It’s not every day that I get a true kid game to review, something that’s clearly marketed to the 10 and under crowd, and I see these games as opportunities to challenge my reviewing skills. Then again, it’s not every day that I get a game with a manual that smells like strawberries. To tackle this unfamiliar territory, I enlisted them help of some family friends, Teslan, 10 and and Cicily, 6—two young girls who would have the proper perspective. They really helped me size up Strawberry Shortcake: Strawberryland Games.
The basic gameplay design is a minigame collection—a genre that is becoming increasingly popular on DS, with titles like WarioWare Touched and Trauma Center. The collection in this game is framed around the Strawberryland Games, a tournament held by the game’s bakery-themed characters. One of the characters, Peppermint Fizz, is cheating and Strawberry herself decides to win all of the games fair and square to show up Peppermint. It’s a nice little premise for a kid game, but I just wish there was more variety to the actual gameplay.
In all, there are only six main minigames. Berry Boarding is a little snow-boarding game that lets you take jumps and pull off simple air tricks. Balloon Race has you tapping the screen to build a staircase of tiny balloons, so Strawberry can ascent to the finish marker. In Licorice Leap, you drop small candy platforms into a sugary river, so that Strawberry’s pets can leap across in the time allotted. Berry Tiles is a card matching game, where you walk Strawberry’s dog Pupcake along a board of tiles and try to make them all display the same icon. Berry Bounce is a race to tap the right fruits as they fly out of holes in the ground, and Berry Tap is Strawberry’s version of whack-a-mole.
All of the games are reasonably entertaining, but they wear thin quickly. The same patterns continue on for several levels, but the increase in difficulty is really negligible. The tasks presented are so repetitive and shallow, that even young children might have a tough time staying entertained. My younger friends did say that the games were fun, but I could tell they were less than enthused.
To break up the monotony of the rather bland minigames, there is a small cooking segment that lets you make treats for Strawberry to use in the races. By winning tickets in the games, you can purchase recipes. This is a very original idea, but again the execution is lacking any real depth. Instead of feeling like a cooking simulator (like, say, Cooking Mama) these little games are sparse, one tap affairs. You are instructed to do something, like dropping a chocolate chunk into a bowl, and then move on to the next part of the recipe…like dropping sugar into the bowl. I would’ve liked some mixing, chopping or rolling in there too, but at least it’s a neat way to get powerups.
Unfortunately, it just makes the already too-easy minigames even easier.
Another little distraction is the balloon ride, which lets Strawberry coast in a hot air balloon and collect items and tickets along the way. With little to no activity or control required for this game, young players will quickly grow bored.
The presentation of the game seems rushed, and I feel like development time wasn’t spread evenly enough. The polygonal models of Strawberry and her friends are well done and textured for a DS game, but they animate rather choppily. The rest of the environments, from the main menu hub to the games, are completely flat. Everything is vibrant and colorful, but there is a serious lack of activity going on—most of Strawberry’s world is static, even in the minigames. As the games are the main draw, I wish they had more going on visually; the DS is certainly capable of more.
I’d like to be able to critique the game’s audio aspect, but there is so little that I have a hard time giving an honest appraisal. Strawberry Shortcake’s audio is practically nonexistent. The stock sound effects work well in their assigned places, but there are just so few of them and they repeat far too much. Music is barely represented, with a few tiny jingles but nothing else. The games are silent save for a few sound effects. Where are the bubbly beats and cheerful tunes to set the mood for the minigames? The games themselves are already kind of flat, and some catchy music would have given them at least a little more staying power.
This glaring lack of audio creates a new problem for the game’s main audience: young kids. Audio cues are needed to let children know when to take certain actions, because a lot of the kids playing this game won’t know how to read. Instead, there are multiple-paragraph instructions for each game. The games are easy enough to figure out without reading the instructions, but kids will still be using trial and error the first couple of times to figure out what to do, and this frustration might lead them to find their entertainment elsewhere.
Finally, there is the multiplayer, if you can call it that. It includes only one game, Berry Boarding, and required two game cards to play, for only two players at a time. Considering the simple nature of most of the games, I doubt that download play would have been much of a stretch for the developers. And with so little gameplay in the minigames already, why was the multiplayer limited to a single game? Most of the games are races anyway, and would have worked well in multiplayer mode.
I wanted to give Game Factory credit for making a game for a younger audience, but Strawberry Shortcake: Strawberryland Games probably won’t appeal to the people they’re aiming for. The minigames are easy to play and understand, but excessively so—instead of finding engaging entertainment, kids will become bored with the repetitive, flat tasks. The production values also instill a sense of boredom, with flat visuals and an almost complete lack of sound and music. The amount of reading in this game will also be a turn-off to the pre-school crowd. As it stands, the sweet scent of the manual will stay fresh much longer than this game.
Strawberryland Games might keep young kids occupied for a few minutes, but there isn't enough gameplay to really last them for long. The large amounts of reading and lack of flashy sounds and graphics will also frustrate youngsters. It's best for a rent, or a short car trip.