Kim Possible: What’s The Switch (PS2) Review

Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 7.0/10

Kim Possible has overcome yet another impossible feat – having her own home console game. Having only seen iterations of her persona featured on the Game Boy Advance and DS, Kim Possible is ready for the big time along with her nemesis Shego. But unfortunately for Kim, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch for the PlayStation 2 is a side-scrolling platformer that might end up with you asking “What’s the point?”

First off, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch is a solid platformer. It has the basic vital function a side-scrolling platformer game needs: jumping. Toss in a few extra gameplay elements like doors, levers, and flagpoles to swing on and you’re in business! While it’s easy to learn how to play What’s the Switch, the game is unmerciful when it begins to ramp up its difficulty as you get used to the controls. If it can be frustrating to a seasoned veteran, I can only imagine the type of aneurysms that will be forming in the pre-teen demographic the game’s show appeals to.

The main gimmick of What’s the Switch comes from the actual switching of the characters you play constantly throughout. The game is nearly split in half between Kim and one of her archenemies, Shego, a super strong lady with a magically brash attitude. Even though Kim’s name is plastered on the front of the box, don’t let it fool you into thinking you’re going to be playing as Kim the majority of the time. Occasionally you’ll control Rufus the Naked Mole Rat who pops out of Kim’s pants pocket for no apparent reason other than to confuse me and say “When can I save?!” Although Shego and Kim pretty much play exactly the same, Rufus has the uncanny ability to cling to the ceiling, which gives the levels a little more variety.

A great game design choice is that there is no strict tutorial mode. It is seamlessly woven into the actual gameplay, and the game will teach you how to overcome an obstacle when you need to use a new ability. It is a nice way to learn even though it might take a few levels before the game really ramps up into playing the “real game” you were meant to play.

The game’s set up involves the novel concept of the old “mind-switching” situation. In the beginning story scenes, Kim Possible and her partner Ron Stoppable are on a mission to recover a mystical monkey idol before Drakken, an evil mastermind who is inadvertently Shego’s boss, from stealing the idol. No one knows what the idol does until some other random evil guy named Dementor steals it first, before they even get there, and uses it on Drakken and Ron Stoppable. Lo and behold, Drakken is in Ron’s body and Ron is in Drakken’s body. Haha. Hilarious. Kim and Shego resolve to get back the monkey idol from Dementor so they can switch Ron and Drakken back into their respective bodies by chasing him through fairly elaborate constructs that seemingly shouldn’t exist – such as a mile-long plane.

What is disappointing about the story is that there is a missed opportunity for some actual laughs. Even though the story is based on Ron and Drakken having their minds switched between each other, you never see them except for in still concept art that is integrated into one of the dozens of loading screens that come up. While you don’t have to watch the show to really enjoy or understand what’s going on, it would have been nice to get a little more feeling of what the show was actually about than what was presented. The whole game’s story ends up being a wasted concept that would have been better executed as an episode in the television show. The curious lack of any humorous story scenes with Ron and Drakken voids the game from replicating the feeling of playing through an episode of a lighthearted cartoon — it’s all about “getting down to business” and going on a long adventure beating up Dementor’s cohorts and running through his oddly non-usable buildings that seem to spring up in random places. I’ll tell you right now that if I hired an architect to make a building and he gave me any one of the buildings that are seen in this game, I would sue him for not putting any bathrooms or stairs anywhere.

Not to mention, the game is a collect-athon. You’ll be looking in every nook and cranny you can find to retrieve blue circles called “Kimmunicators” for no other reason than to unlock concept art and music in the extras menu. While I’m glad it isn’t required to collect every single Kimmunicator in the level, there’s an odd sense of responsibility to collect them as you go through the levels so that you never have to go back again – just in case, down the line. There are also different costumes to collect, and through each segment, Kim and Shego must find three of their own costume collectibles to earn a costume to use later on if you so desired. The costume collectibles will be in hard-to-reach places, so they will definitely take some extra time to find. There are also healing and life collectibles, which are very rare. There are not nearly enough of the healing collectibles or extra life collectibles to alleviate the game’s frustrating difficulty in later levels, though.

