Review: Imagine Detective (Nintendo DS)

Imagine: Detective
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 09/08/09

The Imagine series is (in)famous both for the volume of titles under its umbrella and for being criticized as stereotypically girly games that reinforce socially acceptable gender roles. The watermarked speckled cover that adorned the European version of Imagine: Babyz likely also helped the name stick in people’s minds. But then, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right? At the very least, that little fiasco didn’t seem to hit the bottom line too hard.

By the way, here’s a fun fact: Imagine Figure Skater was actually originally a game called KuruKuru Princess: Figure de KiraKira Koori no Angel, while Imagine Ice Champion was KuruKuru * Princess: Yume no White Quartet. Why they were released under the Imagine brand rather than as its own games is beyond me.

Well, let’s see what’s under the cover of this game. Before you ask: no, unlike those two games, this title is not a Japanese game in disguise.

Imagine: Detective puts you in the shoes of Kirsten Sparks, a teenage detective who takes it upon herself to be an upholder of justice and leave no mystery unsolved. Her father had been working on a project in the Chenokee tribe forest before an explosion took his life. Naturally, his daughter also ends up investigating the same tribe. The characters are reminiscent of what you might find in a teen movie taking place in a high school, including your snobby catty popular girls and the nice popular guy. Kirsten is your typical spunky young female protagonist. The characters have their personalities set from the onset of the game and don’t deviate from them. The plot works considering the target audience, but it’s not particularly deep or riveting. The game concludes with a “To be continued…” type of ending, which indicates that it’s part of a series, but also means you won’t get anything resembling a satisfactory conclusion this time around.

On a somewhat related side note, I would think someone’s reaction to finding an intruder in their home rifling through their things would be a lot stronger than “That’s so UNCOOL!” But then again, said intruder having incriminating material tends to temper tempers. Also, at least twice in the game people ask you to do chores for them before they’ll cough up any information – they’re nothing if not opportunistic, at least.

The art style for the game resembles you might see on a Saturday morning cartoon, which can be either good or bad depending on your tastes. The graphics are mostly brightly colored (with pink being the star of the game). The story sequences are laid out in comic book panels, which add a small bit of dramatic flair. The 3-D structures look blocky, and the river on the town map more closely resembles a blue streaked conveyor belt than an actual river. The music and sound effects serve their purpose and fit the overall atmosphere of the game but are fairly forgettable. The only bits of voice acting come in the form of gasps when you’ve startled someone with a distraction.

You alternate between going somewhere, watching a plot scene, and playing through a minigame corresponding with said plot scene, usually to unearth a clue. Should you forget where you need to go, you need only look at the map on the top screen, where your next location will be blinking bright pink. You scroll around the map by dragging your stylus around, and you simply tap on where you want to go. Only the place you need to go will be available, which means you’ll never be stuck on where to head next. Most commonly you’ll be tasked with finding certain objects in a given screen. At times you’ll have to swipe the stylus to, say, turn pages in a book (as indicated by arrows popping up), or to drag one object on another. Sometimes you’ll have to create a distraction so you can sneak past someone, which leads into…wait for it…stealth sequences! (bet you didn’t see that coming) These sequences are overhead view, and your goal is to reach the arrow, making sure not to enter the red area indicating the sight range of the person, camera, or guard dog. If you do, you’ll be sent back to the starting point.

The minigames can also take the form of spotting the differences between two pictures, stopping rotating parts of an image at the right time to form a complete one, and repeating a pattern of images. You’ll also have to rub an object to reveal an image, with the goal being to rub at little as possible. There’s also some parts wherein you’re tasked with taking a picture of something, which is accomplished by positioning the viewfinder so that the circle that appears over your subject is in the center, then lifting the stylus. At a few points in the game, you’ll have to contend with fists raining down from the top screen, and you’ll have to tap on them before they reach the bottom of the touch screen. Considering how many times you repeat this minigame, the goon throwing the punches appears to not learn very quickly since he keeps performing the same action over and over in hopes of a different result. When you complete a minigame, a gauge indicating your prowess as a detective will fill. Of course, the better you do, the more it fills. If you fumble at any point during a minigame, the game will offer you the chance to redo the game for a shot at finishing the game with no mistakes. Should you mess up five times, you’ll have to start over. You can also choose to just proceed with the game, but once you do you lose your chance to play for a higher score.

After you solve each case, you’ll be quizzed on the who, why, where, when, what, and how. A question will appear on the top screen, with possible options on the touch screen, and you’ll have a limited amount of time to answer. You only get one shot to answer the question correctly, but you’re not penalized for answering wrong. As you go through each case, you’ll make more posts to your blog; the more you post, the more visitors you have. With a larger audience comes advertisers who pay you to let them advertise on your blog. All of this is handled automatically, so this particular aspect feels more like gimmicky window dressing than anything that really adds to the game.

