Monday, December 3, 2012

Ghost's Angry Reviews - Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms

This is the standard spoiler warning.  If for some reason you actually find it in your heart to care enough about not having Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms spoiled then I would sit back and ponder that decision for a moment… just think about it.

This is Ghost, thanks for joining.

Mini games
Yeah yeah I know!  Mini Games have become a staple of the industry for quite some time much to the chagrin of many gamers.  Why is it that mini games strike a nerve with gamers such as myself, and what exactly do I identify as a mini game?  The true definition of a mini game is a short video game often contained within another video game which is always smaller or more simplistic than the game in which it is contained.  I would like to expand upon that.  If a mini-game is standalone then it is to be considered short and relatively simplistic in nature so stuff like Bloons and Sniper Assassin which you can find online are definitely part of that category.

Those things are perfectly fine, they are free to play and found online with a simple Google search.  They serve their purpose of alleviating boredom for a few moments and are promptly forgotten afterwards.  They understand their target audience and the expectation for that audience and produce a quality product based on these expectations.  They perform very well, especially the two games I mentioned above; give them a try if you want something fun to do.  However you can’t exactly call yourself a gamer or a video game fan if those are the kinds of games you play.  They are good and I have no quarrel with them; it’s the other kind of mini game which I so often have problems with.   

Mini Games as part of a regular game can be very tricky to handle.  There is some debate as to what exactly constitutes as a mini game and not just part of the regular challenge of gameplay.  I like to define Mini Games when it comes to being part of a greater game as any activity that is either called a game inside the world, or any activity that actively changes what you normally do during regular gameplay.   The first things that come to mind when I think of mini games inside of games are things like the shooting gallery in Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, the Game Corner in Pokémon Red and Blue, and the RC Car challenge in Duke Nukem Forever.

Mini Games have their place and can be a very fun addition to the playing experience especially if they give worthwhile rewards and bonuses; something that the Zelda series often succeeds in.   However they can also be an annoyance beyond all reasoning.  The point of a mini game is to do something different than what you would normally be accustomed to doing in order to achieve some goal or just to have a little bit of fun or challenge.  But when mini games become essential or even required game developers are stepping into a whole new realm of bullcrap.  Extremely poor designs, incredible difficulty, and forcing a player to participate in a game style that they may not enjoy or even be terrible at are just a few of the reasons why people hate mini games.  If I wanted a platforming game, I would have bought a freaking platforming game, not an action/adventure game. 

Let’s look at a couple of quick examples from the Legend of Zelda series since I praised it just a few minutes ago
GOOD MINI GAME – Shooting Gallery
Ocarina of Time
This is a very simple straightforward game of hitting the targets with either the slingshot as a child, or the bow and arrow as an adult.  It is a challenge without being overly difficult.  It might take you a couple of tries but you’ll get there in the end.  On top of that, it’s entirely voluntary.  You only play this for the fun of having a challenge if you want it.  Sure you get rewards like a larger seed back or a bigger quiver, as well as money but none of that is required to beat the game it’s just something they tossed in there for some added fun.

BAD MINI GAME – Tokay Feeding
Oracle of Ages
Holy Crap did this suck.  When you land on the Tokay’s Island all of your gear is missing so you’re already really annoyed but in order to get an item that is required so that you can get all of your equipment back and continue the game you are forced to play this mini game where you pick up large pieces of meat and toss them at the creatures as they pass by on the left and right.  First off the Tokays move fairly fast and if you miss a single one you have to pay 10 rupees to play again and keep going till you get it done 100%.  Also it’s a required action to perform.  You have to deal with this stupidity or else you cannot finish the game.  I haven’t played this since I was probably 16 so I have increased my skill as a gamer since then but I remember being SO pissed off over this because I kept having to harvest rupees cause one of the little buggers was always too fast for me to run across the screen and toss the meat properly.

But now we’ve come to the worst of the worst thing about mini games; video games that are nothing but mini games.  You know the ones; the casual pandering bullcrap that they often like to refer to as Party Games.
 Or Game Party apparently….whatever

This is why gamers weep.  There is a place for 5 minute mini games it’s called the internet and you can play them for free usually.  Or at least put them in with another game as a side item.  Don’t JUST slap together 30 or more tiny games and try to market it as its own entity.  That’s just lazy and really shows no enthusiasm or quality control.  Nintendo especially has been overly egregious with things like that especially when it came to the Wii.  Carnival Games, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, Game Party, Wii Play, Wii Music, the crap barrel is extremely deep with this type of thing and it’s filled all the way to the brim.

