Review: Heathcliff: Spot On (Nintendo 3DS)

heathcliffcoverHeathcliff: Spot On
Publisher: Enjoy Gaming
Developer: Enjoy Gaming
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 11/28/2013

(About halfway through this review, I discovered that this seems to be a straight up port of a DS game called Heathcliff: Frantic Foto. You can click this link to read Aileen Coe’s review of that game if you want.)

If you had to come up with an idea for a video game based off a classic one panel comic strip, a “spot the difference” game is probably one of the first things you’d think about. Sure, there’s a lot more you could do, but those things take creativity. Who has the time for that anymore these days, right? So someone went ahead and did it for the Heathcliff character, and now you can find the game on Nintendo’s e-shop.

heathcliff1I should note before we go any further that the only reason this game has taken so long to review is that I only got my 3DS about a week ago. I got some serious catching up to do.

Okay. So the meat of the game is a mode wherein you spot the difference in a series of strips until you run out of lives. At the end, your score is tallied up and you see how you did. There are three different difficulties to choose from, but the only difference is in the number of supplies you have. You have less lives and fewer power-ups when you play on hard compared to if you play on easy. The pictures, number of differences, and degree of difficulty actually stay the same.

The goal is to find five differences between two seemingly identical pictures. You’ll need to hold the system on its side like a book for this, which makes sense. You simply need to tap in the general locations of where something’s different, and that spot will get circled. Guess wrong, and you get a time penalty. If time runs out, you lose a life. If you spot all the differences, you move forward. The differences can be as obvious as a changing color and as obscure as the number of windows in a background building. Some of them are quite hard to find.

heathcliff2To help you on your way, you’ll have four different power-ups you can use. The hourglass refills your time meter, the magnifying glass reveals one difference, the milk bottle reveals every difference, and the fish freezes time. The fish is the odd one. I can’t really figure out the correlation between a fish and freezing time. I guess they just went with “stuff cats like” and called it a day. You have limited uses of these items, and they’re gone for good when they’re used up. You can get a random item every ten levels by completing a mini-game, though.

Let’s talk about that mini-game for a moment. It’s basically just whack-a-mole, although you’re hitting mice and avoiding Heathcliff. I can say, without a doubt, that it doesn’t matter how high a score you get, you’ll only receive one bonus item at the end of the session. There’s no reason to waste time on it, although it does at least change the pace.

For other modes, there’s a paint mode. You can make your own drawing, or color on any of the comic strips you’ve unlocked. The paint tool you use is rudimentary and ancient, but it will get the job done enough. However, you can only save one picture at a time, which makes this mode completely useless unless you really want to scribble all over classic strips.

heathcliff4There’s also multiplayer, but I couldn’t find anyone willing to spend even five minutes to try it out with me. So I can’t really tell you what it entails.

Visually, the game looks all right at first. After all, it’s just comic strips put up against each other. However, a dated HUD and menu system don’t do it any favors. The biggest problem is that none of the comics have the captions that accompany the pictures in the real strip. That means you don’t get any of the jokes. That would be like putting duct tape over the mouth of a stand up comedian and expecting him to be able to deliver a great performance. It just doesn’t work. The whack-a-mole game looks like a low rent flash game with bad clip art. It’s not impressive to say the least.

When it comes to audio, the game fares not so well. It’s mostly just music, and there’s a few light tracks to accompany the gameplay. They’re okay enough as background music, but they do get old. There are a couple of random effects as well, but they’re nothing to write home about.

I can say a few positive things about the game, and I’ll do that here. I never once had any control issues with the stylus. Having to pixel hunt in a game like this would be about as bad as it gets. Even the mini-game plays well, which is a plus. While the game might not be particularly engaging, it does offer a bit of casual fun for when you’re in the mood for that sort of thing. Since the differences change up even when you repeat cartoons, the game has a lot more replay value than perhaps it at first appears.

The real problem I have is in justifying a five dollar price tag for this thing. It seems like it should be two bucks at most. It’s worth a look, if you’re a Heathcliff fan, if and when the price goes down.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Heathcliff: Spot On is a rather obvious spot-the-difference game. While it controls well, it has several nagging flaws. If you’re going to use panels from a comic strip, you don’t forget the captions. If you’re going to include a paint tool, you’ve got to let the player keep their creations. Add on a repetitive gameplay structure and a lackluster presentation, and this game easily ends up on the “skip” list.

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