Review: Alpha And Omega (Nintendo DS)

Alpha And Omega
Developer: Storm City Games
Publisher: Storm City Entertainment
Genre: Mini Game Collection
Release Date: 09/14/2010

I’m beginning to wonder if I should have told Lucard I had a seven year old.

Just kidding, boss. Just kidding.

Reviewing a game of this type offers its own unique challenges. Do I review this based on the core elements of what makes a great video game, or do I review it from the mindset of a three year old, which is apparently the target audience this “game” was designed for? This is one of the reasons I find it funny when someone downs Mario or Sonic or Ratchet and Clank or what have you as being “kid’s games.” No no no. Those aren’t kid’s games. Those are platformers that are suitable for multiple age groups. THIS is a kid’s game. Most people who would make that assumption probably couldn’t even make it through something like Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers or Little Nemo:The Dream Master on the NES. This game, however, could be bested by a five year old in his/her sleep. Therein lies the difference, and also the challenge of writing a completely non-biased review. I have to ask myself “If I’d been five or six when this came out, would I have enjoyed it compared to the other licensed, kids movie-based games available on the DS?”

The answer to this question is a resounding NO. Dear God in Heaven, NO.

1. Story

I have no clue how closely the storyline of the game sticks to the movie, as I haven’t seen it. Normally my kid drags me to movies like this, especially if they’re in 3D, and usually this represents a good time for me to catch up on my sleep (I slept through all but the first ten minutes of Despicable Me, despite the 12.00 per ticket cost. I tried to fight it, but right around where he makes his impassioned speech to his little yellow minions, I just let it take me, and without regret.) But not this one. Even at 7, he’s starting to discern good kid’s movies (Toy Story 3, How To Train Your Dragon) from bad ones (Hoodwinked, Doogal, etc.) and so when he saw the previews for this, even the lure of 3D wasn’t enough to get him to the theater. “Nah,” he said, “I’ll catch it on Netflix.” That’s m’boy!

Basically, it’s Romeo and Juliette mixed with a road picture. A lady wolf who will one day be co-ruler of the pack (the Alpha) crosses paths with a responsibility-shirking loser destined to never amount to anything (the Omega). One day they’re both captured and trucked off to a nature preserve to repopulate the area, and during the course of their long trek back home, they learn more about each other, find a common ground, fall in love, and why the Hell am I recapping the plot of a movie I haven’t seen?

Anyway, that’s the gist as best as I can tell from the “story telling” done in this game. This being a DS title, I didn’t really expect to see cut scenes from the movie, but I at least expected actual screen shots and maybe some voice overs from soundalike actors. But no. What you get are stillshots that look like they were scanned in from the Golden Books version of the movie, with hard to read text narrated by a soft-spoken monotone man who sounds like he’s providing voiceover for an adult diaper commercial.

2. Graphics

I realize that this is the DS, with graphical capabilities roughly equal in quality to the Nintendo 64, but this would be horrible even on the Game Boy Advance. There’s no nice way to put this. It looks like a bottom tier Super Nintendo launch title. The characters are fuzzy and poorly animated. In the “platforming” sections of the game the same two or three frames of a generic background repeat endlessly in a loop like any given chase scene from an episode of Scooby-Doo. The other two mini-games (you read me right, there are only four mini-games to this “official companion to the feature film”) look like something that would have been subpar on Yahoo’s game section 5 years ago. Even the menus look low res and thrown together.

3. Sound

The game does have a few bits and pieces of what I assume is the film’s orchestral score, but they’re played repeatedly in a loop to the point of annoyance. The sound effects, when there are sound effects, are crunchy and low quality, sometimes sounding like stock effects from an old NES game. And then there’s the narration. I don’t know where they found this guy, but he should get out of video games, because he’d make a mint doing narration of audio books made specifically for kids suffering from severe ADHD. He has a lucrative future ahead of him doing color commentary for Senate hearings on CSPAN. He should do voiceover work for a game called “Super Anti-Insomnia Dekagon: Non-Sleep Battle Tactics” where it’s just him reading the Wall Street Journal over a picture of George Plimpton drinking Earl Grey tea.

