Review: Imagine Reporter (Nintendo DS)

Imagine Reporter
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Genre: Simulation
Release Date: 02/02/10

When I reviewed Imagine Detective back in September, it drew more responses than I expected. So when Imagine Reporter came in, I was deemed the natural choice to cover it. I’m beginning to sense a pattern developing here…

But I digress. Let’s find out how this compares to its predecessor.

In Imagine Reporter you play as a reporter just out of school (the default name is Madison, though you can enter another name if you so choose). You start off as a city desk reporter with a tiny office and work your way up. There’s a recurring cast of characters, but they just have their set personalities and don’t develop beyond those. The bits of plot function well enough as a basis for the game, but won’t really draw you in. The main story mode is really the only mode available, though later you’ll unlock the Grand Prix, which is a competition wherein you go through every minigame in one go.

The graphics are bright and colorful and fit the overall mood of the game. All the backgrounds and characters are static except for the occasional change in position and pose. Any movement looks like cardboard cutouts being moved around, which results in the game resembling a random flash game you can stumble upon on the internet. Though I do have a minor nitpick: the Video Editing minigame claims you’re editing footage on a computer, yet they have you fixing film like you’d find in a film camera – you know, those things people took pictures with back in the days when digital cameras didn’t exist (yes, hard to imagine for the young’uns reading this, I know). The music and sound effects serve their purpose, but neither are memorable. the beeping green button in the Radio minigame does begin to grate after a while. There’s snippets of voice acting in the form of a perky girl counting down the time until you start a minigame, an appraisal of your performance in said minigame, and some of Madison’s lines (usually the last one before the minigames begin).

The controls are entirely stylus-based and respond fine for the most part, but the mic in the mic minigame seems to trail behind the tip of your stylus, which sort of messes with how you position it. In order to move up to a higher rank, you need to cover stories. Covering each story entails completing several minigames. However, before you can move on to actual coverage, you have to go to school to earn diplomas in the skills used in covering that story. Each rank has three stories for you to cover, and you earn a medal for each one you do; naturally, the better you do, the better the medal. There’s a meter on the bottom of the touch screen that grows when you do something right and shrinks if you mess up. On the meter are three flags, and you get a time bonus each one the meter hits one. All of the minigames you encounter are pretty simple, and they consist of the following:

– Interviewing: tap on word bubbles as they appear over the interviewee to “capture their words”.
– Photo: tap the screen when the subject poses. If you’re playing on a DSi, there’s an option called Photo+ to use the outside camera to move the viewfinder over the subject, then tap the screen when it starts blinking. Despite owning on a DSi, I opted for the regular Photo minigame, as I found it quickly got annoying to try and position the camera right, to the point I’d end up having to angle the DSi in such a way that I couldn’t see the screen well.
– Investigation: rub away the fog (sometimes rain) on the screen and find the person pictured on the top screen.
– TV News: touch the words when they scroll up into the shaded area between the two lines; on harder difficulties, you’ll also have to change cameras and tap on your headset at random times.
– Note-taking: write down key words (they’re in red in the easier difficulties, but not the harder ones). You then have to answer questions involving the words you took down. I wish there was a way to erase part of what you’ve written if you make a mistake, but then again, considering the time contraints you’re under (especially when the pad can get jostled), you probably wouldn’t be able to use it much anyway unless you write very quickly.
– Mic: catch sound waves with the mic and, in harder difficulties, avoid the red sound waves and get around the other journalists’ mics.
– Reporting: move around a viewfinder until your subject is in the frame. You then have to keep it focused on the subject the whole time as they move around.
– Photo Editing: rearrange parts of a picture so that they form a whole picture.
– Radio: hold down the corresponding color button as a color bar scrolls by on the meter.
– Typing: a memory type game wherein you observe which keys are pressed, then repeat the sequence.
– Video Editing: fill in broken sections of film by dragging the right film pieces on the gaps.
– Scoop: ride around town for leads, which are represented as stars on a map.

Going through the main game doesn’t take very long. With each promotion in rank and gold medal you earn, you unlock a piece of a picture. To give credit where it’s due, at least you can reload your file and play through the stories again after you’ve completed the game, unlike in Imagine Detective. However, once you’ve unlocked everything and earned every gold medal you can get, there’s little incentive to pick this up again unless you feel some burning desire to accumulate as many gold medals in the Grand Prix as possible, or if you just happened to like the minigames enough to play through them again. In addition, there’s a section where you can enter an exclusive content code, but I have not able to find any code or any information about it, so I can’t comment on anything contained there.

As you reach the higher difficulties, more things will be thrown at you at once. For instance, in the Photo minigame, the controls are reversed (as in, moving the lens right will move the view left), which is rather counterintuitive and takes a bit of adjusting to, but after that I was able to switch back and forth between them without a second thought. At another difficulty level, you’ll also have to tap the screen when the cursor is in the green area. On the hardest difficulty, the screen will tilt back and forth and you’ll have to tap the screen when the picture is completely horizontal. In Notetaking, there won’t be any highlighted words, but it’s still pretty simple to pick out the information you’ll need, considering most of the sentences are structured as “A/The ___ is…” As long as you write down what’s between “a” or “the” and “is” and pay some attention you’ll be able to nail the questions, even if the question asks, “What is a ___?”. It also doesn’t help that the text tends to reoccur, which makes things even easier since you’ll be more likely to recognize it and remember its contents. Even on very hard, the games were still relatively easy, especially since you get a practice round each time you reach a new difficulty or minigame. The saving graces for the Photo+ mode is that it only has one difficulty and that it’s optional, although I do have to wonder how a younger child would manage if I fumbled with it.

Honestly, the only thing compelling me to come back to this game is finishing this review. The minigames were alright at first, and there was at least an effort towards mixing things up enough that playing through the game didn’t turn into an exercise in monotony. After a while, though, that did happen, and they became tedious to play through, especially in the Grand Prix mode. Oh boy, a marathon of the same minigames that I’ve been playing through this whole time – watch me jump for joy. Because putting a bunch of mediocre minigames into one big package and presenting them in the form of a long gauntlet will have so much less of a soporific effect. Combine that with the complete lack of challenge and you’re left with little motivation to stick around or return to the game.

Being that it’s an Imagine game, which is one of Ubisoft’s highest selling franchises, this will probably sell pretty well, no matter how critically panned (cough) and much to the dismay of many. The cover’s even emblazoned with a bright pink “#1 Brand!” logo, which indicates enough people are buying games in the series to justify making more (as well as possibly being an attempt to pump up its appeal). Then again, judging from some of the comments on my last Imagine review, even they weren’t impressed, which leaves this game with little other audience (or at least one that doesn’t really makes its presence known except in sales figures). Still, at least any kids this does draw in will have an easy time getting the hang of all the minigames.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary:
Imagine Reporter does give you enough variety in minigames to keep your attention from waning initially. However, the games are so easy (despite the illusion of multiple difficulties) that even the sense of accomplishment from earning those gold medals becomes diluted with the ease of doing so. Those within its target audience might enjoy this, but it holds little appeal for anyone outside of that demographic.