Zhu Zhu Pets Featuring the Wild Bunch
Developer: Black Lantern Studios
Release Date: 10/19/2010
The Wii is a console that gets blamed for have a lot of horrible licensed tie-in titles and poorly made motion control games. Some of that reputation is true, but some of it is merely exaggeration. Sometimes a platform game for kids is just that-a platform game designed for kids. To that end, Activision has presented us with Zhu Zhu Pets Featuring the Wild Bunch. Let’s see how they did.
Taking place in a neighborhood “just a little bit away from your own,”Â Zhu Zhu Pets features a race of clever pet hamsters living and playing out their lives with limited oversight from children. It seems that there is another group of them that lives out in the forest, known as the Wild Bunch. These less civilized animals have challenged the neighborhood Pets to a game of tag. That’s the extent of the story, but it works here. Rather than re-invent the wheel or create a “where’s the princess”Â scenario, the animals are just playing tag. The game plays out in a manner that should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Super Mario Brothers game. Each world is divided up into a series of levels, and you must guide your chosen pet until they can tag the Wild Bunch. There’s also a two-player mode if you want to bring a friend along.
Story/Modes Rating: Mediocre
I’m a bit outside of the game’s target demographic, but if the kids want bright and colorful, this is the game for them. The color palette is composed of a nice variety of pastels, both on the background and on the characters themselves. Most of the art features a black border line, which is necessary to differentiate everything but does tend to eat up the graphical real-estate. There’s not much to the animations, because most character models tend toward stumpy, plush bodies. There’s a bit of a blur when the characters are moving quickly, and the shiny coins and stars you’ll be collecting don’t have the highest resolution. Still, you can tell where you’re going, and the levels have a clear theme that runs through them.
Graphics Rating: Poor
Aside from a very, very overly-cheery announcer, there aren’t a lot of voice effects in this game. Sound doesn’t fair too much better, as it consists mostly of generic jumping and blinging noises when you collect an item. The pets themselves don’t make much noise. The music is a fairly repetitive but does its job as a tune for while you play. It would be nice if each character had some sort of voice effect or victory noise; anything aside from a merry chirp.
Audio Rating: Poor
Control and Gameplay
Due to the target age group, Zhu Zhu Pets controls very simplistically. You take a Wii-mote, turn it sideways, and just use the D-pad and face buttons. No waggle, no pointer, no motion controls. This keeps things simplistic, but also hurts the excitement and keeps it from being anything new. You can jump and dash, and combine the two for extra height. The game breaks down to where you find one of the Wild Bunch and run towards them until they hold up a white flag upon being tagged. There are a few difficult sections, and a few interesting power-ups you can get, but it doesn’t change the dynamic too much from what you have played before. I do give the developers credit for adding as many “traditional”Â platformer elements as they did. Moving platforms, jumping tiles, and even an occasional vehicle level will allow young gamers to graduate directly from this title to more mainstream games.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre
Unless you really want to play through as every single pet and get every single gold trophy, you won’t find a lot of reasons to play this game once you have beaten it. The draw for playing through more than once in this type of game is usually just the high score, and getting all of the items in each level. Grabbing the items is easy, and grabbing all of the coins can be accomplished without much struggle.
Replayability Rating: Poor
Being targeted directly at the young crowd, Zhu Zhu Pets is appreciatively simplistic. Most levels can be muddled through, and there is no chance to fall down a pit and die. If you do drop off the map somehow, a red balloon will carry you back to where you dropped from. The downside of all that hand-holding is there really doesn’t feel like a challenge. There ultimately isn’t a reason to collect coins aside from the high-score, because they never turn into a one-up. It’s the opposite of playing a game on hard; this game is permanently easy. You can compete for higher awards via a series of trophies and that does allow for some replay options, but ultimately once you understand the patterns of each level you can get through with little difficulty.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
It is hard to find an original element in this game, mostly because of the derivative nature of platformers in general. Let’s face it, Super Mario Bros was 25 years ago, and a lot of ground gets covered year by year. I was impressed at one of the power-ups in this game though, and that was the vacuum suit. You can wear a giant vacuum that actually will pull the collectible items and the Wild Bunch towards you. There’s a great moment using this suit where you can walk through the levels and just watch all the glittery items coalesce into your Zhu Zhu Pet. Aside from that, you’re going to jump, run, and slide your way across the same movements you’ve had before.
Originality Rating: Poor
So will the kids want to keep playing this title? Quite possibly. The game levels are interesting enough and there are a large number of pets to play with. The downside comes from the cookie-cutter aspect of the game. Except for cosmetic differences, there isn’t any control or gameplay change. Still, the power ups provide some changes and the young gamers should find something to keep them interested.
Addictiveness Rating: Decent
I know that the Zhu Zhu Pets were an incredibly popular toy last year, but that addiction has faded a little bit. This year they don’t figure that high on the list of most wanted gifts, but they still have a collectible appeal. There are also a lot of different, colorful choices for what you want to play as in this game. Playing a pink hamster named “Justice”Â really was amusing.
Appeal Factor Rating: Enjoyable
If there is one major fault that Zhu Zhu Pets has, it is the lack of victory screens at the end of each world. There is no transition from level 1-6 to level 2-1, so unless you back all the way out to the main screen, you don’t progress normally. It is a confusing and jarring omission, and if you just keep hitting the advance button you’ll just keep going to the same mission. There really needed to be some sort of screen to indicate, “Congrats, you’re moving on!”Â
Control and Gameplay: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
FINAL SCORE: Below Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Zhu Zhu Pets Featuring the Wild Bunch is a lot like a real hamster- cute, harmless, but ultimately not a long term investment. The game works well as a “child’s first platformer,” but it will leave you wanting more. Graphics and sound are serviceable, but won’t dazzle anyone and are often outclassed by similar titles on the system. There are a few neat powerups but they will not carry the title into the class of must-play.