As stated in an earlier review, the people behind Heathcliff are staging a comeback for the feline, starting with an animated direct-to-DVD movie this year followed by a TV series and feature film next year. Wanting to get a jump start on the ride, publisher Storm City Games acquired the licensing rights to the Heathcliff games and have started releasing games in hopes of drawing out any fans of the comic strip cat. The Wii game, Heathcliff: The Fast and The Furriest, was a terrible start. Fortunately, the Nintendo DS title, Heathcliff: Frantic Foto, fares better, though not by much.
The formula is a familiar one, especially if you have played games like Foto Frenzy before. You'll be presented with two images that are similar, save for five differences that vary from being minor to obvious. The objective is to find the five differences before time runs out, though the amount of time remaining is lessened for every wrong choice you make. To help you out, you have four different power-ups that you can employ at any time. You can use fish to freeze time for a limited period or use the hourglass to completely reset the timer. You can also use the magnifying glass to uncover one flaw or the milk bottle to show all of the flaws in the picture. Any leftover time when the puzzle is completed will be converted to points.
Aside from the use of power-ups, there are a few other things that the game does differently from similar titles. The most obvious is the use of official Heathcliff comics as the source of its puzzles. Both the classic black-and-white and color comics are used here, and the selection contains some of the most memorable panels from the comic's rich history. Another difference is the use of a continue system. Instead of letting you start from the beginning each time you play, you can stop the game at any time and pick up right where you left off. The system also ensures that you'll see a new puzzle image when you play, giving you more chances to unlock images. Finally, the game pads every 10 puzzles or so with a whack-a-mole style minigame, where you have to hit as many mice as you can while avoiding any Heathcliff heads that pop up along the way.
While the formula is simple enough, there are a few issues that keep it from being an easy recommendation to fans of this puzzle type and Heathcliff fans alike. The first has to do with the number of puzzles available to players. With only 120 available pictures to sort through, there isn't much here when compared to other similar titles. Even though you can play the same puzzle with some changes, you'll soon tire of the same 120 images. Secondly, the game gives you the ability to continue right where you left off even if you've run out of lives. The lack of a life and power-up refill means that you'll quickly hit the "Game Over" screen and waste more time navigating through menus instead of playing the game. The fact that the continue keeps your score intact also means that it's useless to complete for high scores because the only way to reset it back to zero is to start a brand-new game. Finally, unlocking a picture means that you have the ability to play that picture puzzle again at any time. For Heathcliff fans, the humor comes from the pictures and the text underneath, but you don't get an opportunity to see any of this text; it robs the comics from its accompanying laughs, making it feel empty in the end.
From a technical standpoint, there isn't anything wrong with the title. The graphics are merely digital versions of the comics and are displayed nicely on the DS screens. The sound consists mostly of happy melodies, and while the tunes do vary, they don't sound different enough. Each tune blends in so well with the other that most players will think that the same song is playing over and over again, forcing the player to turn down the sound. As for the controls, the touch-screen is responsive enough that mistakes in choosing the right spots to solve each puzzle are nonexistent. One complaint is with the constant orientation switching. Instead of keeping everything vertical, the game asks the user to go vertical when playing and horizontal when going through menus. It feels unnecessary, and players will tire of this.
As a game, Heathcliff: Frantic Foto is simple enough. The picture difference puzzle types have always been entertaining, and having it applied to classic Heathcliff comics only strengthens the title's appeal to fans. However, the lack of content for both puzzle lovers and fans alike is what makes this product a bit disappointing, as it can be exhausted in less than a day. If you don't mind that setback, then this would be a good game to grab if you can find it for cheap.
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