The TV shows and movies on The Disney Channel have struck ratings gold over the past few years. Animated series like "Kim Possible," movies like "Camp Rock," and shows like "That's So Raven" have been winners for the channel, sometimes scoring wins over broadcast shows for the time period. While the shows have brought fans joy, the games inspired by these shows have not had the same impact on those same fans. The games, developed by various studios and covering different genres and consoles, have ranged from acceptable fare for fans to complete messes that are suitable for no one in particular. Their latest series, "Wizards of Waverly Place," has followed a similar trend. It's a ratings winner for the channel, especially with the movie beating out everyone else on both cable and broadcast television for the week. The game may not be as spectacular, but fans of the series will find this title on the Nintendo DS to be better than most of the material they've been offered recently.
The game's overall premise is split into several different stand-alone episodes. Alex Russo, the daughter in the show, goes to an online wizard shop to buy a bracelet in hopes of impressing her latest crush at school. Little does she know, though, that the bracelet will cause her more trouble than she expected. The game consists of five separate episodes where you will control the Russo kids as they try to fix things caused by their backfiring magic spells, including flying sandwiches, clones runs amok and frozen best friends.
At its heart, Wizards of Waverly Place for the DS is primarily a point-and-click adventure title. Through each episode, you'll be running from environment to environment trying to get what you need in order to move on to the next task. Most of the game relies on fetch quests where you have to find the correct objects for a specific person or task. As expected, some of these quests have sub-quests that ask you to do the same thing for other people before you can continue on to your bigger quest. The twist that helps tie the game to the show is the use of magic spells for just about anything other than walking and picking up objects. You can make obstacles and objects move to different locations automatically with a spell, or you can magically repair those same objects. This is an element used often, and it helps that a guide is always present on the top screen for the five spells you'll be using throughout the adventure. Mini-games are also used heavily in the title for these same quests. The games vary a bit, as they range from popping bubbles in sequence to fill up a potion flask, placing objects in the correct order to make a working science experiment, or capturing wayward objects and erasing the original spell placed on them.
The game suffers from one aspect that is often expected of children's titles in that it's simply too easy. The mini-games provide little to no challenge, though it is commendable that there is some good variety in the mini-games offered. With spells like movement and repair automatically doing those things for you instead of you having to figure out how it should be repaired or where it should be moved, users will be able to breeze through most of the puzzles easily as long as they can get to the location they need to be. Yes, this is a kids' title, but just a little bit more challenge in what was being offered would have gone a long way in making it just a bit more enjoyable. What will really irk players, though, are the slow movements made by the characters. The game asks for plenty of backtracking from scene to scene, and it would really help if there was an option to make the Russo kids run. Instead, the player is forced to walk through every environment in the game, artificially lengthening the short play time.
The controls can be completely done via touch-screen. Character movement is handled with either the d-pad or by tapping on open areas on the touch-screen. Anything in the world can be tapped to reveal hidden coins and gems for clothes, and the same goes for objects that need to be targeted for spells or for some of the mini-games. The controls work out nicely, with no sense that things are accidentally selected or that the screen can't recognize which spell you're using. Even novice players who aren't used to this method of control will be able to pick it up in no time.
The graphics are decent on the eyes. Instead of going for a photo-realistic look for the characters, everyone is rendered in caricature where their heads are much bigger than their bodies. All family members and other characters from the show remain recognizable, and it gives the game a cartoon feel to it, a much better decision than trying to go for something that the portable system couldn't handle. This cartoon approach is also reflected in the environments, which have a colorful, slightly muted look to them. Usually, muting colors can end up being a bad thing, but it works here. There isn't much to the animation, but it looks fine when it does show up. Walking doesn't look awkward, and there aren't any problems with the movement of objects in mini-games either. Again, it's not a masterpiece title on the Nintendo DS when you see it, but it won't feel like it's too much of a budget title either.
There's not much to talk about concerning the overall sound for Wizards of Waverly Place. The musical score for just about every level of the game is inoffensive and a bit bland. It's unexciting material that doesn't amplify the game, and it won't be missed if it's completely turned down. Sound effects fall in exactly the same category. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, but they don't stand out as being amazing. As for the voices, none are found in this game. One could argue that the limitations of the hardware and cartridge sizes prevent the game from achieving a full vocal treatment, but even a few phrases or sound bites from the TV cast would go a long way in pleasing the fans just a bit more.
As stated before, Wizards of Waverly Place is an above-average game for the recent crop of Disney Channel games to come out on the Nintendo DS. The adventure setting fits the premise of the original show nicely, and the included mini-games aren't too bad. However, this is still a fetch quest adventure, and the slow pace of the game, coupled with the seemingly endless backtracking, make for some tedious gaming moments. While fans of the show will find this to be a completely enjoyable game despite the obvious shortcomings, others who are not already familiar with the series will pass by this in search of other, deeper games of this ilk.
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