Now I know what you’re going to say.  Games like that are best suited for multiple people.  Things like Mario Party and Carnival Games are things that you are supposed to share the experience with someone else and have fun together.  So in the spirit of that… OK fine I’ll play a Mario Party game.
OK now we’ve got everything set in place been running around a little bit let’s see who moves next?

And the majority of games centered around things like this AREN’T wifi capable.  Now I understand the thought process being that you are supposed to have fun with other people being present so the banter and hilarity can be both on screen and off but let’s face it... .any gamers only play games alone or only over wifi.  With many of the gaming systems there is wifi capability and the availability of a microphone to chat over so why not utilize these things??  If I have the ability to hear my buddy shouting obscenities over a pokémon battle on the freaking Nintendo DS then why can’t I over some sort of party game on a home console with the technology provided there?

That being said I’m willing to take back every single thing I just said.  Yeah I’ll accept all of the above as great choices and excellent games even stuff like Game Party because at least they aren’t what today’s game is; a series of mini games that are attempting to be strung together in a storyline.  At least Game Party and Carnival Games had the common courtesy to know they are just a series of mini games and don’t try to have some sort of narrative string them together.  They are standalone units that you can select from.  But this game… OH this game is one of THOSE abominable ones trying to take different mini games that have been done five thousand times over and giving them the look of The Little Mermaid. 

Sorry for the extremely long intro to this but there isn’t a whole lot to really talk about with this game and I felt you really needed to know where I’m coming from on this one before I start so let’s head under the sea and see why it’s really NOT hotter under the water.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Magic in Two Kingdoms was released on the Gameboy Advanced in the United States on October 6, 2006.  As you can imagine given the long intro, the game is comprised of eight different mini games which the player is ushered from and to by the means of cutscenes. 

Why yes, there IS a “plot” attempting to tie all these mini games together and can you take a guess what that is?  It’s the plot of the actual movie.  So if you don’t know what the plot is then go rent The Little Mermaid on DVD and watch it.  It’s one of those movies that I actually enjoy more as an adult but that’s probably due to my gender.  They even went so far as to just simply rip still frames from the actual movie to use them as the cutscenes with text below. 
I assume this was an attempt to give the game a little bit of credibility but the attempt was still born and failed epicly as it comes across as just lazy especially when the actual quality of the graphics in the game portion are amazingly well done for a GBA game even though my screens don’t do it justice.  The mini games you play are varied in style and direction and really don’t have anything to do with the other as far as playing style but at the same time given the limitations of the hardware it all just basically involves moving around or hitting the A, B, L, or R button at the right time… not exactly rocket science here.   But still, the games are so random they really should be standalone units… so if you ever get the chance to create a game and you plan on attempting to string random mini games together with a story then you should at least… actually no I’m going to stop you right there. NEVER attempt to string random mini games together with a story.  Just don’t do it! 

The Games
As stated before there are eight mini games that you participate in during gameplay so I will talk about each of them individually.  I WOULD name them each by name but the game is even too lazy to put up text as to what they actually are, just a picture of the scenario… you know what that means

Game 1 – Dumpster Diving
You start off inside the wreckage of the ship where Ariel meets the shark and has to escape from him.  Except that doesn’t happen at all.  Instead she is running around the ship and can’t fit into holes in the ceiling and floor causing Flounder to have to go in and pop air bubbles/create air bubbles to move items like cups, forks and other such things around so that they go to the main area so Ariel can pick them up.  Supposedly if you sit around in an area with Flounder too long the Shark will show up but nothing was so tricky that there was even a glimpse of action or tension.  And on top of that EVERY SINGLE HOLE you come too, they have the same dialog where Flounder asks if Ariel can get through the hole, she can’t so he offers to go in.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.  It’s so annoying.  But once you collect all 10 pieces of treasure you unlock a giant treasure chest and you’re carted off to the next activity.

