Game Factory has another Garfield game out for the DS, but this one isn’t tied to a movie license. Garfield’s Nightmare is a one-off, and the second DS Garfield to be published by Game Factory. The publisher has relegated development to Shin’en, continuing the cooperation that gave us the surprisingly good Pet Alien. The German studio gives us some more quality work with this new sidescrolling platformer, showing off their graphical talent and their ability to innovate.
Garfield’s Nightmare is a good example of what Shin’en does best—they take a simple gameplay design, give it solid fundamentals and build layers of complexity on top. The game is a basic platformer at first blush, something you’d buy a child to keep them busy for a few hours. A few levels in, and Garfield’s Nightmare begins to get significantly harder, with simple platforming principles built upon one another, to make some jumping puzzles worthy of a Mario game.
The game’s plot is quite similar to Garfield and his Nine Lives, another Game Factory title starring the portly cat. Garfield eats far too much and decides to take a nap, but is trapped in his dreams once he falls asleep. He smashed his alarm clock, so he must find his way through four different dream worlds to recover the clock’s pieces. I’m not quite sure how that makes sense, but it sets up the game well and that’s really all that matters. The first dream world he explores is a haunted castle, filled with ghosts and spiders and pits of green deadly fog.
This world does a good job of laying down the basic platformer principles—timing jumps, using moving platforms, pushing and pulling boxes. Garfield’s only offensive capability is jumping on top of enemies, so avoidance is a smart idea sometimes. He can do a ground pound, but this is mostly used for activating switches or smashing containers. Crawling is helpful for reaching tight spaces or ducking under enemies. All of these techniques feel solid and on a whole Garfield controls very well. Once the basics are down, though, things get harder.
Simple enemies are joined by volcanic jets of fire, bombs, lighting and other environmental hazards. The game gives a heads-up in the form of a danger sign whenever there is trouble ahead, but even then it takes some skill to avoid traps. Dangers are only half of the game, as there are a number of clever puzzles to be solved. They usually involve pushing a block or hitting a switch, but Shin’en gets creative with several of them. Getting the right sequence of moves down or finding the right location isn’t as easy as it looks, and these puzzles might even take an adult a few seconds to figure out.
Shin’en has also done a good job of balancing out the difficulty. Avoiding bad guys and traps is of chief importance because Garfield can only take three hits before dying. Health powerups, in the form of pizza slice collectibles, are quite rare; there are maybe two or three of them per level, and they get much scarcer in later levels. Health is not replenished between levels or save points. Luckily, those save spots are somewhat frequent.
Garfield gets a good number of extra lives, which also helps to even the difficulty curve. Instead of golden coins or rings, Garfield’s ubiquitous collectibles are donuts. Grabbing a hundred of them nets Garfield another life, and pizza slices count as ten donuts. Lives are sometimes found within the levels, floating in secluded spots waiting to be collected. Finally, Garfield can find the bonus doors in a level, which are usually hidden in secret out-of-the-way areas. These doors are opened with coins that Garfield collects from defeated enemies, and once inside he can play a minigame where he avoids hazards and collects lives. These bonus stages are a bit harder to control, because the view shifts to a shallow top-down perspective.
Once out of the castle, Garfield visits three other worlds. The lava-themed world and the ice level weren’t exactly original, but at least they had some good variety within them—for example, the lava place started above ground and then shifted to subterranean caves. The third world was by far the coolest; it happened entirely within a storm cloud, complete with floating coin bubbles, whirlwinds and soft, wispy platforms. Each of the worlds has four stages and then a boss fight at the end, but in comparison to the tricky platforming levels and puzzles, the bosses were far too easy to defeat.
Garfield’s Nightmare looks as good as it plays. Shin’en continues to impress me with their graphical talent on the DS, and Garfield’s latest outing is a good example of what the developers are capable of. The environments, enemies, objects and Garfield himself are all fully modeled and textured. The whole game has a crisp, clean appearance, and there’s a healthy amount of particle effects to liven things up. The framerate is also fairly consistent, with only a few small drops here and there. Garfield’s animations are a little stiff at times, but all of his jumping and movement sets are smooth and responsive. The enemies have pretty standard looping moves but they all look great regardless. A bad guy may only appear once or twice in a level, but that didn’t keep Shin’en from giving each and every one some professional polish.
The game sounds pretty good too, if a bit routine. A number of the sound effects are taken directly from Pet Alien, the last game Shin’en did for Game Factory. Pet Alien was great anyway, so I didn’t mind that Shin’en reused some of their sound library. The music is all new as far as I can tell, and I found it to be very pleasing to the ears. None of it was particularly outstanding, but each tune fit its level so well, and none of them were grating or repetitive, which earns points in my book.
Shin’en added a little extra incentive to come back to Garfield’s Nightmare, in the form of minigames. Every time you beat a boss you unlock one, and while they’re all pretty basic they are also the only part of the game that uses the stylus. That’s just fine in my opinion, because it adds a few fun little distractions and keeps the main game from being gimmicked up with stylus pokes or random microphone input.
I really like what Shin’en did with Garfield’s Nightmare. Nothing about it is spectacular but it’s such a fun little platformer that I enjoyed it anyway. Shin’en’s subtle quality shows in every aspect of the game, from the attractive graphics to the finely tuned mechanics. I’m looking forward to Nanostray 2 even more, and I can’t wait to see what else they have planned. With the skill they’ve demonstrated in a platformer like this, I’d love to see them tackle something a bit more ambitious—say, a true Prince of Persia platformer for the DS? Ubisoft would do well to give Garfield’s Nightmare a look and consider hiring Shin’en. For everybody else, the Fat Cat’s newest adventure is a worthwhile purchase. Kids will find it challenging and entertaining, and some adults could get into the harder puzzles and tricky levels.
Shin’en delivers another blessing in disguise. Most people write off licensed titles without giving them a second glace, but Garfield’s Nightmare deserves serious consideration. The visuals are slick and beautiful for a DS game, as per Shin’en’s usual ability to pull off amazing graphics with the handheld. The gameplay is old school platforming all the way, with some great puzzles and decent challenge. Gamers of all ages should give this one a look.
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