In this day of minigame compilations, it is rare to see a game based on only one kind of puzzle experience. Yes, there are the traditional match-three puzzles and those that turn solitary puzzles into a vehicle for an adventure, but for the most part, a game focused solely on one puzzle type isn't very common outside of the Flash game realm. Storm City Games has made an interesting decision here. Instead of making another minigame compilation and hoping that it doesn't get lost in the sea of other similar games, they decided to focus on one type of puzzle with their latest budget title, Foto Frenzy: Spot the Difference for the Nintendo DS. To the surprise of many, this focus works out pretty well.
Like the name implies, the game deals with photo difference puzzles. For those not familiar with the concept, you are presented with two photos that are almost identical. The top screen shows the original photo, and the bottom screen shows a photo with some alterations. Some alterations will be readily apparent while some will need a keen eye to find. Your job is to find all of the changes in the photo on the bottom screen to solve the puzzle and move on to the next photo combination.
The game is split up into two modes: Foto Frenzy and Custom. Foto Frenzy is going to be your main mode of play since this will unlock the pictures in other modes. You'll be presented with a round of picture puzzles to solve, ranging from various subjects like animals, landscapes, and so forth. Each picture has five flaws to find and a limited amount of time to find them all. If you fail to find them all when time runs out, you'll be sent to the beginning of the round. If you can pass a certain number of pictures, you'll be sent to a boss puzzle of sorts, where you'll have to solve a sliding tile puzzle or find the one flaw in a set number of pictures before the timer runs out. Solving these puzzles will save the set you've played into other modes as well as your progress through the game. Failing will send you right back to the beginning of the round.
Custom mode comes with three submodes of its own that are basically deviations from the games found in the Foto Frenzy mode. Spot The Difference is the same game played in Foto Frenzy, only you can now choose difficulty levels as well as specific categories of pictures you want to solve. Extreme Frantic gives you three minutes to solve as many one-error pictures as possible. Finally, Puzzle is the sliding puzzle game that uses all of the game's images to create puzzles that must be solved in six minutes or less.
If there's going to be one hindrance to the game, it will be in the length of the title. At 200 pictures, it actually has a good amount of content to contend with. The problem is that the errors on the pictures seem to be hard-coded into the images instead of being produced on the fly. If you see a previously solved image during Foto Frenzy mode, you'll immediately know the answers. Once you've encountered all 200 pictures, all you'll be aiming for is trying to solve them as quickly as possible for a higher score. It will take some time for this to happen, so there's plenty of enjoyment to be had from the title, but it is a bit of a letdown once you reach this milestone.
Multiplayer is a surprise element in Foto Frenzy: Spot the Difference mainly because no one really expects this type of game to good enough for more than one player at a time. Luckily, the three multiplayer modes buck that trend and are very enjoyable to play with friends. There's the cooperative mode, which lets you and up to three other players tackle the puzzles together. Competitive has those same people in a race to solve the puzzles first for higher point totals. Finally, Last Man Standing takes competitive mode and eliminates the lowest-scoring player after each round until a winner is chosen. What makes multiplayer worthwhile is the fact that it is single-cart multiplayer, so as long as you have friends with their own systems, only one of you needs to have this game in order for everyone to enjoy it. For something this simple, the single-cart multiplayer is welcome and certainly extends the life of this game once you feel like you're done with the single-player modes.
The controls are quite simple because all you're really doing is tapping on the areas containing the mistakes. For the sliding puzzles, the mechanic is the same. For a game like this, the controls must not only be simple but responsive, and the game handles that rather well, so there's nothing to criticize in this area.
For this type of puzzle game, graphics will be the most important component. For the most part, it works well enough. The pictures look fine with no obvious compression artifacts or errors, aside from the intentional ones. The images also fill up most of the screen, so they aren't so tiny that they become unplayable. If there's one problem with the graphics, it would be that the screen isn't large enough to catch some of the smaller flaws in the images. You can still see them, but those with sharper eyes or DSi XL systems will certainly have an advantage.
As far as sound is concerned, there's not much to talk about. The music is simple and rather breezy, though there are only three instrumental pieces included in the game. It makes for a bit more relaxed atmosphere despite the fact that you're on the clock. The effects are also simple. The buzzes of wrong selections, the clicks of the menus, tiles sliding, and correct answers being selected are all you'll ever hear, and it never seems like the system is straining to produce high-quality versions of those effects. About the only sound you'll find annoying is the timer alarm that notifies you when time is about to expire. Aside from the fact that it is designed to stress you out, the alarm chirps when the timer is one-quarter full, so it feels like it is making you panic before you reasonably should. Beyond that, there's nothing to complain about in the sound department.
Your enjoyment of Foto Frenzy: Spot the Difference will entirely depend on whether you enjoy this type of game. If you love the photo puzzle subgenre, this will be a very enjoyable experience for you. The game could use some improvements, namely better resolution for the pictures, but the budget price and numerous puzzles will make it hard to resist, and the multiplayer, while unexpected, is quite enjoyable. As long as you don't try to plow through and unlock everything in one sitting, you'll get a good amount of fun from Foto Frenzy.
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