4. Control and Gameplay

What controls there are here are responsive (except for the touch screen portions), but believe me, that’s not saying much. The platforming sections of the game consist of a level where you’re controlling a wolf on a piece of tree bark basically snowboarding down a snowy mountainside, where you can move up or down to avoid obstacles, and push left or right when in the air to control your character’s tilt so that you can land at the right angle, do flips, and so on.

The second platforming section has you controlling the lady wolf as she runs from point a to point b. But don’t go thinking this is an actual platforming level with clever obstacles and terrain to overcome. You simply jump over gaps and rocks while touching other wolves who then join you in your race to the finish line, while occasionally timing your jumps to catch a cupcake. Yeah, both the platforming mini-games and the putt-putt golf mini-game are obsessed with collecting cupcakes. I don’t know if the movie was sponsored by Hostess or what, and hence had some weird cupcake subplot going on, but I have to assume it does since cupcakes factor in so heavily to scoring and challenges. In short, all you have to do is press the jump button and you win.

The third mini-game is a timed music game where you use the stylus to hit the proper on-screen icons while a truly horrid piece of music plays in the background, while making sure you score high enough that three little birds listening to your performance don’t fall asleep and fall out of their tree. Meanwhile, during certain times of the song, you actually have to howl like a wolf into the microphone. Needless to say, I waited till no one else was home before playing this portion, which wasn’t really worth the effort to save myself from shame, since I literally had to put my mouth right up to the mic before it would even pick up my voice. Add to this the fact that what you’re touching and sliding over on screen doesn’t match up with the music at all, and when it does the game doesn’t seem to detect what you’re touching properly, and what you have is a mini-game that’s going to make kids hate their parents for buying this for them.

The fourth and final mini-game is basically putt-putt golf done from a top down perspective. Not mini-golf. Putt-putt. There’s no spinning windmills or stuff like that. You just have to navigate the ball through the twists and turns. The controls work much better here than in the song mini-game, but then again the layouts of each hole are so simplistic that it would be physically impossible to lose unless the controls were broken, so the fact that the ball goes where you want it to isn’t really what I would call a saving grace. There are putt-putt games on Facebook that are more fun than this.

5. Replayability

Once you complete the mini-games for the first time, you are presented with a low-res board game style screen depicting a map with several circles on it, each representing another game challenge. Every circle is simply one of the same mini-games you just played with new challenge requirements: beat your friend to the finish line, collect 6 cupcakes, collect 7 other wolves, beat the time clock, and so on. Its like they wanted to do a Mario Party style game, where you play various mini-games to make it to the finish line, but got so bored with their own output that they just gave up at four and repeated them all the way to the end.

There is a sort of in-game achievement system, but I wasn’t really able to tell how I was earning them, since the game never told me. It simply informed me that I’d unlocked one, with no hint as to how I did it, which led me to suspect that they’re either timed based on how long you subject yourself to the game, or are just unlocked automatically as you pass unmarked sections of the game board. So I suppose that could increase a kid’s desire to keep playing it, assuming they wouldn’t rather do their homework, which at this point is a pretty big assumption.

6. Balance

What can I say here? The game is bland, monotonous and overly easy when it starts, and its equally bland, monotonous and overly easy when you finish it, so in that respect it’s very balanced. The additional challenges added as you progress down the map don’t really increase the difficulty at all, since most of them are things I was doing from the first level on, I just wasn’t getting bonus points for it. Oh, so instead of getting three cupcakes and beating my friend to the finish line, I have to get six? Hey no problem, last time I got 15. What, I have to outrun an angry bear? Oh no! Oh wait, they just replaced the graphic of my friend’s head on the time bar with an angry bear’s head. I think I’ll manage.

