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A Christmas Carol

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Sumo Digital
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2009


NDS Review - 'A Christmas Carol'

by Dustin Chadwell on Jan. 23, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Disney's A Christmas Carol is an adventure puzzler that celebrates the spirit of the holidays with a Scrooge twist. It is the only video game inspired by the re-envisioned classic Dickens tale and gives Nintendo DS players a fantastical, super-sensory adventure with engaging activities for the yuletide season.

Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol" is a piece of literature with which just about everyone worldwide, regardless of religious belief, is pretty familiar.  There have been numerous adaptations for TV and film, but it struck me that I couldn't think of another game adaptation of the material up to this point.  It's possible that I'm missing an obscure PC title or two, but this DS game, Disney's A Christmas Carol, is probably the first console title involving Ebenezer Scrooge and his fateful encounter with three spirits.  This game is based on the Disney film adaptation that came out in theaters last month, but as I played, I found it to be surprisingly faithful to the original source material.  The biggest inspiration that this DS title seems to have gotten from the film is the artwork on the box and instruction manual, but other than that, this is pretty much how I remember Dickens' classic.

If, for some reason, you're not too familiar with the story, then let's get you up to speed.  Scrooge, the main character, is an awful old man who hates pretty much everything and everybody.  Over time, he's become a twisted person who cares little for the holidays or any kind of goodwill.  On a particular Christmas Eve, he's visited by the spirit of Jacob Marley, an old friend who warns him that if he doesn't turn his life around, he'll end up dead and alone.  To make his point clear, Marley uses three spirits to show Scrooge the error of his ways: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Along the way, Scrooge manages to warm his old heart, recapture his sense of humanity, and become a much better person.  The film followed this plot pretty closely, and the game manages to stick with it as well.

It's not a tale that lends itself particularly well to the world of video games, but I think the developers managed to overcome that hurdle in some pretty interesting ways.  A Christmas Carol isn't necessarily the best holiday-themed game, but I have a difficult time imagining a better representation of the source material in video game format, so the developers deserver some serious kudos for coming up with interesting mechanics to tell a story that isn't exactly action-packed. 

If you're familiar with traditional PC adventure titles like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, then you'll have a rough idea of what to expect from A Christmas Carol.  The majority of the gameplay is adventure-based, with some slight variation and mini-game events to break up the monotony.  The majority of the time is spent looking at static screens with small objects that you can interact with, causing reactions from characters involved in these particular scenes to achieve a desired result and move on to the next event. 

I'll give you an example from an early section of the game.  The scene involves the ghost of Marley, Scrooge's now-deceased friend, who is trying to convince him that Marley is indeed a ghost.  Scrooge thinks that he must be getting sick, so he tries to sleep it off.  To get Scrooge to wake up and acknowledge that Marley is real, you need to interact with different things in the scene to wake him up.  There are a few different options you can tap on the touch-screen, not all of which are helpful.  However, there are about three or four things that can help you to wake Scrooge.  One is to close the open window and make sure the latch is shut by sliding the stylus down and over the latch.  From there, you can pick up a tinderbox on his nightstand and place it on the candle to light it, but if you didn't close the window beforehand, the wind will extinguish the candle.  The final step is to ring the nearby bell to wake up Scrooge, but if you didn't light the candle before that, he'll go back to bed. If the candle has been lit, though, he'll wake up and you'll be able to move on to the next scene.

That's pretty much how the majority of A Christmas Carol plays out, where you figure out which objects to interact with and how to make them work together to advance to the next scene.  As I mentioned earlier, it takes on a style of gameplay that's really reminiscent of traditional adventure games, and the DS' touch-screen and stylus make it easy and intuitive to interact with objects.  It breaks things up a little, such as an early section where you follow Scrooge home from work and tap on various people and things to have snow fall on Scrooge, make him step in water, etc.  It's difficult to tell whether you can fail sections like this; there's an anger meter to show how aggravated Scrooge is becoming, but it doesn't take much to max that out. 

Along with the main game, A Christmas Carol has some interesting extras packed in as well.  One of the cooler things, depending on your definition of "cool," is the addition of the full novel on the DS cart.  Turn the DS sideways into the book layout, and you can read the Dickens classic from beginning to end, complete with bookmarks so you can save your spot in the novel.  It reads really well in this format; the font is large enough font to be appropriate for all ages, and the font style doesn't induce headaches.  Along with that, there's Advent mode, which will be fully unlocked if you're playing the game now.  If you had picked this up around the release date, there's an in-game calendar for the month of December, and each day unlocks a new "spot the difference" puzzle.  Since all of the days are unlocked now, you have 24 different puzzles to check out in addition to the main game.  This might not sound like a big draw, but if you enjoy doing similar puzzles in magazines, then you can certainly pass some time with the Advent mode.

My only real complaints about A Christmas Carol are with some of the aesthetics.  I find the art style to be pretty horrible, as it uses some rudimentary character designs, poor animation and a bland (but voiced) narration to convey the story.  The narration also runs a little long, and I think this could have been improved by showing more of the story rather than telling it, but I suppose it is a technical achievement to have all of the narrated bits voiced — and then squeeze them on a DS cart.  Because of the poor art style, though, playing the game isn't nearly as charming as it could have been.  Much of the story's effectiveness relies on the animation and reaction from characters as you interact with them on-screen, so if you're not digging the way the game looks, then it's a bit of a deterrent to playing it.  Some people can probably get past the look of the game, but it would have been better if the game better resembled the film characters or, at the very least, if the design had a little more polish. 

Overall, Disney's A Christmas Carol is a really solid adventure title on the DS, and while it's not going to stand the test of time compared to other adventure classics, it's a pretty solid way to waste a few hours.  Poor style aside, the game features some interesting scenarios and puzzles that are worth checking out, and the addition of the full book on the cart is certainly a cool feature.  If you've been meaning to check out a new adventure title, then A Christmas Carol is certainly worth your time. 

Score: 7.5/10

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