Game 2 – The One Where You Do the Stuff and Avoid the Things to Get the Doohickey and Magic and Stuff
This happens during the portion where Eric’s ship is sinking and Eric falls into the ocean.  You simply swim upwards to try to save him over four different screens.  You hit A to speed up, avoid falling items that hurt you and slow you down, and if you need extra time just move a treasure into a bubble and that’s it.  When you finally reach Eric just hit B over and over to take him to shore and the game ends.  Again it’s really really simplistic.  You don’t even need the time extension unless you just have egregiously bad aim.  If a barrel hurts you, then within a few seconds you’ll find a health booster.  Your health regains itself on the next section of water and if you somehow are awful enough to actually deplete all your health you just restart again.  There is no “Lives” system in this game you just keep playing the section till you beat it.

That’s right people NO Game Over screen because there are no number of lives you just keep doing stuff over and over till you get it right.  Now for some personal philosophy again but as much as I HATE Game Over screens and the feeling of inadequacy that it gives, it’s also a nice little dose of some form or reality.  Adding a lives system at least gives somewhat of an added sense of “oh crap I can’t screw this up.”  Instead of just holding everyone’s hand throughout every little step of their little tiny lives, then being eventually shoved into the real world where nothing is there to hold your hand and you should have had plenty of experience so you don’t become an “adult” acting like an absolute idiot because society says that children can do no wrong and they are all winners; WELL THAT’S NOT THE REAL WORLD THE REAL WORLD SUCKS AND MOST THINGS YOU DO WILL BE WRONG AND PEOPLE WILL EXPECT YOU TO KNOW HOW TO HANDLE FAILURE BUT THIS UPCOMING GENERATION AND THOSE AFTER IT WON’T BE ABLE TO HANDLE FAILURE CAUSE THEY ….

Sorry… umm… my rabbit trail got a little out of hand there.  What was I doing again?

Game 3 – Merry Melodies: A Bugs Bunny Cartoon
Remember that classic Under the Sea song that Sebastian sang to help cheer up Ariel?  Remember how it was one of the best sequences in the entire movie?  Let’s take something iconic like that and toss a cherry bomb of bad right in the middle of it.  Sound fun?  I didn’t think so. 

So what do they have us do in this iconic scene?  They have us simply hit a directional line or button on the GBA whenever it appears on the screen.  Just at any point it’s on the screen not at a certain point on the screen to keep with the tempo or anything like that just whenever you see the button prompt and have time to get to it during the day.  That’s it. 

This is one that I have some real problems with.  I know it’s supposed to be simple but this is ridiculous.  Since they are going with the whole musical theme they could have had us hit the button right when it hit a certain line on the screen or with the tempo of the song since it is a playthrough of a song.  It’s not a lack of technology to do that because I’ve seen a GBA game where you hit buttons at certain key times and even with the tempo of the song so it’s not that it’s just sheer laziness.

Also what makes this fail in comparison is that this came out in October of 2006.  However in March of the same year another game came out featuring mini games of The Little Mermaid which executed the idea of hitting buttons to songs five million times better, Kingdom Hearts 2!
Now I realize this is a Playstation 2 Title so ignore the hardware and visual quality here.  I’m looking at the core mechanics of hitting a button at a precise time like in the Kingdom Hearts 2 version.  That could have easily been done here but as per usual, we can’t put quality work into a game aimed for children right?

Game 4 – Bad Memories of Superman 64
This takes place while Ariel is headed to Ursula’s Lair to become a human.  Flotsam and Jetsam simply create rings of water behind them in which Ariel needs to swim through to keep up.  This formula has been done over and over and over it’s so very stagnant.  However this particular game has the distinction that if you miss a ring, nothing happens and if you brush the bottom or top of the ring at the last second with your tail rather than swim through it, it still counts.   Programming at its finest, people!

Game 5 – Friday Night Wine and Death
This stage is a platformer…. OH GOODIE MY FAVORITE.  My teeth are grinding together with excitement over this piece of
…over this portion of the game. 

You play as Sebastian inside the French Chef’s kitchen.  You are racing to get to the other side of the area before the time runs out.  You get additional time by hiding under leaves of lettuce or freeing fellow crabs from tiny little cages.  There isn’t really anything there to harm you other than one or two open fires which are a little deceiving so kudos on whoever designed that. There are also sticky pastries thrown around to slow him down but nothing too difficult that usually makes me cringe when it comes to platforming. 

