"Animal Snap is a game that defies expectations. Sadly, the trust it most thoroughly trounces is your faith that game developers possess a bare minimum of competence. "
Animal Snap is a game that defies expectations. Sadly, the trust it most thoroughly trounces is your faith that game developers possess a bare minimum of competence.
The game’s subtitle, Rescue Them 2 By 2, clues us in to some kind of Noah’s Ark theme, although the game is completely secularized with no mention of the obvious inspiration from the religious lore. Far from having a Judeo-Christian orientation, the game is based on the fairly old “real world” game of Mahjong solitaire -- Mahjong being a very ancient Chinese game which from what I’ve seen seems to be most popular among old ladies in the United States. It’s a complicated game related to rummy with many special hands and a complex system of drawing tiles. The solitaire version is an imbecilic pair-matching affair.
The main highlight of the real game is that it’s usually played with finely decorated sets of ivory (or plastic if slaughtering elephants for sport and profit isn’t your bag) tiles. The colored engravings on the tiles represent three different suits denominated one through nine, as well as other special tiles like dragons and winds. The solitaire perversion really just serves as a way to make use of beautiful tile sets if you don’t have four people for the full game. This simplistic affair involves putting all the tiles into a giant, artfully arranged stack and then matching them into pairs according to specific rules, the goal being to match away all the tiles. In recent years this solitaire has moved mostly to the computer, because setting up a real stack of tiles is, to be honest, a task of difficulty disproportionate to the pleasure gained from the game.
So basically, Animal Snap is Mahjong solitaire with animals.
The two-by-two rescue bit makes sense here, as you remove matching pairs from the board, but the theme is lost somewhat because Ignition Entertainment failed to carry through completely. It’s simple. For the theme of rescuing animals two by two to work, each pair of tiles your remove should represent a species of animal. Ignition gets about halfway through this task; we have dogs, cats, elephants, lions…it’s a veritable taxonomical convention out there. But now let’s turn our eye to some of the other tiles on the board -- those featuring cartoonish images such as a wedge of cheese, a bone, a carrot, a big cut of ham, or a leaf. Perhaps we can tangentially connect cheeses and hams and bones to the animal world but Ignition, let me clue you in on a bit of basic biology here, a leaf is not an animal. Carrots, at last check, also are not animals. There’s even a type of tile that’s clear, and ignoring the fact that these blocks are annoyingly hard to see, I’m damn positive that “clear” is not an animal unless that block is trying to represent some kind of invisible squirrel. But those only exist in the magical fantasy world I return to every night in my dreams.
The actual methodology of removing pairs from the big stack works exactly as in real Mahjong solitaire. The heap of tiles can begin in a number of configurations, but here’s an easy way to imagine it: take a square of sixteen tiles (four by four), and center on top of it a square of nine titles (three by three). From this configuration, there are six tiles eligible for removal: the three tiles in the left column of the top square, and the three in the right column. The general rule is: one can remove any tile that does not have another tile on top of it, and is exposed on either or both of its left and right sides. So if among those six tiles there were two cats, you could select and remove that pair. These rules, combined with the initial stack setups that are used, make for a surprisingly balanced game, usually moving at a good clip as prospective pairs are quite obvious. The only frustrating point is the fact that the game is often lost when you get down to the final pair and they are arranged one on top of the other, making winning impossible. The fact that you must play to the very end to discover if you’ve won or lost can be annoying, but in general this is gameplay that’s evolved over many decades, so it’s comparatively refined.
Aside from the lion tiles, cat tiles, ham tiles and so on, there are also letter tiles. These are essential to the advertised Bonus Game; in fact, the five types of letter tile are the B, O, N, U and S. The goal here is to, over the course of the game, acquire pairs of these letters in the proper order. Between the B and the O, one can remove pairs of regular tiles, but picking up letters in the improper order will reset your collection. But on to the nature of this “Bonus Game” which the box cover touts so tremendously. Well, I swear that I enjoyed this many years ago on my TI-83 calculator. I also enjoyed it when it first came out for the NES under the name Arkanoid -- oh wait, no I didn’t, I was two years old then. Animal Snap comes through big time here, perhaps using some kind of mystical computerized Rosetta Stone to recreate on the most advanced handheld of the modern era the top video game technology of 1986.
Anyway, the Bonus Game/plagiarized version of Arkanoid works like this: imagine half a Pong screen arranged horizontally. You have a horizontal cursor which you move back and forth to deflect a ball, which is fired into an array of colored bricks. When the ball hits a brick, it bounces off as you would expect, but not before destroying the brick. The goal in each level of the bonus game is to destroy all the bricks while maintaining lives by stopping the ball from getting past your cursor. It’s simple enough, and after beating all eight levels, you won’t want to play it again -- indeed I found myself intentionally acquiring bonus tiles in the incorrect order to avoid getting drawn into it.
Having disparaged the inclusion of carrots in this animal assemblage, I should note that it’s at least possible to tell a carrot from a cat--and considering the extensive array of tiles covering the screen, that detail is impressive. (Considering the necessity to distinguish tiles, it’s also absolutely required to make the game remotely playable, so it’s a good thing Ignition managed it.) The cartoonish graphics are easily excusable in a game clearly aimed at children -- but not the below average soundtrack. I was hoping for something along the lines of the Jumanji soundtrack, raucous and upbeat rainforest tunes, but all I get is a dastardly arrangement of beeps. Perhaps while robbing Arkanoid of its gameplay, Ignition also stole the score from some other unidentified 8-bit title.
Biblical themes are great, which is why I’m heartily wishing for a video-game rendition of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and Animal Snap gets some “mad props” for subtly employing the Noah’s Ark theme, which I think could carry a lot of weight for a well-developed game. Sadly this is not that game. Rarely have I played anything so boring as this. Decent production values give the title a saving grace, but until Microsoft’s Solitaire is ported to the GBA this will likely stand as the most mind-numbing game Nintendo’s handheld has to offer.
Community review by denouement (July 03, 2004)
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