Review: Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze (Nintendo DS)

Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze
Developer: Little Orbit
Publisher: Little Orbit
Genre: Racing
Release Date: 11/13/2012

I reviewed the first Monster High game, Ghoul Spirit, back in October of 2011 and found it to be much better than I had expected. As my wife and some of our friends are very big into the franchise, I was happy to review the second Monster High video game, Skultimate Roller Maze even though I’m not a fan of racing games. It meant at worst they could fiddle with the game if I hated it and at best, I’d be able to plug a game that’s very much under the radar due to THQ dropping the publishing rights to this and nearly every license they had that wasn’t WWE or Warhammer. That meant indie publisher Little Orbit has a lot of pressure on them as this is a big Mattel license, but they obviously don’t have the advertising budget THQ did before it imploded. So is Skultimate Roller Maze a jewel well worth hunting down?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There really isn’t a story to Skultimate Roller Maze. You just race around various tracks, trying to get first place (out of four positions). There are however four modes, each with a different take on the same basic race theme. Race has you compete in a series of races with your team of three Monster High characters that you can switch between instantaneously. You have three difficulty settings on this level: Spooky, Creeparific and Scarifying. The difference are the number of tracks you have to race on. Spooky is four, Creeparific is five and Scarifying is six. You can’t save between races so expect to be playing for a long time as each race is generally three minutes each. In Race mode you get points for your placement (4 for first, 2 for second and 1 for third) and the goal is to have the highest score at the end of the race collective. Getting first unlocks you new tracks and racers. This is the ONLY mode you can unlock things in.

Quick Race just lets you race on a single track instead of a set of four through six. Relay has you do a race, but each lap is completed by a different monster high character , so pick your favorite team of three here. Timed is simply a race against the clock where you try to set your best time. There’s no pressure and no opponents.

That’s all your options. There are a total of twelve characters to unlock (eight girls, four guys). Most of the popular characters are here, but there’s no Cleo DeNile oddly enough. She probably didn’t want to work up a sweat. There are a total of six tracks to unlock as well. It doesn’t sound like a lot course-wise, but the tracks are pretty big and quite varied. You do get a bit of smack talk between your team and some other Monster High characters in Race mode before each segment, and it is nice to see that the dialogue changes based on who the opponent is and who your starter racer is as well. So there’s lot of dialogue options in this regard, even if it’s friends just giving each other good natured ribbing.

So the game does feel a bit bare bones, especially without any sort of multiplayer, but there are a lot of playable character, each of which has their own special move and there’s a bit of variety to the different race types. I’m not sure what more they could have added besides other tracks to be honest. Maybe an actual roller derby? What’s here is fine for Monster High and racing fans alike though.

Modes Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

As I’m reviewing the DS version, it should probably come as no surprise that the graphics aren’t going to be mind blowing. I mean, this venerable handheld can’t compete with what the 3DS or consoles can do. That said, for a DS game, the visuals are quite nice. The six different courses have a lot of detail to them, which is impressive considering this is a racing game and you usually can/t/don’t pay attention to the backgrounds because your eye is on the course. Still, I was impressed by how different each course looked. Players will get to visit such mainstays as Gloom Beach, Scaris, Skull Shores, Granite City and two different courses based around the Monster High school. The only course I had a problem with was the one entitled “Monster High School” because it was indoors and at times it was hard to see what direction the track was going. The walls and design made things fuzzy. Other than that, the game looks good for a DS release and each location is noticeably different in style and layout.

Each of the twelve Monster High characters look pretty good too. They all get various portraits of them that look like the dolls. In-game the visuals are pretty good as well. You’ll never confuse any of the characters with each other and they are animated quite fluidly. There isn’t a lot to the game but when you’ll see them skating, push each other, get knocked down and do jumps. There’s only so much you can do with a skating game’s visuals after all. What matters is that the character move and react realistically and that the characters look like the actual dolls and cartoons. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Graphics Rating: Good

3. Sound

There isn’t a lot of voice acting in the game. Each character has a single line of dialogue you’ll here whenever they do something good, like get a turbo boost or activate their power. It’s hard to make out what they are saying with some of them, so the audio could have been recorded a bit better. The main Monster High theme is here, but it’s missing the vocals. There are a few tracks in the game, but only two or three and they’re more elevator music than anything catchy.

There are a few sound effects, like when you launch an item at someone, but again there’s not a lot to the audio aspect of the game. It’s probably the weakest area of Skultimate Roller Maze, but what’s here is inoffensive; it’s just a lot more could have been done here.

Sound Rating: Below Average

4. Control and Gameplay

So here’s the thing. I hate driving in real life (Well, I hate OTHER drivers) and I really hate driving video games. But you know what? I DIDN’T hate Skultimate Roller Maze. I actually had fun with it. It’s got very simple controls, it’s easy to learn and I never had a real problem with it except for a ramp in one level that I could never actually clear. Every time I feel into the green ooze.

You use the D-pad to steer your racer, the A button to speed up and the B button to slow down. If you pick up an item, you can use it ala Mario Kart via the X button. There are a wide range of items but the best is the fake item that when your opponents try to pick up, it eats them . They are then held in the coffin for what feels like forever and will easily drop from first to fourth. Don’t fall for it yourself! You can also collect coins along the way and they charge your spirit meter. Get it all the way up and you can use a special power. Frankie has an electric volt that lets her get a guaranteed knock down on opponents, Draculara gets a herd of bats that let her fly over obstacles. Lagoon is surrounded by a protected water bubble. Things like that. The triggers let you transform your current skater into one of the other two teammates you have (except in Relay mode). So you can have one of each of the three skater types if you want and switch depending on the situation.

