The original "Spy Kids" movie was an unlikely hit. It was a spy movie for kids and about kids, and it also had some strong star power in front of the camera. To top it all off, its creator and director made his name in self-funded action fare that is worlds removed from this children's film. Despite those hurdles, the "Spy Kids" movie was a financial and critical success, spawning a series that has lasted four movies. While the movies have been good to decent, the games haven't had as much luck in the portable console scene. With a new developer at the helm, the hope is that Spy Kids: All the Time in the World will be different.
The game's plot mimics that of the movie. A new supervillain named The Timekeeper has grown disdainful of the way people have been wasting time. He feels that the most appropriate punishment is to steal all that time and keep it for himself. Meanwhile, OSS agent Marissa sees The Timekeeper's broadcast and sets off to stop him. As she leaves, some of The Timekeeper's agents break into the house and go after her stepkids, Rebecca and Cecil. After being led to the safe room by their robotic dog Argonaut, the kids find out that their stepmom is a spy. After meeting up with some of the original OSS agents, they take it upon themselves to foil The Timekeeper's plot.
Like most licensed kids games for portable consoles, All the Time in the World is a side-scrolling platformer. You control both kids, but the levels determine who you'll be using at the time. As expected, each kid has different abilities and available weapons. Cecil can punch enemies and throw fireballs. He also has the ability to break down fragile walls and double jump. Rebecca can throw a variety of bombs. While she lacks the double-jump ability, she can use her grappler to swing across platforms and reach higher spots.
While you will be fighting a variety of the Timekeeper's henchmen and machines, you'll mostly be collecting orbs for points and trying to find the exit to each level. There are also a few boss fights and vehicular levels to contend with. Once you get on board things like the sled, for example, the game transforms briefly into a side-scrolling shooter, but you still take out those henchmen and collect orbs for points.
The previous games in the series were all too short, giving the player maybe three hours of gameplay before the experience ended. This game, then, is to be commended for providing players with a decent amount of gameplay. The constant switching of characters prevents scenarios from becoming too stale, and the shooting levels, while basic, are enjoyable.
For a title seemingly aimed at kids, the game is rather difficult. That difficulty stems from curious or poor design decisions. Cecil's levels aren't that bad because of his double jump ability, but Rebecca's feel crippled. The timing on her swings must be perfect since her grappling location determines how far she swings and whether her swing will merely go across or boost up her jump. It's a difficult and finicky mechanic that will likely frustrate gamers instead of making them feel like it's a challenge to overcome. It isn't helped by the fact that a good number of levels are vertical, so while Rebecca and Cecil may survive long falls, it isn't fun to climb such heights again because of a bad misstep. As for the enemies, most take far too many hits before going down, and it seems better to defeat bosses with brute force instead of tactics. The game simply has too many elements that will frustrate younger gamers, especially since the completion of a level always takes you back to the top of the level select menu instead of automatically proceeding to the next level.
The controls are unorthodox. The touch-screen is put to minimal use, mostly relegated to menus and special items. The d-pad moves either spy, and the B button makes the character jump. The A button initiates the basic attack while the Y button initiates a special attack. Considering that most games do exactly the opposite, it feels odd that the designers chose to go this route; gamers will likely be frustrated as they needlessly waste special moves because of their natural gaming instincts.
Sound-wise, All the Time in the World is fairly plain. The music is nice, but it tends to repeat quite often, especially in multilevel worlds. Like the scenery, the music fails to change, making it feel droning instead of exciting. The effects are nice, though nothing special, but the lack of voice is disappointing. Sound clips of the dialogue could cheapen the product if used poorly, but the lack of any grunts or death cries makes the title feel low-budget.
The team did a good job of avoiding some of the prior games' mistakes. By going for a 2-D cartoon sprite look as opposed to a semirealistic 3-D polygon look, the game becomes eye-pleasing. The animation may not be superb, but it looks nice, and the same goes for the special effects. They may not belong with the 2-D masterpieces of the system, but they lean toward the better side of average for the intended audience.
In a strange way, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World seems like a game that would have been more acceptable several generations ago. The platforming mechanics may have been passable during the NES or early SNES era, but now it feels artificially difficult because of finicky controls and game rules. The level design also seems too punishing, and the enemies are never very exciting to fight, bosses included. It's too bad because the game looks good and comes in at a decent gameplay length. If you or the person for whom you're buying this was a big fan of the latest film, it can be a decent purchase. Just be forewarned that unless he or she enjoys being challenged by a game, you can expect this game to be played a few times before it's shelved in frustration.
More articles about Spy Kids: All The Time In The World