There are video games made for kids, and then there are video games made for really, really little kids. Hello Kitty Party on the DS definitely falls into the latter category. I've played my fair share of kids' titles over the years, with quite a few of those involving licensed cartoon characters, but most of those games were geared toward children who were at least five years old, and some titles were even intended for those in their early teens. I firmly believe that Hello Kitty Party was never intended for anyone over the age of five, so if you have a little child in the house who already has some fascination or love for Hello Kitty, she'll probably get a short-lived kick out of Hello Kitty Party. It'll be short-lived because the game is ridiculously short, but I imagine a younger child will be more likely to replay the 20-plus minigames than an adult or teenager ever would.
If you're not familiar with Hello Kitty, then chances are that you've never walked by a girls' clothing rack in various department stores. Created by the Sanrio Company, Hello Kitty started to appear on merchandise during the mid-1970s, and it was created solely to push various products by using a cute, Japanese cat character with her face or body on numerous items, like purses, clothing, jewelry, etc. The character has definitely been successful, spawning various cartoons and TV shows, a number of video games as early as the NES days, and even a themed restaurant based on the character in Japan. The only surprise is that we don't see even more Hello Kitty video games on the DS.
If you're not around little kids very much, you might be asking yourself if Hello Kitty is even a big deal nowadays. I remember the character from when I was kid, but according to my girlfriend's nieces, yeah, Hello Kitty is still pretty popular. A quick trip to a local shopping mall or retail outlet shows that the character has some staying power as a brand, so apparently she's still culturally relevant. This doesn't have a great deal to do with what the video game is about, but I think it's important to get a frame of reference as to why anyone would want to play a game with this character.
Hello Kitty Party is a minigame collection, as I'm sure you could guess by the title. It not only stars Hello Kitty, but also a number of other Sanrio characters, like Keroppi, Badtz-Maru, My Melody, Cinnamoroll, Kuromi, Little Twin Stars, and the oddly named U*SA*HA*NA. The idea of the game is that Hello Kitty is throwing a big party for her friends, so each minigame you play is either designed around the actual party or something involved in the process of getting ready for it.
The setup to play these minigames is pretty simple and uses the touch-screen and stylus exclusively. There's no need for buttons or d-pad controls, keeping the controls simple enough for the younger age group for which the game is intended. When the game starts up and you enter the main screen, you've got a row of tabs at the top of the screen numbered one through six. Tapping on a tab will change the location of your Sanrio characters from places like the kitchen, the party room, and so on, giving you the overall theme for each set of minigames within that location.
As I mentioned earlier, there are about 20 or so minigames to check out. When you enter one of the six tabs, there's a display of all the Sanrio characters, including Hello Kitty, going about some task or performance in the form of simple sprites with no animation; it's a very static and otherwise boring screen. Tapping on each character will bring up a minigame, and after you tap "OK" on the screen, you can play that minigame. While you might have six or more characters on a screen at once, there are really only about four minigames per screen. A lot of characters are paired up for each minigame, so on the surface, it looks like there's more to do than there actually is.
The minigames are all ridiculously easy, providing no challenge to anyone who's remotely familiar with how video games work — or anyone over the age of five. It's really a tough title to review, but without the game at least making an attempt to appeal to a slightly wider audience, I feel that it's too much of a niche title to deserve much praise. It would be a great experience to a younger child, but there's absolutely no reason for anyone older to bother with this game. Case in point: I went through every single minigame offered by Hello Kitty Party in under an hour, and there's not much in the way of extra content to check out.
To give you an example of how simple these games are, let's detail a couple of them. One of them involves sewing an outfit, where you need to guide a piece of fabric along a path so that the sewing machine can put the stitches in. This path, however, is simply dragging the cloth down, so you constantly swipe at the screen in a downward motion until it's finished. This is a timed event, as most of the minigames are, but you can finish it within 10 seconds or so, and it's impossible to screw up unless you fail to touch the screen.
Another minigame has you shopping for groceries to make dishes for the party, so prior to making the trip, you pick the dish you want to create (from six selections). From there, you're given pictures of the items you need to pick up, and Hello Kitty goes to the grocery store to select these items. There could be some challenge here if it allowed you to freely look around the store and search out the items, but it just gives you a screen for the meat, a screen for vegetables, and a screen for miscellaneous items. All you do is match up the selections for the dish with what you see in each section, and that's the end of the minigame. Once again, it's timed, but you have so much time to finish it that it becomes impossible to fail.
Also, there's little reason or goal to actually complete all of the minigames. There are no unlockables or hidden features, and while there's a dress-up option for Hello Kitty that provides a variety of outfits and colors, all of that stuff is unlocked from the outset. It doesn't even affect how Hello Kitty looks in the game; it's there simply to let you take an in-game photograph of your combinations and view them in a makeshift photo album. That could have been a neat DSi-specific component if someone had put a few seconds of thought into it, but it doesn't even have that going for it.
The only remarkable thing about a few of the minigames is that they actually tie into one another. When you pick your dish to shop for in the grocery minigame, those ingredients will carry over into cooking, which will allow you to select that specific dish to cook. Once you do that, and you go the tab that shows the party, the dishes you've created will show up on the tables at which the characters are sitting. That's pretty much the only highlight of the title for me, and it's hardly a redeeming factor in what otherwise feels like a really bland exercise in game design.
Even if you're a big fan of the character, Hello Kitty Party on the DS was never meant for you. I definitely think a younger player would enjoy it, but then again, it's so short that I'm not even sure it's worth the $20 price tag, since I could easily see a kid becoming bored with the very basic gameplay. It's not a great minigame compilation, and I think a smarter game could be created with this character to appeal to all age groups, so maybe it's best to hold out and see if something like that pops up in the future.
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