What’s the Switch is very unforgiving when it comes to starting over after lives run out. Instead of starting from the beginning of a level, you start from your last save. This is crap, plain and simple. I wasted quite a few hours on this game for nothing, only to be reverted back to the original place I started at when I first started playing. Throw me a bone here — I completed the levels I already went through, so why the hell do I want to play them AGAIN? Although it says Kim Possible on the front of the box, don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking this game is easy. In my experience, this game is harder than Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins. At least in UGnG it restarted you at the beginning of the level you lost in instead of three levels back! This aspect alone will very much ruin the experience if you even had an inkling of enjoyment with the game to begin with. The only way that you can save is through an Auto-Save function at certain points throughout the game, meaning you can’t save by yourself whenever you want to. Even if you turn the Auto-Save off, it will only let you save at certain checkpoints. The combat is also very lacking, and it’s not very fun to actually fight against any enemies. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, so the game will get more boring before it gets exciting in this regard.

You’ll also have some gadgets at your disposal which can be used without worrying about any ammunition levels, since they reload practically unlimitedly. Kim and Shego mainly differ when it comes to the gadgets that they have. They both have a “grappling hook” mechanism which will allow them to swing along the ceiling. Kim has extra-sticky wads of already chewed bubble gum just chilling in another pocket, and Shego can “magnetically” pull enemies and items towards her. Different gadgets are acquired as you go along in the game, which add to the complexity of the already challenging game, even though the concepts are quite easy to understand.

Jumping itself is a bit slow, and has an unrefined feeling. Collision with platforms usually results in a “falling” animation that probably shouldn’t be happening as often as it is. It is also a shot in the dark sometimes as far as being able to hang onto a ledge when you’re “supposed” to at times. There definitely could have been improvements made, which seemed to have been passed over. A multiplayer mode is also available with different mini-games to play with a friend. No online multiplayer will make it important for you to have an actual friend who will want to play a Kim Possible game with you. If you have someone like that, then he or she really is a true friend.

On the plus side, the game does feature the voice actors from the show, and a lot of the music and sound effects will also remind you of the show as well. The graphics are cel-shaded to give the game a “cartoony” feel. The graphics are accomplished very well in this regard, and definitely should be counted as one of the game’s strong points. Unfortunately the characters are small, relative to the screen. It feels less like you’re a part of the action and more like you’re watching it from afar. Sometimes through the game it would have been nice to be able to have some control over a camera to zoom in and out or see what’s ahead of you a little bit. If you haven’t guessed already, the right analog stick isn’t used to any recognizable degree.

Kim Possible’s first foray into the home console territory has laid a foundation for what could come in the franchise, and it is definitely a good start. However the execution just does not cement What’s the Switch as a good game in its own right. If you’re looking for some good old side-scrolling challenge in 2.5D, Kim Possible: What’s the Switch should be a game on your list to play. If you’re easily frustrated and greatly dislike playing through parts of a game you’ve already played, you might want to just give it a rental.

 

Lumines II (PSP) Review

Developer: Q Entertainment / Publisher: Buena Vista Games || Overall: 8.5/10

Q Entertainment’s Lumines has become one of the PSP’s staple games. Even as a launch title, the first Lumines still holds up well, even in the wake of its sequel, Lumines II. Lumines II expands upon the great puzzle fun that was to be had with Lumines in the form of new challenges, and a ton of new skins. However, Lumines II delivers a completely different experience from the first Lumines, even though it includes “remixed” versions of songs that were included in the original.

The main distinguishing factor between Lumines and Lumines II is the streamlining of the menu system. Lumines II has a very slick menu system that makes cycling through the various modes offered easy. Not to mention, it is oddly fun in its own right. This time around there’s a lot more to do, and a lot more skins to acquire. In Challenge mode, you are able to take on three different “classes.” Class B, Class A, and Class S all include their own unique skins to play through. In reality, the different classes are actually just shortcuts to a certain point in a full Lumines II lap, as you will be able to play Class S skins if you start in Class B. That is, if you’re good enough to not lose before you get there. In fact, if you’re able to beat each class, a new class will be unlocked that let’s you play through a whole lap including all the skins of Lumines II.

