My expectations were set fairly low for Garfield Gets Real for the DS, and they were certainly met. Garfield Gets Real is a prime example of a licensed title that barely manages to make any remarkable use of the license involved, and it's certainly not something I'd suggest anyone pick up and play, regardless of age or casual/hardcore sensibilities. We like to think that developers don't set out to make a bad game, and that outside circumstances often create a less-than-ideal experience, and I certainly hope that's the case here. Otherwise, the developers behind this mess might have some explaining to do.
The game revolves around the recently released DVD featuring a CGI Garfield, and while it's been quite a while since I've been a fan of the long-running newspaper comic, the character does hit an old nostalgic nerve in me, so I'm instantly hopeful to see something good come out of this. Ten minutes into the title, that hope was permanently dashed, and I realize that I'm stuck playing a series of mini-games meant to mimic a movie being filmed. The mini-games star Garfield in a series of bizarre and non-related events that I can't imagine have much of a connection to the story that the actual film might represent. (If it does, I certainly don't plan on watching the movie in the near future.)
The stages are set in seven different areas, starting out in Garfield's house and featuring the usual cast, notably Jon and Odie. A lot of the action is controlled via the touch-screen, but there are optional face buttons for just about every movement in the game, and each stage is a mixture of different play types, which contribute to the gameplay's overall mini-game feel. One stage has you gathering breakfast items that Jon tosses behind him toward Garfield, and you must move Garfield back and forth in the foreground to catch them. It's a pretty simple game of catch, and aside from the occasional plate that you'll want to miss, it's definitely easy. Along with that, it's really boring and ends up setting the tone for the rest of the game, regardless of how differently each stage plays out.
For instance, another stage has Garfield traversing a park setting, and it's set up to be like a 2-D style platformer. There's nothing in the way of enemies, so it's like an obstacle course, with swings moving back and forth that you need to dodge, pits to avoid, and swinging ropes or other items to grab on to. However, the controls are so awkward and stiff that it ends up being a lot more difficult than it should be, and while I might be bemoaning the ease of the previous game, this is only difficult because the controls are so awful, not because of any real challenge presented by the level design.
When using the stylus, you can swipe it against the touch-screen on the DS toward the right, which will get Garfield walking. To get him to stop, you need to swipe down, or swipe up to jump. Right away, this method isn't particularly precise, and I found it not registering certain movements 100 percent of the time, so I opted to go with the d-pad instead. While this was definitely more precise, the idea of need to press down to halt Garfield's movement feels unintuitive to say the least, and I've never played a 2-D side-scrolling anything that needed me to hit a virtual brake to make my player stand still. Why not just stop when I stop holding down left or right, like most games?
Issues with the controls crop up often in other events, mostly stemming from the unresponsive touch-screen. If you ever insist on playing this game for whatever reason, do yourself a favor and automatically default to the d-pad and face buttons; you'll save a little bit of that aggravation for the other design problems that you'll encounter. While I like that the devs tried to switch things up level-wise, and I'm sure they were trying to breathe some life into a pretty bland idea, it doesn't translate that well. Overall, the game isn't fun to play, the levels are boring, and the controls are constantly imprecise. Even opting for the d-pad and face buttons isn't always ideal, so you're generally stuck fighting against the control scheme in some way.
To go along with the idea that you are somehow directing Garfield in a film, there are a few other things tossed into the game, most of which ties into the level completion bonuses and the head's-up display. There are pause and play buttons, which are pretty much substitutes for a standard pause function, and then there's a stopwatch in the top left of the screen that lets you know how much time you have to finish a stage. Finally, there's a scoring system in place based on how entertaining you are to the virtual crowd, so if you happen to make Garfield jump and dive around a lot as opposed to simply walking around, you'll gain a higher score once the level finishes. Most stages also incorporate some type of dancing mini-game, where a spotlight will shine down on Garfield and pause the traditional action, and at this point you'll need to follow a series of on-screen directional prompts in order to get a good finish. These segments aren't particularly entertaining, and while they're supposed to be humorous with some dance moves from "Pulp Fiction," the humor comes off as lame and ends up falling flat. I'm not even sure this would work for a younger crowd, so I can't figure out who they think this will appeal to.
Visually, the game is unattractive, and while the character models are easily identifiable, the textures are a mess, and everything is blocky and ill-defined. The sound is grating, with a small selection of voices and some awful soundtrack music that will have you turning off the DS sound in a matter of minutes.
Garfield Gets Real isn't a good game and is one of the worst licensed titles I've played this year so DS owners, Garfield fans and gamers in general will do well to avoid this one. There's nothing remarkable or enjoyable about the gameplay, so you should avoid this one at all costs and not give into the budget price.
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