Though I do find it highly comical to see a tiny crab perform a double jump over top of a wine bottle that is five times the size of him and that apparently he weighs so little that a bowl of jello can send him soaring into the air.  Dat Physics.

Game 6 – Bob
This game takes place during the rowboat scene in the lake.  You know the one where they sing Kiss the Girl?  Well if you thought this had anything to do with that song then you’d be giving this game too much credit.  Instead, your mission is to keep mood lighting on the boat by moving it around so that it’s always on the boat till the love meter is full while occasionally hitting the a button when prompted to summon frogs.  So… let me get this straight.  You’re now a wizard who can conjure up one of the plagues of Egypt to sing in an attempt to get Prince Eric’s “Love Meter” all the way up?  … Make your own joke there people I’m not touching that one.

Game 7 – When Animals Attack VIII
… I can only imagine this is how the planning meeting went for this mini game.

Remember that 10 second scene where the animals rush in to stop the wedding and hit Ursula in her human disguise which results in the seashell she kept Ariel’s voice falling and shattering?  Well how about we have the human Ursula just walking around and doing nothing with buttons appearing over her head and if you hit it multiple times one of the animals will come from off screen and hit her causing her to be confused, then the seashell will appear and you have to hit the right combination of buttons as prompted so that lightning will suddenly appear and break off a portion of the seashell so that eventually it breaks cause of the lightning.

Yeah that sounds like a fairly good representation of what happened in the movie… if you watched it while stoned off your butt.

Game 8 – I’ve Seen Enough Hentai to Know Where This Is Going
This takes place during the end of the movie where Eric rams his ship into Ursula.  He is on his ship with a cannon and is shooting some sort of white stuff out of his cannon instead of regular looking cannonballs.  So he shoots this white stuff out of his cannon at the tentacles that are coming for him before they touch him while also shooting at the tentacles blocking Ursula in the background revealing her stomach and breasts in the background for him to ram into… WOW COULD THAT SOUND ANY MORE PERVERTED WTF??!

SERIOUSLY, I didn’t even sit here and craftily think about how to turn that entire mini game into something that sounded sexual that’s literally what all goes down in this game. It’s one of those things that it doesn’t even really hit you till you sit down and try to explain exactly what happened. 

Do I even really need to say this?  This game is a colossal waste of time and effort on everyone’s part. The games are ridiculously simplistic some of which to the point of being offensively simplistic.  It really is a shame that something with really good graphics for a game on the Gameboy Advance were wasted on something so sterile and terrible as this.  This is an affront to gaming.  It took me less than twenty minutes to play this game without skipping any of the cutscenes and this was, at minimum, a $19.99 game when it came out if not more.  That’s like a dollar a minute and that’s completely uncalled for.

Now I realize that I, a 26 year old male, am not the target audience for this type of game and even when going into this I tried to keep that in mind but the quality just isn’t there.  You can make a game targeted at younger people that’s no problem.  I’m not even going to harp on the fact that it’s targeted at young girls only because we need diversity like that but if you are going to venture into a product with a smaller audience in mind you need to compensate for the lack of broad appeal by making a good quality experience that will make the game be a cherished memory.  Unfortunately this falls into the  “kids are dumb” mentality that so often the video game industry dives into when creating a game aimed at children by only doing a half job at best and producing something that literally made me ill after playing it knowing how much time and money was put into that thing.

If you really want to play mini games then I would suggest checking out or getting yourself something like Carnival Games or Wii Play; Heck I’ve heard that Nintendo Land on the Wii U is a fun game and that’s brand new so check that out.  If you’re looking for a Little Mermaid experience then I would suggest either sticking to The Little Mermaid on Super Nintendo, or the first Kingdom Hearts game for Playstation 2.  The SNES title is short but it actually plays like a video game and has some degree of challenge to it.  Kingdom Hearts, sure it has other worlds so you aren’t just having a Little Mermaid experience but the experience you have there makes it one of the best worlds in the entire game.  The boss battle against Ursula is intense, and Ariel even becomes a party member who really puts a hurt on the heartless and villains.  Both are well worth a play.  Just don’t pick up this piece of whale vomit!

This is Ghost fading into the darkness.
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