I’ve been reviewing Game Factory’s products for a while now, and one of the first games they sent me was Strawberry Shortcake: Strawberryland Games. It was a collection of minigames that were fun for a while but got old fast. Game Factory still has the license, and they’ve put another franchise game out on the DS called Strawberry Shortcake: the Four Seasons Cake. Development has once again been handed off to Shin’en, a studio that Game Factory has been doing a lot of business with. Luckily, Shin’en is one of the better studios working on the DS, and their take on Strawberry Shortcake reflects their ability.
Instead of a minigame collection, Four Seasons Cake is a platformer. It has many similarities to Garfield’s Nightmare, another Shin’en developed, Game Factory published title that was surprisingly good. Four Seasons Cake is so similar to Garfield that I’m pretty sure it’s running on the same engine with a graphical facelift. It’s really not a problem, because Garfield’s Nightmare was a solid platformer that took simple ideas and worked them into a complex and fun game.
For the most part you play as Strawberry Shortcake, running through candy-themed worlds that would give a Bawls addict a diabetic seizure. Strawberry Shortcake’s job is to collect strawberries that are scattered throughout the season-themed maps, so that she and her friends can complete a cake to enter into a competition. Each level has a number of strawberries hanging around as the primary collectible, and acquiring enough of them will open new areas of the map and eventually gain access to other maps. It’s all very Mario-esque, with secret levels and bonuses hidden about, except for one thing—you can’t kill any of the enemies you encounter.
Any enemy, be it a peppermint snail, a beach ball or a purple bunny, will injure Strawberry Shortcake on contact. She has only three hit points (much like Garfield) so avoidance is the best way to deal with enemies. Levels are beaten by shooting bubbles at small candies to create bouncy platforms, timing jumps appropriately and figuring out puzzles, but there is never any violence. I thought this was a creative approach to a platformer (in that kind of game usually the best course of action is to stomp on a bad guy’s head), and it was especially appropriate for the game’s young audience.
As you progress through the maps, you’ll play small challenges as Strawberry’s other friends. Each one has a unique minigame level, such as rafting down a river, and once you beat these levels new items and abilities will be available in the coming levels. These range from diving goggles to a pogo stick, and are crucial to passing some of the platforming puzzles. The items are the one element that distinguishes Four Season’s Cake distinguishes from Garfield’s Nightmare.
While the gameplay might be a tad more complex, the game itself is much easier than Garfield’s. Garfield had to collect lives to keep going, and as a balance he was relatively easy to kill. Strawberry has the same 3 hit point system, but she never runs out of continues. If she dies, she simply starts at the beginning of the level, or the most recently passed checkpoint marker. At the same time, the traps and enemies aren’t nearly as tricky as the ones in Garfield’s Nightmare. The puzzles take a little more thinking because of Strawberry’s increased skill set, but the difference is really marginal. The locations have a general four seasons theme, but they aren’t as varied or unique as the ones in Garfield. This game will definitely keep very young kids entertained, but an adult will likely get bored with its easy levels.
Shin’en does their usual impeccable graphical work with Four Season’s Cake. Each level is bright, cheery and well textured to look like a collection of cakes and candies. Strawberry Shortcake is decently modeled and animated, and all of the particle effects from Garfield have been re-used and improved upon. It’s a very pretty DS game, if tons of bright colors are your thing, but it got a little repetitive for me. Much like the gameplay, the art style will probably keep kids happy, and it’s really more a fault of the source material than Shin’en’s graphical ability. They just didn’t have some very deep visual material to work with this time.
Many of the sound effects were lifted verbatim from Garfield’s Nightmare, right down to the “whoop” sound Strawberry makes when she jumps. Some others are still hanging around from Pet Alien. The sounds work and fit the theme, but they are getting a little bland after being in two games in a row. There are two or three different music pieces for each season, and they are pleasant and easy on the ears.
In the end I can only recommend this game as a purchase for very young children. There is a lot of material to keep them happy (36 levels, including the secret ones), but the variety is a little lacking. The simplicity is probably to keep kids from getting frustrated with the difficulty, but at the same time adults won’t be interested. Considering that this is a Strawberry Shortcake game, I don’t think that’s really a problem. Four Season’s Cake appeals to its target audience and delivers some substantial gameplay.
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