A very important part of the Lumines formula is the music. Lumines fans might be surprised by the music selection in Lumines II because there is quite a bit of licensed popular music, which may or may not be to your fancy. Whether or not you like Fat Boy Slim, Beck, Gwen Stefani, or Missy Elliott, among others, may be a testament to your resolve for how much you like to play the game and unlock new skins through the challenge mode. There are still independent electronic tracks akin to the first Lumines, and a few that are actually very catchy. For most of the licensed tracks, the music video will play in the background as you’re deleting the magical squares. It’s a new level of distraction to see an actual music video playing behind the game, which is quite unlike most of the regular, less noticeable skins. A music video created by Q Entertainment, Genki Rockets’ “Heavenly Star,” is probably the only music video that really proves its worth to be in the game because of how it looks and sounds. Most of the other songs don’t really mend well with the overall electronic soundtrack. When it comes down to it, it really seems like they could have done a better job in the choice of music. For example, I don’t totally loathe Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl,” but they could have picked something by her that had a little more music to it. A delightful addition to the formula is the Skin Edit Mode, which allows you to build a custom playlist full of the songs you like and leave out the songs you don’t. The only bad thing about this is that it might be a little hard to remember which skin was which, since there is no way to preview skins as you’re selecting them.

All of the modes that were introduced in the first Lumines have been carried over to Lumines II. The modes include VS CPU, Time Attack Mode, and Puzzle Mode. All except Time Attack Mod have been beefed up in terms of content. Time Attack still offers the separate 60/180/300/600 second modes, which allows you to play for a distinct amount of time rather than the variable amount you may play in Challenge mode. VS CPU is no different from what’s found in the first game, which is unfortunate since it would have been nice if they balanced it out a little bit, or reworked the idea completely. Puzzle mode includes all of the puzzles from the first game, so if you blew a vein the first time around, get ready to lose another one since you’ll have to do them all again from the beginning. A new mode, called Mission Mode, gives you specific challenges to complete which are unlike puzzles. Missions usually include having to clear all the blocks in a certain amount of “steps.” Another kind of challenge presented is to fill up the entire game screen with blocks — which will be harder than you think it might be.

An ad hoc multiplayer and data exchange mode (for comparing scores) is included if you have a friend who has a copy of Lumines II. Game sharing allows you to share a demo of Lumines II with a friend. More avatar characters are available to choose from, replay files are able to be saved and loaded, a tutorial mode full of helpful tips, and a free trial of Every Extend Extra are all the different extras that come with Lumines II. A new Song Editor mode allows you to make your own songs with the in-game sequencer. It might be a little hard to get a good song going, but it’s technically possible to make some neat tunes. There are only four slots for custom songs, however. You can load songs from your memory stick, so it is possible to share songs, in some capacity, with others.

Unfortunately Lumines II isn’t the perfect sequel, which is surprising after one looks at how much it falls back on the “more Lumines” forumla. A curious exclusion is the auto-save, which is non-existent as an option. For some reason, Q Entertainment thought it would be better to let us choose when to save everything (which is basically at the end of every game we are playing). Another potential feature that was disappointingly left out is the ability to have individual scoreboards for each skin. It would have been nice to be able to try and beat your best score on a particular skin rather than the oddly non-specific “Skin Edit-Single Lap” score board, since you can add as many skins as you’d like in a single lap, and it doesn’t make any notation to how many skins were used in a “single lap.” A disheartening factor that really made getting into Lumines II feel stale was that there wasn’t much of a “theme song” to get you into the game for the first time. Similar to how “Shinin’” was the theme song for the first Lumines, the only “theme song” I could imagine for Lumines II was “Heavenly Star,” which is placed too far into the game to really meet theme song qualifications.

Even with its faults, Lumines II is a valuable puzzle experience because it offers many different things to do. You will probably get more mileage here when compared to the original, but since the first edition is cheaper it could be hard to recommend Lumines II over it at full price. What both games have going for them is that they deliver separate experiences while fundamentally being the same game, but if it came down to it, Lumines II would be the better long-term purchase due to its sheer amount of skins and content.