Review: Pucca Power Up (Nintendo DS)

Pucca Power Up
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Developer: Barunson Creative
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 09/13/2011

When I volunteered my services to review this game, I honestly had no idea that it was a licensed title. It simply looked like a cute little platformer to me. It was only after I decided to do a bit more research that I discovered that Pucca was a hit TV show that was quickly turning into a merchandising monster.

I figured it would only be wise to watch a couple episodes of the show to familiarize myself with the characters. To my surprise, I found the cartoon highly enjoyable. The jokes were funny, the characters were endearing, and were I ten fifteen or so years younger, I could see it being one of my favorite shows.

This enjoyment brought new found enthusiasm for the game, but I was also cautious. I’ve played numerous licensed titles on the DS. While some, like Alice in Wonderland, have surprised me, the vast majority haven’t been very good. Several of them were dreadful. So it was with careful optimism that I turned this game on.

The good news is that this game is far from awful. It has a solid base and plenty of charm. The downside is that there are several hiccups keeping it from being as good as it could have been.

Let’s take a look.

Story

For the most part, this game doesn’t have a linear plot. Instead, there are six chapters to conquer, each with their own plot. It basically runs like the show. A lot of it involves Pucca simply chasing after Garu in order to steal a kiss or two. Instances where you play as Garu revolve around someone tarnishing his honor is some way and him leaping blindly into battle to avenge the humiliation. None of this is done with text or speech. Everything is mimed, but that’s OK. Unlike the Lego games, everything you need to know is blatantly obvious. You can sit back and enjoy the charm. While the story is nothing amazing or deep, it has enough of that charm and amusing moments to make it enjoyable.

Beyond the story, there is very little stuff to do. You can replay stylus minigames in order to get a new high score and view unlocked cinematics. Of course, the option remains to go back and play through the levels again in order to find the rest of the collectables. Each world also has a bonus level that can be purchased and played through. This isn’t the greatest of incentives, but it does extend the game after you’ve beaten it.

There isn’t much to this game in terms of modes or plot, but what’s here is serviceable, especially for a licensed title. I’ve seen plenty of games offer less, and at least the developers had the forethought to throw in a few extras for good measure.

Graphics

At first, I rather enjoyed the graphics for this game. Everything is alive in bright colors. The backgrounds, characters, and obstacles are very pleasant to look at because of this. Honestly, it took me about an hour and a half to realize how poor the game looked because of how bright everything was. I’ve been playing far too many first person shooters recently I guess. I get shocked when everything isn’t brown or gray. The basic walking animation was done quite nicely as well, so that helped shield me from the truth for a while.

When I did start to notice issues, they came in droves. This game is very fuzzy from top to bottom. The backgrounds often feature items that are supposed to be trees or clouds, but come off as blurry representations. One tree was full of little colored orbs, which may have been some sort of fruit, but it was impossible to tell. The characters are also blocky, taking away from their charm. Animations are hit and miss for the most part. Effects are substandard. It goes on.

Basically, the graphics needed more polish. The art style has plenty of charm, and they weren’t afraid to brighten things up with a wide color pallet. With more attention to detail and cleaner graphics, this game would have looked pretty darn good. As it is, the game is below average for a DS game. The best I can say is that it never gets as bad as some other licensed titles I’ve played, such as Kung Zhu.

Audio

It’s too bad they didn’t get the music from the show for this game. Especially the theme, as that has definitely grown on me the more I watch. However, the music here is pretty decent for this kind of game. It’s very cheery and the kind of thing someone will whistle while they walk. It can get too cheery if you play for long sessions, but one the whole it was enjoyable. The tempo does increase for boss fights, with more dramatic music. These tunes are extremely generic baddie fare, and weren’t that interesting. At least they let you know that you’re in for a fight.

The sound effects are the kind of thing you’d have to go back to the early nineties to find. We’re talking springy sounds when you jump, chimes when you pick up hearts, etc. While this kind of thing was acceptable twenty years ago, it’s gotten old. The only things its allowed in are franchises that date back to that era. I’m talking Mario and Kirby. Pucca is no Mario or Kirby. This game gets a bit nuts. Hearts, which you collect to get extra lives, are everywhere and so you’ll be hearing a constant cacophony of chimes and jumping sounds. It gets extremely annoying pretty quickly. The sounds are also tinny, adding to the frustration.

