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Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (Game Boy Advance) review

"Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends is rather large, a few winding staircases stacked on top of one another with doorways that connect to long hallways and still more doors. At first, itís easy to get lost in all the options, and itís only by the end of the game that youíre likely to know your way around the building. Thatís because by then, you will have wandered rather aimlessly about for hours on end, grabbing little trinkets and starting to wonder why things have to be so monotonous."

Mac and his best friend have been having all sorts of great adventures together and things look good for their fellowship to continue for years, until Macís parents tell him itís high time that he found real friends. You see, Blooregard Q. Kazoo is nothing but an imaginary blue blob with too much personality for his own good. Faced by imminent separation, the two settle on a plan. Mac takes his pal to Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends, a nearby building managed by a kindly, bespectacled old lady with a huge heart and a fondness for the imaginary.

Thus begins Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends, the Game Boy Advance adaptation of the popular show from Cartoon Network. Players will adventure through the large building as both Mac and Bloo, each with their own capabilities. Along the way, theyíll meet familiar faces from the show and repeatedly do one thing: fetch items.

Sometimes, theyíre fetching cogs. On other occasions it will be fire-breathing puppies, or bits of a plaster bust that Bloo carelessly knocked from its stand. From the very start of the game when you have to collect a smattering of household goods that have been spread all over the mansion, itís clear that item collection will be a common theme. That continues until the very end with only amusing bits of dialogue serving as your reward. Fortunately, that part of the game is at least on track; the characters are constantly spouting one-liners that are genuinely amusing, if only in a juvenile sort of way.

Grabbing all the items isnít half as satisfying as reading the jokes, though. Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends is rather large, a few winding staircases stacked on top of one another with doorways that connect to long hallways and still more doors. At first, itís easy to get lost in all the options, and itís only by the end of the game that youíre likely to know your way around the building. Thatís because by then, you will have wandered rather aimlessly about for hours on end, grabbing little trinkets and starting to wonder why things have to be so monotonous.

The developers realized that this would be a problem, so they took a proactive approach to fixing it. They halfway succeeded. Every few stages, youíll find things interrupted by a boss encounter or a special event.

Boss encounters are one of the gameís highlights, if only because they represent such a change from the norm. Elsewhere in the game, youíll only seldom find yourself facing opponents like floating wads of paper (called Ďscribblesí) or angry imaginary friends. When a boss decides to ruin your day, though, youíll find yourself participating in genuinely satisfying encounters. There are no directions on how to beat each opponent, just a few visual clues. Younger gamers will probably have to ask for help, or theyíll just stumble their way around until they figure out the secret to success.

There are three boss encounters in the game, a rather small number made less notably diminutive by the fact that the game itself will take you approximately that many hours to complete. Fights revolve around you stunning your opponent so that he temporarily canít move, then pelting him with your slingshot. This is done differently in each fight, which is what gives them their appeal. In one, youíll let a giant beast slam the ground so that it angers the bees in the treetop above, which then sting your adversary so that you can sneak in a shot. In another, you have to hop up platforms and fire past some barriers so that youíll trigger an event that stops your enemy in his tracks. Battles are challenging and a good break from the item collection.

Another such break comes in the form of the banister sequences. At two separate points in the game, youíll be asked to slide down banisters without touching the staircases themselves. You have to in order to get to the bottom with time to spare, the game tells you. Itís about as close as things ever get to being an actual action game, and youíll probably find that some of your favorite moments in Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends are spent on banisters.

In another side game, you have to sneak your way from one end of the building to the other while avoiding detection. This requires pressing up against obstacles at certain points, then making a mad dash to the next save point the minute your enemy has his back turned. Stealth modes in games almost always are frustrating, as is true here. Youíll sometimes drop down from one platform to the next, only to find that itís actually a staircase you didnít see. Then your characters slides automatically down it and into an enemyís line of sight. Thatís not fun. Thankfully, thereís only the one stealth sequence in the whole game, which means it only just barely wears out its welcome and then is gone for good.

If only the same could be said for the item collection. Is it too much to ask for a developer to just focus on good, old-fashioned levels? Expansive environments with items secreted away have their place in some games, but even the most experienced of game developers have sometimes gone down the wrong path when exploring the play mechanic. In Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends, a few straight-up platform sequences would have improved things significantly. The fact that the backgrounds (which include multiple layers and nice detail) look really good is irrelevant; youíll see far too much of the same scenery a thousand times over as you snag the different trinkets.

At least mini-games break things up a little. Red tickets are scattered all over the mansion, and every 25th one you gather lets you play neat little mini-games at your leisure. One is a variation of whack-a-mole that actually does fairly well for itself, another is skee ball (which isnít particularly engaging) and thereís even paddleball, where you see how often you can hit the rubber ball before it slaps Bloo in the face.

With humorous dialogue and a perfectly competent visual style that captures some of the flair of the show, Fosterís Home for Imaginary Friends had the potential to be the handheld systemís next great platformer. Sometimes it almost is. Kids will certainly find a lot to like here, and theyíll probably play through it several times. The cartridge saves progress automatically, too--no fiddling required--so itís perfect for road trips or whatever else. Still, the player who has played enough other games will probably get sick of all the fetching long before the credits roll. This is one title thatís just what the colorful packaging promises: great for kids and quickly tiresome for anyone else.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 02, 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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