Release Date: April 21, 2009
There's a slight feeling with 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix that they picked the name before they'd finished the game. You can imagine the marketing team in a meeting deciding that 101 mini-games should be enough to separate them from the crowd, and then they left it to the designers to come up with the ideas. The challenge has broadly been a success, for there are indeed 101 mini-games on the cartridge, and though they're seldom "explosive," they are mostly competent and engaging, even if there's very little here that you haven't seen before in Flash gaming Web sites. At times, they even manage to make you hark back to the early days of the DS, when the touch-screen was used for innovation rather than tacked-on controls to console ports.
The title actually seems all too eager to emphasise the sheer quantity of the games on the cartridge, as if its players wouldn't believe it unless they can see them all lined up with an intriguing little padlock above each of the locked mini-games. So much potential, so much opportunity — hours of mini-gaming fun! You start off with just 10 unlocked, leaving a massive 91 mysterious mini-games with just the titles showing. You earn credits by completing the unlocked games, which then allow you to "buy" the ones you want. There's nothing stopping you from selecting any on the list, but as they're all lined up in a row, it makes sense to pick them in order, or else you'll spend an awful lot of time scrolling.
The games are surprisingly varied in terms of setting, if not in what you actually have to do with the stylus. In the space of 10 minutes, you could be dunking basketballs, helping a frog eat flies, driving a speeding car through traffic-packed streets, filling out a Sudoku board, building a house of cards and helping an Eskimo catch fish. Sure, the dynamics of each one can get a little samey after a while, but the varied setting at least gives the illusion of freshness, and it's not the kind of game you would play for extended periods of time anyway.
They're all controlled with the stylus, which is both a blessing and a curse. With instructions for each one, you're never exactly left in the dark (and most of them can be picked up pretty damned quickly anyway), but you do wonder if they insist on using the touch-screen just for the sake of using the touch-screen rather than to promote any design ingenuity. It works for throwing darts at a board on the top screen, but it doesn't work when you're playing Space Invaders (you have to tap to the left and right of the craft to move, and tap on the ship to shoot). Some of these let you use the d-pad anyway, even though there's no mention of this in the instructions, but others mysteriously don't, leaving you frustrated at the wishy-washy control scheme.
On other games, the touch-screen isn't quite responsive enough. Take the mini-game where you're required to keep a soccer ball in the air by tapping it every time it reaches the bottom screen. A number of those just don't seem to register, so you'll have to redo the whole experience. Since most of the games have a one-minute time limit on them, though, it's not really a big a deal as it sounds, but it's still frustrating for the more difficult mini-games.
This brings me neatly to some of the title's other frustrations. Although there are 101 mini-games, there's absolutely no sense in the way they've been organized. There's no difficulty gradient in the way you unlock them, and indeed some of the first ones available are the ones I've been unable to complete. Additionally, putting all of the games in a single long line makes finding one you're looking for particularly time-consuming, which obviously isn't a great idea for something that's supposed to be designed for pick-up-and-play use. Why the developers didn't allow you to sort them by genre, setting or difficulty is beyond me.
There's also not a lot to bring you back to the mini-games once you've completed them. Sure, they'll allow you to get new high scores, but when there are 101 of them and no one to compare your scores against (the title has a single saved game slot), it feels a little pointless, especially since the high score is just that — a singular number with no comparison to others and no name attached. Finally, if you feel that simple, short games should be left to the Internet's many Flash gaming sites, then you're likely to find nothing here to grab your attention for the long haul. In terms of depth, saying that the title is on a par with Paris Hilton is being generous.
This is a long list of grievances, but it's all the more infuriating because they're generally little things that a bit more development time could've easily fixed. The trouble is that with 101 games already on the cartridge, they'd need to have plenty of late night brainstorming sessions to come up with a sequel (202 in 2 Explosive Megamix, perhaps?), so the chances are that this is what you're left with.
Fortunately, there are also some good things to say about 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix. First of all, it's being released at a budget price, which makes the compilation look like a very good value, warts and all. Secondly, the games provide genuine variety (an impressive amount, considering the quantity challenge they've set for themselves), and at times, the controls and ingenuity bring back memories of how fresh and new everything felt when Warioware Touched and the mini-games from Mario 64 DS initially came out. In short, there's a lot of fun to be had here, but with the same issues that plagued the Wii version of Super Monkey Ball's multiplayer: There's a lot of crap to wade through, and there's no sensible system of managing it all.
Fortunately, the presentation is solid throughout. The graphics are clear, pleasing 16-bit throwbacks, and the style between games is varied and colorful. There's nothing jaw-dropping here, but the graphics are absolutely fine for the medium. The sound fares less well, with the same droning tune repeated again and again, but this is simply dealt with by muting the DS, and I haven't found a single game that's unplayable by doing this. Also in its favor is the complete absence of needing to blow into the microphone like a mad man, which is the bane of playing such games on the train or bus.
Now, you'd have thought that a title such as this would be ideal for multiplayer, and it probably would have been if the developers hadn't insisted on making it multi-card only. I've ranted about this before, but I see no reason why any developer wouldn't include at least a sample of download play games. They're great publicity for your title and provide some much-needed longevity, especially in a title such as this, which has questionable replay value.
All in all, everything you need to know about 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix is right there on the box. It provides some entertaining, short-lived titles with plenty of variety. There's not a lot that you haven't seen on your Flash gaming portal of choice, but putting them in a handheld package makes them ideal fodder for public transportation. If you enjoy mini-games, you'll enjoy this, but you'll be very aware that a few changes could have made this cheap and cheerful package a whole lot better.
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