turns out, and you can replicate the experience with a trip to your local Staples. Mixed Messages can be fun if you have enough people in the right frame of mind around to play it, but otherwise, you don’t really need to own it or play it, as you probably won’t play the game more than a handful of times before deleting it off your system.

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