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NDS Review - 'Cookie & Cream'

by Tom Baker on Aug. 15, 2007 @ 6:36 a.m. PDT

When the moon is no longer lighting the night sky, two rabbits — Cookie & Cream — are put in charge of discovering where the nighttime orb has gone to. Their investigation leads them to a mysterious trap-filled island. They'll have to work together if they hope to rescue the errant lunar object in time for the Moon Festival.

Genre: Platformer
Publisher: Agetec
Developer: From Software
Release Date: July 2, 2007

There are certain games that just scream Japanese handiwork in their story and characterization. Cookie & Cream, which tells a tale of two rabbits who must restore the moon in order for the Moon Festival to take place, is such a game. They are escorted — by a talking chicken — to an island that holds the key to the moon's disappearance. Enough said. Don't worry if all of that gave you a headache because the story plays a very minor part in this puzzle-solving adventure title, and the gamer isn't unduly bogged down in nonsensical plotlines involving talking chickens and can get right down to the game itself.

Cookie & Cream have made a previous appearance in a successful and innovative game on the PS2, and as far as innovation is concerned, their arrival on the DS maintains this idea. The main focal point of the title is on multiplayer cooperation, even when it's just one person playing. This makes for some interesting and challenging game experiences, which are relatively unexplored in other offerings. You arrive on an island searching for clues to find the missing moon, and the drawback is that the island is riddled with traps and monsters, which are all conveniently operated from a single control room located in a tower.

Knowing this, the duo splits up, sending the guitar-toting Cookie to move through different parts of the island and the pink-colored Cream to the control room to aid his progression. This is done through a series of mini-games activated by Cookie by pressing buttons dotted throughout the level; once a button is activated, the action switches to the lower screen, where you use the stylus to solve various puzzles to defuse traps or destroy enemies. Completion of the mini-games causes an effect in Cookie's world on the top screen, allowing you to progress through the level.

In lieu of a health bar for Cookie, the game has a timer, and you have to complete a level before time runs out. Time is deducted for falling into various traps or being hit by enemies, and it can be increased by collecting gold and silver watches. Completing a level in a speedy manner earns you points, which in turn earns you access to various mini-games that you can play outside of the single-player adventure. The levels themselves are split into themes, and enemies and puzzles revolve around magic, water and forests, each with a distinctly cutesy and colorful veneer.

The integration between the mini-games on the bottom screen and their effects on the top screen is inspired and honestly makes you wonder why this concept hasn't been explored on other DS games. Sometimes whilst activating a mini-game on the bottom screen, you must simultaneously progress Cookie through changes occurring on the top screen.

There are a few problems with this gameplay system, however; utilizing both the top and bottom screens at the same time is fiddly and often seems like it's asking you to have two sets of eyes, with constant attention needed on both screens at the same time. This is aided slightly by a highly simplified control system for Cookie, requiring only one action (jump) as you steer him through the level. It is disappointing that coordinated use of the stylus and the regular controls is so awkward and even when you're used to the required style of gameplay, it's still difficult to master.

The use of the stylus mini-games in Cookie & Cream reminds me somewhat of Warioware, but repetition of certain tasks, such as winding a wheel or simply pushing a button, means the game feels less varied and sometimes oversimplified. Most of the mini-games are hugely enjoyable and do a good job of linking together your progression through levels, rarely giving the impression of being tacked on simply to break up the otherwise simple adventure.

This is contrasted dramatically at some points with infuriatingly vague hints on some of the mini-game tasks. For example, you may simply be presented with a stick and some rope, and the hint may be that the stylus is animated in some obscure manner, but it gives you little clue as to what to do on the top screen in order to progress. When under the strain of a time limit, this ambiguity and poor explanation can lead to throwing your DS across the room in frustration. The level of precision needed for these mini-games or even jumping to platforms is ruthless, and you'll certainly find yourself forgetting you're playing a title meant for younger gamers.

The difficulty of traversing the traps and mini-games cannot be shared by the sparse and easily dispatched enemies. Due to the obvious thought put into some of the game's more elaborate traps, it seems odd that the enemies are repetitive, unimaginative, and devoid of any challenge. All enemies move in the same way, have the same attacks and can all be dispatched with a single jump on the head; essentially, the only difference between enemies on different levels is the skin. They usually do not appear in groups of more than three, since the game suffers from severe slowdown if any decent-sized congregation appears. The introduction of enemies seems rushed and put into the game mainly as a matter of tradition, not necessity. If more thought had been put into the variation of enemies, it may have made the journey from one mini-game puzzle to the next more immersive, rather than a chore to contend with until the next enjoyable segment.

The awkward controls and lack of explanation on the more complex mini-games and traps seem a deliberate attempt to promote a promising multiplayer side of Cookie & Cream. You may play through the single-player missions in co-op mode for a completely different gaming experience, with one person controlling Cookie and the other controlling the traps as Cream. This presumes to alleviate much of the problems with the controls and encourages teamwork, as both players must work in tandem to progress. This may create some more issues, since synching up with another person makes the precision needed to deal with the game's puzzles even more difficult. It also effectively splits the game into two, creating a simple and often monotonous platformer and a series of repetitive and annoyingly easy mini-games. The integration between these two game types creates an interesting and challenging, if slightly flawed, experience.

Multiplayer extends to online and four-player mini-games, and while it promises to be highly entertaining, it requires multiple cartridges to play. Finding three friends with the game may prove challenging and not all that rewarding, so it's a good thing that multiplayer enjoyment can be had with two players and one card in the co-op mode.

Graphically, Cookie & Cream is cute and colorful, although the level of detail on the environments complements the gameplay. Animated objects are rendered well, and some of the traps and settings are incredibly detailed, only suffering some slowdown when multiple enemies are introduced. The graphics are not groundbreaking but offer nice animations and a game world that feels alive, rather than static and detached from the character. Unfortunately, the character model for Cookie is blocky and has no distinguishable characteristics aside from propeller ears which appear only when he jumps. This has little impact on the performance, though, and does not detract from what is overall a graphically impressive title.

The different worlds and settings are suitably characterized to make each look and feel individual, and the sense of a more varied and playable experience compensates for some of the repetition in the mini-games. Each world ends with a detailed and immensely playable boss battle which utilizes both screens and requires a degree of competence with the stylus. The animations and rendering on these bosses are also impressive for a handheld title, with some taking up the entire screen, which gives a real sense of scale and finality to the game world.

The audio is largely generic and obviously aimed at younger gamers with no real thought to a complex or deep musical score. The voice of Cookie and enemies alike is also limited to the occasion squeal or grunt, so Cookie & Cream isn't looking to engage the gamer on any real level with its audio. Simple yet effective, the audio does the job of keeping you entertained whilst not distracting from the gameplay itself. It also gives the different worlds identities of their own and differentiates them from each other so that gameplay feels much less stale and repetitive.

All in all, Cookie & Cream offers a highly enjoyable and rewarding game experience, and it uses the DS' unique control system in a way which we can only hope is emulated in other games. Though it often fails to give a completely smooth ride, Cookie & Cream delivers an innovative approach to handheld gaming and offers hours of replayability due to a well thought-out co-op system. The only underlying problem is that even though it mixes together adventure and puzzle-solving mini-game elements in an innovative fashion, these game types have individually been done better in other DS games like Warioware and the New Super Mario Bros. If neither of these strike your fancy, or you're in search of an adventure title that's a little outside of the norm and you're not put off by the sugary "kid friendly" surface of Cookie & Cream, you will find a game well worth your time and money.

Score: 7.5/10

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