Once you’ve solved all five cases, there’s no incentive to go back and play through it again. You could play through the minigames again, but they’re not scored. You can earn enough money to clear out the shop and have a good amount left over in one round – I think I reached that point by around case 3 or 4 (and no, there’s no way to spend that extra dough). Buying all the dolls and stickers yields you nothing but a fully decorated bookshelf and computer monitor, and all you can do with them is look at them in the room. The only thing there is to do is to replay the story mode on a different difficulty, as you can’t do anything with your complete file except look at your room, but there won’t be anything new. If you failed to max out the gauge the first time around, you could also replay for that reason if somehow the inclination hits you, but you won’t get anything for your trouble except maybe some self awarded brownie points.

When you start up the game, you’ll be asked to choose whether to play the beginner or advanced difficulty. Because I am me, I went with the latter, though I did also start another file with the former for comparison’s sake. There’s not much difference between the two, as the game’s pretty easy either way, though I did notice that the “Simon Says” type puzzles gave you shorter sequences. In addition, if you don’t touch the screen for a bit during the object finding parts, a little sparkle will appear over what you need to click on, though this is more apparent in easy mode. There’s virtually no consequences for failure, as you can try as many times as you want if you want to maximize your score. Of course, once you’ve gone through the minigame one time, it’s even easier the other times around since you now know the solution and gotten practice. There are exceptions, of course, as the placement of things or patterns in some of the minigames are randomized each time, such as the rub an object to uncover an image or the Simon Says type games.

There are attempts to up the difficulty a bit later in the game, such as constant jostling during the picture taking parts, the guard dogs that run at you if they get a whiff of you, or giving you longer patterns to imitate, but there’s still little incline in the difficulty curve. Though there was one point I was trying to circle footprints in a the “spot the differences” minigame, but the game kept marking me wrong. It took me a couple of tries to get it to register. I don’t know why this one bit would be so finicky when I never have trouble with the other objects, no matter how sloppy I was with circling them.

I’d be lying if I said my main reason for sticking with the game long enough to finish it wasn’t for the sake of this review. While I didn’t get the urge to take a hammer to the cart, I also never really got into it, though the perfectionist in me did redo some of the minigames to get a perfect score. I was essentially simply going through the motions the whole time, which to be frank wasn’t exactly especially hard considering how much the game essentially holds your hand. While I tend to gravitate towards anything resembling a point-and-click, this one just didn’t do it for me. A large part of that may be because games like this rely mainly on plot to keep someone playing, and this one didn’t draw me in. When the solving of a case ends with finding people playing spin the bottle, that doesn’t exactly cast the best light on the rest of the game. To give some credit where it’s due, the rest of the cases don’t resolve itself in this way. The variety of minigames did at least partially help stave off a sense of monotony, though they went by pretty quickly. The blogging aspect of the game was a decent attempt at trying to be somewhat original, but the lack of interactivity and ability to affect the results in any way gave me little reason to care about it.

A good number of people are going to be put off by the Imagine branding and overall girlishness of the game just on principle. However, games like this seem to sell well enough since they keep multiplying like rabbits, so they must appeal to someone. Young children, those who happen to like the Imagine series, and perhaps some of the casual gaming crowd might possibly enjoy this, but that’s about it.

The writers of this game were awfully fond of using spellings like “pix”, “bizniz”, and “tuff” in place of “pics” and “business” and slang like “super fly”. This type of slanguage, along with the blogging, was likely chosen in order to make the game seem more “hip” and thus appeal to their target demographic, but it just felt a bit forced and awkward. As a result, it was offputting whenever it came up. It came off somewhat like an aunt or uncle out of touch with current trends throwing around things like, “gnarly” and “hangin’ high” in an attempt to look cool in front of their niece/nephew’s friends, but only succeeds in making them plaster on stiff fake smiles and secretly want to get out of dodge quickly.

The loading screens going from menu to menu got kind of annoying and impeded the flow of the game. Why there would be so many loading screens on a DS game, I don’t know, especially since this isn’t a particularly system pushing game. On a small side note, it always did befuddle me that they’d use covers that do not resemble what’s actually in the game other than a general theme. Though it’s nice to see an attempt at a semblance of consistency, even if not all the games are actually made by the same people.

The Scores
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Dreadful
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Pretty Poor
FINAL SCORE: Poor Game

Short Attention Span Summary: While the concept of Imagine:Detective itself isn’t so bad, and it does play decently, it tries a bit too hard to be “cool”. While it’s not punishing, it also doesn’t give you many rewards for successes. The difficulty curve remains fairly level throughout the game, but considering the target audience that could actually be an asset. It’s not the worst game ever conceived, but you could do far better and would be better off finding something else to play.