So let’s talk about those three types. You have Light, which gets knocked down by opponents easily and can’t same to knock anyone down themselves, but are great with curves and are the fastest. Medium are all around character. They can knock people down but are slower and less responsive to turns. Strong are slow and can’t take turns very well, but are great at knocking down. They’re faster than Medium actually but they take forever to reach their max speed. Personally I found Light to be the best overall class by far and never really found a time where they didn’t outshine the others. So Frankie, Draculaura and Lagoona were my main go-to team. Draculaura is by far the best character in the game as she has the best special out of all the Light characters. Stick with her and you’ll be getting first place wins in no time.

That’s pretty much all you need to know for playing the game. It’s well designed, bug free and very easy to learn. It’s a bit simplistic, but a game like this doesn’t need to be complex, especially since little girls are the target demographic. It’s a well designed racing game for younger gamers. That’s all it needs to be.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

5. Replayability

Without co-perative or competitive gameplay, there’s not much you can do with the DS version of Skultimate Roller Maze You can unlock everything in about an hour and a half if you’re good at the game and then it’s really just trying to beat your time. It’s fun to play through each mode a few times and to try and unlock everyone, but once you have…there’s really nothing left to do unless you really love the game and want to try and win with a team of all Strong characters or keep beating your best time. I was really disappointed that there wasn’t a multiplayer option for people with multiple carts. That would have really helped this game. As is though, there just isn’t much replay value at all here.

Replayability Rating: Bad

6. Balance

I found Skultimate Roller Maze to be a pretty easy games, but there were times when I did get tripped up. Items are very powerful and can easily send a character from first to fourth place. As well, the first time you do a maze, you won’t know the best path to go, so some of beating the game handily comes from rote memorization of the course in question. You’ll find enemies rarely smack you except right at the beginning and usually you’ll be pretty far ahead unless something knocks you out for a bit. It’s not a hard game by any means, but younger gamers might have some trouble with it simply due to their inexperience. Like I said, the game does have its moments where it will kick your butt, but they are few and far between. Once you realize what characters are the best and what route to take is fastest, you should find Skultimate Roller Maze to be a cakewalk.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

7. Originality

I can honestly say I’ve never played a game that revolves around roller skating through haunted locations before. This is also only the second Monster High video game and it’s as about as different from the first one as can be. Ghoul Spirit was a fetch quest based RPG and Skultimate Roller Maze is a roller skating racer. While there are LOTS of racing games out there, I can’t think of any that look, feel or have remotely the same theme as this. The closest I can get to is the Walt DisneyWorld Magical Racing Tour cart game for the Sega Dreamcast (My favorite racing game BTW). It has a Haunted Mansion level that captures some of the feel of this, but it’s still wildly different. All in all, there really isn’t anything like Skultimate Roller Maze. It definitely stands out from the pack.

Originality Rating: Good

8. Addictiveness

I have to admit I don’t really like racing games, but I had fun with this. I do wish you could save between races in Race mode as four to six races in a row without stopping is a lot. You can also close your DS and put it into standby mode, but it’s not quite the same thing. It would also help if there was a multiplayer mode as then I could play against my wife or a friend over the internet. Maybe the Wii version will have multiplayer, but Kennedy is reviewing that one so we’ll all have to wait and find out if it does.

I enjoyed testing out characters and playing through all the tracks, but there isn’t a lot to the game after the two hour mark to keep any single player version that interesting. It’s still, fun, but by then you have all the courses memorized, you know what characters to use, and there isn’t the remotest hint of a challenge. Basically after a few hours, you’ve exhausted all there is to do with the DS version. It might still be fun to pick up once in a while for a few minutes, but the game doesn’t have much replay value. At least it’s fun while it lasts I just wished it lasted a while longer.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

Monster High cartoons and dolls are pretty popular, but I’m not sure how much of a crossover audience there is with video game fans. My wife is one, but she really didn’t like Ghoul Spirit and she hates roller derby so she probably won’t care much for Skultimate Roller Maze either. You pretty much have to be a fan of all three things to have your interest piqued by this game. It’s a decently made one to be sure, but the audience is going to be a very niche one. Skultimate Roller Maze IS one of the better DS games released in 2012, so gamers looking for a fix on that system might find a temporary one here, but I think most Monster High fans and gamers alike will want something a little more in-depth that what is presented here. I’d like to see it do well, as it’s cute, fun and has a solid engine behind it, but off the top of my heads, it’s hard to think of too many people that like (or participate in) roller derby that also like Monster High and playing video games (especially handheld ones).

Appeal Factor: Below Average

10. Miscellaneous

At the end of the day Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is a fun little game, but I can’t help feeling there could be more to it. It doesn’t take long to unlock everything and without multiplayer, the replay value goes south quickly. The A.I. isn’t very difficult and the courses are easy to memorize, so you should have no trouble getting first place regularly. Now again, remember I’m a thirty-five year old guy that has been playing video games all his life and the target audience for Skultimate Roller Maze is young girls, so that demographic may have a harder time with the game and thus get more out of it. They can also pass it around to compare and see who can get the fastest time, even if they can’t play with or against each other. I guess a thumb’s in the middle here as the game IS fun, but there really is a lot more than could have been done with it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores:
Modes: Decent
Graphics: Good
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Bad
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is a cute little racing game that young fans of the dolls and cartoons can have a lot of fun with. There are several playable characters and race tracks to unlock, but you can do all of that in roughly two hours. The game’s also very easy, although the target audience might find it harder due to inexperience and slower reflexes. The engine is solid and the graphics are quite nice for a DS release. The game could really use multiplayer and it’s shame that it is lacking that, but overall it’s still something the target audience can and will have fun with.



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