Game Factory has been given the license for Code Lyoko, a popular Anime-style show on Cartoon Network. They wasted no time in producing a game for the DS, to capitalize on the show’s strong following among kids in their early teens. The player takes the role of Ulrich, Odd Yumi and Aelita, in their fight against X.A.N.A. in the virtual realm of Lyoko. The final product is an ambitious little endeavor that stays true to its source material but has a few flaws in execution.
This game is sure to make fans of the TV show happy—it includes all of the main characters in playable form, and is divided into to play styles: adventure and Lyoko mode. In this way it encompasses the show’s premise, which concerns a group of middle schoolers who find a way to transport to a virtual world called Lyoko. The game takes advantage of the DS medium’s storage capacity by squeezing a lot of full motion video cutscenes onto the card, most of them taken right from the show. The locations and environments are faithful to their animated counterparts with good attention to detail.
The game’s division into two forms of play reflects the show’s contrasting styles. In the show, the “real world” is represented with traditional animation and Lyoko is done in CG. The game follows this pattern by having the real world school presented in a point-and click, sprite-based style while Lyoko is rendered in 3D polygons and follows an action beat-em-up format. Each level has two halves, where the characters start at the school and then progress into Lyoko. The two modes complement each other but they don’t function on par with other games in their respective genres.
The 2D adventure mode follows the formula established by older titles, albeit simplified. Most of the objectives involve finding a critical item and then taking it to a certain person or location. Navigating the school proved somewhat confusing, because depth within the scenes wasn’t consistent from one area to the next. The overhead map, displayed on the top screen, added to the confusion by having a strange orientation; up on the D-pad could mean left on the map. This made finding objectives unnecessarily frustrating and marred an otherwise enjoyable adventure experience. Each character got their fair share of time in the adventure levels, but there wasn’t a big difference between each one.
That all changes in Lyoko. Odd, Ulrich, Yumi and their virtual friend Aelita all have different skills and play styles, which add some strategy to the 3D gameplay. For example, Ulrich fights only with a blade, whereas Odd is strictly a projectile fighter, so choosing characters for the right situations is usually the difference between success and failure. Lyoko is a hazardous environment, and the entire means of interaction changes from point and click to a 3D quest. The polygonal landscapes have a surreal quality and are nicely rendered and textured to represent a virtual Tron-esque world.
Lyoko is a bit more interesting than the school because there’s more to do—namely, combat. Creatures will spawn and project life-force barriers to trap the player, and attack from all angles. Code Lyoko gets very challenging during these fights, almost to the point of hardcore arcade difficulty. Without the right character or skill upgrade, the player will often end up dead, and several times in a row too. This challenge is welcome for older, more experienced gamers, but the younger crowd that watches the show might just get frustrated after dying so many times.
To be honest, some of the difficulty results from how the characters handle. Movement and attacks were stiff and clunky, and most of the time I felt that my strikes were underpowered, even when upgraded. The characters are fine when traversing Lyoko (except for a few clumsy drops into a bottomless pit), but they don’t fight very well. Despite the wide range of attack styles and powers, it was far too easy for enemies to surround and pick me to pieces, while I flailed helplessly, blocking the odd shot but still taking damage.
Getting past these enemies takes guts and strategy, harkening back to the 64-bit era of health-grinding actioners. Players are rewarded with upgrade powerups, with which they can buy increased health and firepower abilities. This added depth to an already healthy character balance, but sometimes the upgrades were vital to beating the enemies. Once the last virtual bug falls, however, the Lyoko levels get a bit anticlimactic. The player must switch to Aelita to access X.A.N.A. virus towers, and then take part in a short puzzle sequence to destabilize the tower and return normalcy to that area of Lyoko. This is the way most Lyoko levels end, with no minibosses or extra challenges. There are a couple of races, but they happen late in the game and they aren’t a huge part of the gameplay.
Both halves of the game are presented well, which helps make up for anything they lack in design. The Lyoko levels take advantage of the DS’s 3D abilities and the adventure levels are well drawn and include crisply animated sprites. Most of the NPC students at the school are placeholders though, which simplified the levels and watered down the interaction. There isn’t much voice work aside from the occasional grunt or yell, as most of the dialogue is done in text, but the rest of the sound is appropriate and varied. Some more music variety from the show would’ve been nice.
Code Lyoko does a lot of different things and offers a decently long quest, and fans of the show will appreciate how faithfully the source material was recreated. That said, some fine tuning is definitely needed to make the two play styles feel more balanced, especially in regards to difficulty. The developers did a good job with what they had, and with this experience under their belts I expect a sequel is on the way. Code Lyoko is still a very valuable franchise, and the next time around maybe Game Factory will implement the variety of gameplay a little more smoothly.