Review: Heathcliff Frantic Foto (Nintendo DS)

Heathcliff: Frantic Foto
Developer: Storm City Games
Publisher: Storm City Games
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 10/15/2010

Healthcliff is regarded by many as a Garfield copycat: fat orange cat with black stripes, likes to eat, and disinclined to chase mice. However, he’s also quicker to engage in fisticuffs and make wisecracks. (And he was created five years before Garfield -the editor) He had two cartoon series, and the comic still runs daily. Now he’s starring in his very own “spot the differences” picture game. Considering he started off as a comic strip character, it shouldn’t be too bad… right?

Both the story and modes offered are barebones. In the former’s case, it’s completely nonexistent. None of the pictures have any dialogue except for sound effects like “Z”, “Meow” and musical notes, so the only way to get a feel for the characters is being familiar with the source material (not that comic strip characters have a whole lot of depth in the first place). You can easily play the game without prior knowledge of the character or comic strip, though. For the latter, there’s only single player and multiplayer modes. Single player consists of 40 levels for each difficulty, and you resume from where you left off even if you lose all your lives. Multiplayer mode entails either cooperating with another player to find the differences in each picture or compete with him/her to find them first. Both players need their own DS and a copy of the game to play together. In addition, you can also unlock a minigame called Waka Health, which is whack-a-mole with mice in garbage cans, after playing it once in single player mode. Paint Mode can be unlocked after playing through one level, and you can either scribble your own pictures in an MS Paint like interface or color in any pictures you’ve unlocked. They work fine enough for what they are, but there’s little substance to speak of.

The pictures used look exactly like what you’d see in the daily strips, except there’s no one liner below them. Some are in color, while others are in black and white. There seems to variations in differences for each picture, though only a couple. Some differences can be a bit hard to spot at first, but once you start to pick up on the kinds of differences that crop up over and over, it becomes easier to find them. The music is inoffensive but unmemorable, though when time’s about the run out it picks up in tempo. This is a handy cue given that you can only see how much time left by pulling up the user interface (which of course blocks part of the picture). The sound effects are similarly generic. You do have the option of turning either or both off if you prefer.

You hold the DS like a book, and two versions of the same picture are displayed on each screen, which the goal being to find the differences between the two within the time limit. The game heavily uses the stylus, and you’ll be using it the majority of the time. Singling out a difference is as simple as tapping on it, though if you tap on the wrong area you’ll lose time. Stars randomly appear as you scrutinize the pictures, and you can collect them by tapping on them. When you gather enough of them, you’re awarded with extra points. The shoulder buttons, which pulls up the user interface that displays the number of items and lives you have left, as well as the stars you’ve collected so far. You can also pause the game by pressing start, but that’s it in terms of button use in this game. You have four types of items at your disposal. The hourglass completely refills your timer, the fish freezes the timer for a few seconds, the milk bottles reveal all the differences and end the level, and the magnifying glass shows one difference. Tapping on one of them while the user interface is pulled up consumes one of them. The Waka Health minigame appears every ten levels. In it, mice will randomly pop up, and you have to tap them to catch them. If you tap Heathcliff, you’ll receive a time penalty. Playing this minigame nets you an item.

There’s not many unlockables to be had other than the pictures, the minigame, and Paint mode. The minigame and Paint mode are unlocked fairly early on. There are 120 pictures to unlock, but even those don’t take all that long to unlock. Other than trying to top your high scores (only the highest for the main game and Waka Health are listed), the game offers little incentive to pick up once you’re gotten everything. Each picture does have slightly different differences if you tackle the same one again, but once you’ve found them, it’s even easier to do so the next time. Even if you just wanted to look at the pictures in the gallery, scrolling through them is slow because you can only advance or go back one picture at a time. It would’ve been so much easier if they’d put in a scroll bar to expedite the speed at which you can go. The only difference between the difficulties seem to be the amount of lives and items you start off with. You always find five differences for each picture. While you can win an item from the Waka Health minigame, items still come in a limited quantity, and there appears to be no way to regain more lives. However, you always start from where you were should you run out of lives and fail a level, and you retain your score, so there’s not much penalty for failing. Items can make the game go faster (especially the milk bottle), but you’re not doomed if you use them all up.

While I never had anything against Heathcliff, this game managed to serve an overdosage of him. I’m generally fine with “spot the differences” type puzzles, but more than any inherent amusement factor of such puzzles and whacking mice, part of what kept me going was finishing this review. Another was knowing the game wouldn’t take long to beat once I got through the first difficulty, nor would it take all that long to go through all three difficulties. Sure, being able to unlock things can serve as motivation to keep going. However, seeing “Congratulations, you have now unlocked further images in the area called extra”, the sentence structure of which is only a step up from Babelfish translations at most, after completing a difficulty does not inspire confidence as far as how much work went into this game, which in turn didn’t do much to stoke my desire to keep playing it.

Heathcliff’s been around a long time, and the comic strip is still running, which gives this game a fanbase to work with. However, a good chunk of said fanbase, particularly those who grew up watching the cartoons, has grown up and probably would not feel too inclined to play a casual DS game based on the character. At first glance, it might seem strange that Heathcliff’s showing his smarmy face in video games now, given that there hasn’t been a cartoon in over twenty five years. But then, considering there is a movie coming out next year, this and the other Heathcliff game that’s arrived for review (Heathcliff: The Fast and the Furriest, a kart racing game that Guy will be reviewing) seen to be serving as a way to promote awareness of the character and brand, thus enticing people to see the movie.

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

Short Attention Span Summary:
As far as “spot the differences between two pictures” games go, Heathcliff: Frantic Foto isn’t the worst one. They did try to provide more padding with a mode that allows you to draw your own pictures and color in the pictures a whack-a-mole type minigame, as well as draw in people by using a well-known character. However, at the end of the day, it’s still rather barebones, and even at $15 it probably won’t hold your attention for long.