So, we’ve got cheery music that gets on your nerves after a while and sound effects that get on your nerves pretty quickly. That doesn’t add up to a game where the audio is worth keeping on. If you want, feel free to play this game while listening to something more enjoyable.

Gameplay

I’ve reviewed a lot of action platformers for DHGF over the past few years. At this point, I know what makes them tick. They need tight controls, a sense of speed, and a focus on making the melee action feel more strategic than simply mashing away at an attack button. Pucca doesn’t really do any of these things.

At first glance, everything seems pretty decent. You can move, jump, attack, and even throw projectiles. Double tapping the arrow button will cause you character to dash, increasing speed but leaving you vulnerable. You can collect a hundred hearts to get an extra life, collect extra projectiles to toss at baddies, and collect gingerbread men to unlock upgrades and bonuses. There are a variety of enemy types, boss fights, and level variety. It sounds pretty good, right?

Let’s start with the dashing. You need to double tap and hold the directional button, which is fine, but what your character does isn’t as fine. While dashing, you can’t attack, throw projectiles, or even double jump. You do a normal jump, but at higher speeds and thusly harder to control. The lack of the double jump is the killer. This is a platformer, and you are constantly double jumping to reach new areas, grab hearts and avoid enemies. Dashing takes away your ability and therefore proves itself a hindrance. The only time it is useful is when you’re on a level field and there are no enemies. That almost never happens.

Combat in the game is pretty straightforward. You tap a button, the character swings a weapon, and the baddie takes damage. However, there are several problems. Garu and Pucca have different styles. While that isn’t bad, the issue is how the levels are created for them. Pucca is stronger. She can land a two hit combo that does the same damage as Garu’s three hit attack. Her jumping attack has a wider area of affect as well. Garu is weaker and can only attack downwards when jumping. The problem is that he’s got the more action orientated levels. It makes his sections frustrating.

Bosses are nothing special in this game. The bigger bosses involve a trick to defeating, but the trick is very simple and takes no real thought. Even still, you’ll fail a lot because of cheap tricks that screw you over and force you to restart. There are also bosses that are your height. In particular, one boss is one of the most annoying I’ve faced. You couldn’t ever land a combo on him, because he was unfazed and could land a stronger hit on you every time. His pattern was also to run back and forth, meaning the fight was nothing but jumping over him, landing a single strike, and repeating. You had to double jump too, because his attack would hit you otherwise. It just wasn’t any fun, and it could get frustrating.

Level design is also suspect. There are a lot of levers to find and pull in the game. These open doors and other passageways in order for your character to move forward. The issue is that you don’t really have to search for these. They’re down a straight line and very easy to get to. Maybe you have to make a tricky jump or fight some enemies, but as these are the only “puzzles” in the game, they’re lacking. It also gets monotonous, as these levers are overused. One level had me pulling over a dozen of them, most of them simply unlocking a door to the next lever. Another aspect of poor level design is the existence of plants that serve as springboards. These plants require you to hold down the jump button to get a boost. The problem is that they look exactly the same as normal platforms. So sometimes you’ll expect to be able to jump but can’t. Some of these don’t spring at all. They just fall into water or spikes. Since this hurts you, it can get annoying. Something should have been done to differentiate between these platforms.

Whenever an obstacle cause you damage, it can be disastrous. This is for a few reasons. Firstly, you fly backwards, often into another obstacle. Secondly, it takes forever for your character to get up, leaving time for enemies to close in or platforms to fall. Finally, the lack of a grace period means you can lose a huge chunk of life while you’re waiting to get control back. The wost case I can think of was one mistimed jump where I bumped into a fish as it lept out of a river. That caused me to fly backwards and land in the water, which caused me to fly forwards and land on a leaf. The leaf collapsed with my still prone body on it, causing me to get hit for a third time. That’s just stupid.

When I first started this game up, I thought I might be in for a pretty solid ride. In fact, there are a lot of things to like about this game. There is a decent amount of variety at times and the game really picks up for the final chapter. There also aren’t any other games I can think of that let me hit a home run by wacking a triceratops with a tree trunk. Still, there are a lot of little problems with the game. These add up and make the game much less appealing than it could have been. I didn’t hate the gameplay, but I was definitely unimpressed.

Replayability

The game will take the average player at least a few hours to get through. That encompasses a little more than twenty five levels. After that, the game does offer some extra content to keep you going. Firstly, each world has an extra level you can unlock. These feature the themes for the corresponding world, but don’t have anything to do with the story. This adds another six levels to the game.

