"Pressing the ĎRí button will allow you to switch between the two available characters, who have different skills youíll need to utilize. If you come across a wide body of water, that means the beaver is your buddy at that particular moment. He can dive into the watery depths and, while avoiding contact with fish, work his way through to a switch of some sort or another that will present Franklin with the means to proceed."
Franklin the Turtle: Franklinís Great Adventure is a game about a turtle and the way he spends his summer vacation with his friends. There are no shootouts, no car thefts, no stealth missions and no amnesiac heroes with spiky hair. The closest youíll get to that is a bear with ruffled fur. If somehow you wondered about the issue before, let me remove any doubt whatsoever: this is a game designed for the 8 and under demographic.
As is common with such games, you should expect cheery visuals and music, a plotline devoid of anything particularly interesting (or objectionable to even the strictest of parents) and a low difficulty level so that children wonít find themselves frustrated and tempted to go do something else. In Franklinís Great Adventure, you donít die. You just start over from a check point and the only penalty is that you must trip a few switches again in order to continue. Thatís penalty enough, though, and it brings us right to the heart of what makes the game something less than the enjoyable romp it almost was.
Picture a typical stage. That means a vibrantly colored foreground with a lot of grass, maybe some stone and a few pools of water. In the background, pine trees stand proudly against a pale mist. As you walk to the right, Franklin is trailed by one of his friends. The two of them follow one another closely, until an obstacle appears. Maybe itís a low-hanging rock outcropping that only Franklin can crawl under, or perhaps itís a wide lake. Though youíd think a turtle could swim, it turns out the eponymous hero cannot.
Pressing the ĎRí button will allow you to switch between the two available characters, who have different skills youíll need to utilize. If you come across a wide body of water, that means the beaver is your buddy at that particular moment. He can dive into the watery depths and, while avoiding contact with fish, work his way through to a switch of some sort or another that will present Franklin with the means to proceed. Or maybe heíll haul a floating platform over and guide his friend to safety.
The mechanic is nice, and works to create some puzzles that grow progressively more difficult as the game progresses. However, there is a flaw: any time you switch between characters, the camera swoops through the level and zips over to the other protagonist. Thatís also true when you activate certain switches. One might cause a leaf to float over a spiky pit halfway across the level, and youíll be forced to wait while the camera shows you just what you did when you stepped on one of those switches. Itís obvious that this was done to keep youngsters oriented to their current task, but eventually it passes the point where it was helpful and becomes downright irritating.
Every time you step on a switch, you have a wait a few seconds. Every time you switch characters and theyíre not right by one another, you have to wait a few seconds. In stages where you have to swap around twenty times or so, itís just downright exasperating. Worse, thereís no way to skip it. I donít care how old you are. That just stinks.
Near the end of the game, things also get a bit more challenging as furry spiders, spike-lined crannies and vicious fish grow more plentiful. So you might take a hit a few times, which instantly drags you back to the last checkpoint and resets all the switches. What does that mean? It means more of those stupid camera scans. Suddenly, what was clearly intended to be helpful becomes a severe nuisance.
Another issue comes in the form of some of the mini-games. When Franklin finishes some stages or when he talks to neighbors around his community, he can apply apples heís collected to the collection of mini-games. Some of these are a lot of fun. One finds you blowing into the microphone so that a paper airplane will float on the breeze while remaining within certain boundaries. Another lets you toss kindling up to your friend in a tree, so that he can build a fort. Still another has you snatch butterflies out of the air with your net while avoiding the bees that swarm the area.
The problem is that some of the mini-games are just frustrating. When you have to race your friend the rabbit in a bike race, you accelerate by rotating the stylus in a circle. However, it doesnít seem nearly as responsive as it should. Itíll take you forever to finish the race and by then, itís too late. A canoe race you participate in at the gameís conclusion feels much the same. You have to swipe the stylus on one side or the other to simulate oars being rowed, but the canoe doesnít quite move the way it should and suddenly youíre banging against rocks while the timer ticks down and forces you to restart.
Though they were designed to spice things up, the mini-games ultimately are a mixed bag. The same is true of the whole game. On the positive side you have a cheery atmosphere that kids and even world weary adults should love. Picking flowers on a mountainside for one of your neighbors might not be as exciting as blowing aliens out the sky, but sometimes the simple pleasures are the best. Itís just a shame that occasionally spotty mini-games and a desire to simplify things for the kids ended up marring the overall product. Itís not enough to keep the game from being a good bet for your kids, but itís enough to stop it from being a must-buy. Hereís hoping Franklinís next title builds on this one and reaches its true potential. Now that would be an adventure!
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 21, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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