Release Date: September 19, 2006
"Danny Phantom" chronicles the adventure of a young boy named Danny Fenton. After an accident gives him the power to transform into a ghost, he decides to use his powers to clean up the afterlife, with the aid of his friends. Sort of a Ghostbusters-meets-Power Rangers, "Danny Phantom" is one of those Nickelodeon cartoon shows that quickly gained a large fan base and seemed rather custom-made for video games. Beating up ghosts with any of Danny's many powers and countless gadgets sounds like a match made in heaven, but unfortunately, Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle doesn't quite live up to the promise of the cartoon.
If one were to compare Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle to any other game, it would be the side-scrolling shooter R-Type. Danny flies through the air, shooting blasts from his hands at countless swarms of identical enemies. Occasionally, enemies will drop power-ups, which can be used to change Danny's regular attack into a piercing laser or a homing attack. Anyone who's played any of the Gradius or R-Type games will feel quite at home here. One significant difference is that unlike his mechanical counterparts, Danny has a very large health bar, so he can sustain multiple hits with ease and recover health by collecting any of the numerous health items.
Beyond his regular attacks, Danny Phantom also has access to a number of Ghostly powers. Up to three Ghostly Powers can be equipped per stage, and they can be switched at will. The powers range in many ways and add some interesting twists to the fairly lackluster gameplay. For example, one of Danny's earliest abilities is the power to become intangible. What this allows Danny to do is actually travel through objects that make up the stages, preventing the usual problem of being trapped between a rock and an enemy attack. While this does make things a bit easier, it's a cool concept. Unfortunately, the rest of Danny's powers are fairly lackluster. Slightly improved attacks or shields make up the lion's share of his abilities, and few are really worthwhile.
The one set of abilities that is notably different is the "ghost capture" power; if you've ever seen "Ghostbusters," you've got a pretty good idea of how this works – Danny weakens the enemy and then sucks them up. For every ghost you capture, an entry is added to the game's Ghost Gallery, and whenever you capture a new type of ghost, its name, attacks and point value can be viewed. However, this collection is basically pointless, and the information is useless, since no enemy in the game provides enough of a threat to require planning. The enemy graphics are also so lackluster that being able to view them at any point isn't worth the time it would take. Collecting enough ghosts can unlock a few bonus features, such as a Boss Rush, but they're no great shakes.
One interesting element about Danny Phantom is the Polarity system, which is going to sound very familiar to fans of the cult Dreamcast title, Ikaruga. Danny has two forms of "polarity" – pink and blue. Enemy bullets also come in two forms, with the same colors. When Danny is hit by a bullet of the same color as his current polarity, he absorbs the ghostly energy to refill his health bar, and naturally, if he gets hit by the opposite color, he takes damage instead. When combined with his other powers, this polarity-absorbing system makes Danny almost invincible. While this is a nice addition for the younger audience, older players will feel rather frustrated by this multi-layered defense. Losing a life feels almost impossible, as there are so many different forms of protection keeping Danny from the real afterlife.
In fact, the difficulty of Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle is the game's biggest problem. Even for a title designed for the younger generation, this is way too easy. On the hardest difficulty mode, most stages simply boil down to holding down the attack button and watching everything die in your path. Even if you get hit, the polarity shields and the ample amount of health-restoring items mean that death is unlikely. Danny Phantom has a number of interesting gameplay concepts but doesn't do anything with them at all. There are few points when you have to use Danny's abilities, and even a young child would quickly grow bored with the repetitive gameplay, but fortunately, he wouldn't have to play the game for long: Danny Phantom maxes out at about two hours of gameplay tops.
Occasionally, the game attempts to mix things up by placing the player in charge of the Fenton Flyer, Danny's personal combat craft. Rather than emulating R-Type, the Fenton Flyer segments are based on old light gun games like Terminator 2: The Arcade Game. Players move a crosshair around, blasting every enemy in sight with a nonstop stream of bullets. Like controlling Danny, these blasts can also be charged, and the Flyer has access to a few unique powers, such as launching bombs, using a screen-clearing smartbomb or placing an invincible shield around itself.
Sadly, the same flaws that plague Danny's segments are only increased in the Flyer segments, which are incredibly repetitive and dull. If anything, taking damage in these segments is more difficult than when controlling Danny himself. All enemy attacks are visible as slow-moving missiles that fly toward the screen, which can be shot down with great ease or stopped by the Flyer's shield. While the combat craft was thrown in to break up the monotony of the regular gameplay, it only served to make me wish I were back in control of the Phantom, where at least I occasionally pressed more than one button.
Even for a Game Boy Advance game, the graphics in Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle are low-quality. The backgrounds are simplistic and lacking in detail, but the real problem comes with the character sprites. Both the allies and enemies are incredibly tiny, so they come across as pointless blobs, rather than anything resembling a recognizable shape. Danny is rendered slightly better than his friends and foes so I could regularly identify him, but his enemies come in flavors such as green blob, blue blob and slightly different blue blob. The boss characters are also more identifiable, but they lack any sort of interesting animations and opt to repeat the same animations ad nauseam while bullets and attacks shoot from random places on their bodies. For such a simplistic title, it really seems like more effort could have put into the graphics.
If the visuals are bad, the sound is atrocious. The music is ear-splittingly bad, clearly attempting to replicate songs from the show but instead straining the poor GBA's sound chip to the point where I found it nearly impossible to play unmuted. Admittedly, the sound effects are lackluster and generic but not terrible, but there is not a single aspect that justifies keeping the sound on.
If you're a real die-hard fan of Danny Phantom, avoid Danny Phantom: Urban Jungle for the GBA. No matter how exciting the ghostly adventures of Danny and his friends are, they can't justify a game this short and repetitive. At best, it's a rental, but even that is difficult to justify with so many better games out there that are longer and more interesting. If you don't know Danny Phantom from Danny Glover, then there isn't even a point in saying any more.