You can also go back to the collect the rest of the gingerbread man. The reason to do this is to unlock the cinematics, get the rest of the upgrades, and unlock bonus levels. You can also buy touch screen minigames. One of these is in every world, and once you’ve beaten it, you can unlock it. Granted, they all suffer from poor controls or boredom.

If you go out of your way to get everything in the game, expect to add on a couple of hours. For a licensed game on the DS, five or six hours of playtime is actually pretty good. Trust me on that one. I’ve played a few that I could demolish in less than an hour.

Balance

I’ve actually covered a lot of the balancing issues in the gameplay section. Garu is given the more combat centric battles despite being the weaker character, bosses will not flinch when getting hit, and poor design causes tons of grief and frustration.

Another issue that creeps up is enemy respawns. For the most part, enemies will respawn if you leave an area and come back later. However, they will also occasionally reappear if you stay in an area for too long. On more than one occasion, I took down a baddie only to have him show back up and hit me from behind. It was cheap, and something I don’t expect from games.

For a licensed game, Pucca Power Up can actually be too hard at times. Thanks to cheap tricks and design choices, death comes easily. The only bright side here is that there are so many hearts that you’ll be flush with lives. Despite getting stuck in several different areas, I never got a game over. I don’t even know what happens when you get a game over. Compensating for poor design with tons of lives isn’t creating balance. It’s a cheap and dirty fix.

Originality

I can’t think of a single thing this game does that hasn’t been done elsewhere and better for that matter. Many platformers offer multiple characters to use, a giant level, hidden levels, minigames, etc. The boss fights come off as generic rip offs of the same tired boss types we’ve seen before.

Still, I can’t call the game a clone. It simply picks and chooses what mechanics it uses. I don’t like rating games based on originality, but since I have to, this game is going to take a hit. It just doesn’t offer anything unique or special.

Addictiveness

While I pretty much played this game in one or two sittings, I can’t say I was addicted to it. At first, it was pleasant enough. The charm was undeniable, the music hadn’t begun to annoy me, and a lot of the more frustrating mechanics hadn’t shown up yet. I was content to play and explore. Honestly, I had pretty good first impressions of this game. I was pleasantly surprised and was getting ready to proclaim it one of the rare decent licensed games.

The problem is that the good impressions don’t last. Eventually you realize that there are cracks all over the game and they eat away at your enjoyment until you’re stuck wondering why you ever started the game in the first place. The game is unpolished, and because of that, the experience is ruined.

Appeal Factor

If you’re a fan of the show, I can understand some interesting, being that this is the first game available for the DS. However, the plot is nothing special, though it is cute. Most of the characters besides Pucca and Garu don’t make appearances. The biggest issue is that the game is priced at thirty bucks. That’s just too much, and I really wish that publishers would start treating DS owners better. This isn’t a five star Nintendo game or a sweeping RPG epic that will last you fifty hours. This is a short little licensed game that lasts a few hours at best. The price should reflect that.

For nonfans, the game isn’t worth a look. The DS is chock full of better platformers that can be gotten for less money. Get those games instead. If you’ve already played them, then play them again. Pucca Power Up is not for you.

Miscellaneous

I find it kind of annoying that you have to buy the cinematics to see them again. They don’t cost much, but most games let you view the cinematics that you’ve come across in story mode with no cost whatsoever. Surely they could have come up with other things for you to buy. Maybe alternate weapons, new characters, or even just alternate attires.

I really thought I’d like this game when I first started playing it. For all of the problems, I also believe that there is a quality game that could have been made with this formula. The mechanics needed to be tweaked, and things needed to be polished up. If the basics weren’t so messed up, this would be an enjoyable romp. As it is, Pucca Power Up falls into the licensed game trap. Just because you have a solid concept and a great license, that doesn’t mean the game will come out great.

The Scores
Story: Decent
Graphics: Below Average
Audio: Poor
Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Decent
Originality: Worthless
Balance: Bad
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Poor Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Pucca Power Up was never going to be a great game. However, it had the chance to be something at least enjoyable. That opportunity was squandered thanks to poor design choices, iffy mechanics, and a lack of polish on just about every front imaginable. Even diehard fans of the TV show should avoid this game, as it will simply disappoint you. Let’s hope another developer can do the license justice at some point in the future.

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