7. Originality

You’re kidding me, right? It’s a mini-game collection that only has four mini-games. This game is original in only one of two ways:

1) No other studio was willing to take money to make a game based on this movie.

2) It manages to take game mechanics that have been done successfully for over twenty years and find completely new and exciting ways to ruin them, all in the mindset of “it’s a kid’s game. Kids are easily entertained.” Hey, thirty years ago you could sit a five year old down in front of Radio Shack Pong on a 12 inch black and white TV and he’d be captivated. Today if it didn’t come from Japan, Disney or Dreamworks and offer quality at least on the same level as Monsters Vs Aliens or Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs you’re gonna have an Alpha and Omega shaped bruise on your forehead. Then they’ll come home with notes from the school counselor wanting a parent-teacher conference because your kid thinks you don’t know or understand them. After all, how could you if you actually thought they’d enjoy a game with less depth than a toilet bowl?

8. Addictiveness

I had to force myself to keep playing this, and that was no easy task, considering that before you ever even SEE the game map, you have to play the first two mini-games four times each. Put it to you this way. If this game had been released with just the four mini-games played once each and then you got the closing credits, you’d have a game that was MAYBE 20 minutes long. Now what can you REALLY do for twenty minutes that’s actually addicting, aside from sex, drugs, booze, Youtube videos or Facebook updates?

9. Appeal Factor

This game is targeted directly at three year olds who won’t know enough about what makes a good game to be able to complain about it to their parents. but you see, the box doesn’t say “rated 3 for Toddlers.” It’s rated E for Everyone, so everyone should, in theory, enjoy this game if it’s done right. Correct? Short of a two year old who’ll be fascinated by the bright colors and sounds the same way he/she would be captivated by a TV color test pattern, I can’t see anyone of any age finding this game fun or appealing. I gave it to my seven year old and fifteen minutes later he came to me and said “I don’t care that you got this for free, this game sucks. When are we trading it in?”

Nuff said.

10. Miscellaneous

When I first exposed my son to video games, he was about 4. I bought him a Leapfrog and a Vtech V-Smile for his room. The games were mostly licensed educational titles or very simplistic platformers. When I first popped Alpha And Omega into my DS, the first thing that sprang to mind was that it had to have been a port from a Leapfrog or Vtech game, as it looks, sounds, and plays just like one. But a full search of Amazon and Toys-R-Us reveals that no, this is the only Alpha And Omega game on any platform. I still can’t shake the feeling that it was originally designed for those platforms and somehow made its way to DS, because the similarities to the games released on those systems is rather hard to ignore. If you’re a parent and you’ve had any experience with the quality of the games released for those systems, then you’ll know exactly what to expect, quality-wise, if you make the mistake of buying this for your kid. If I could sum this game up in one sentence, that’s what it would be: Alpha And Omega is a crappy Leapfrog game that’s been dumped on the DS.

The Scores
Story: Awful
Graphics: Worthless
Sound: Afwul
Control and Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Very Bad
Balance: Awful
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Awful
Miscellaneous: Awful

Short Attention Span Summary

You can’t blame a rushed game on its target demographic, especially when even gamers who fall into that age group can so quickly recognize a turd when they play one. Ducktales on NES: great game. Rescue Rangers on NES: great game. Monsters Vs Aliens, How To Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3: all decent licensed games for the younger crowd while still having enough challenge and meat on the bone to keep adult gamers interested. This game seems to have been made for the Leapfrog set but put on DS and given an E For Everyone rating, when no one I know of old or young who isn’t brain dead will find any level of fun or amusement from it. Alpha And Omega is an insult to the intelligence and skills of the modern under-ten gamer. It should be immediately chucked into the deepest, darkest recesses of the bargain bin without a life preserver, never to be seen or heard of again. Or better yet, maybe they have more room left in the landfill where Atari buried all those E.T. carts.



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