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Pet Alien (DS) artwork

Pet Alien (DS) review


"Everything that could have made Pet Alien a success is suspended in an atmosphere of mediocrity."



What do you do with a children's CGI series that has recently been cancelled due to low ratings? Make a generic platformer, of course!

It's not surprising to find the everyday NickToon and Saturday-morning animation become a video game of the run-of-the-mill variety, slap-dashed together with intentions of easy money, and Shin'en's Pet Alien does little to buck this trend. Parents might find this dual-screen treatment of a program their kids (maybe) watch rather harmless and proper, but kids will likely be bored by the redundant level design, shrug-your-shoulders gameplay, and a production that fails to capture the spirit of Pet Alien, let alone anything else.

As the show is circulated more aggressively in Europe, you can choose to play in one of five provided languages at the start screen, but with the barebones story, it doesn't matter what language you choose. Tommy and his five alien friends have been abducted from the lighthouse where they live by the Robotix, who wish to add a homosapien specimen to the sights and sounds of their galactic zoo. To escape this case of containment for entertainment, the five aliens must work together to rescue Tommy and return home.

Unfortunately, this means crawling through eighty levels, split into five stages between which dialogue is squeezed and is never seen anywhere else. The only other things resembling dialogue are huge blocks of instructional text worded in such a technical way at times that kids probably won't understand what to do.

It is unfortunate that only the oft-trodden motions of platforming are at play here. The personalities of the five aliens from the Conforma Dimension - the troublemaking Dinko, the burly yet scaredy-cat Gumpers, the hyper-energetic parrot Flip, the snobbish Swanky, and the tongue-slobbering dog Scruffy - are not brought to life. They are virtually reduced to general characters with some one-trick-pony ability that is whipped out every now and then to reach the end goal:

Dinko sprints across conveyor belts; Gumpers smashes breakable objects; Flip flaps over dangerous things like bombs for a limited time; Scuffy slurps up far-away objects with his tongue; and Swanky pushes, err..., boxes.

What's more, the interface for going from level to level is a square-based grid with a mere bulbous Pet Alien icon to indicate which box the player is in. If it weren't for some stars in the background, the spaceship setting would have been thoroughly dubious.

In fact, when you peel away the Pet Alien skin off the gameplay, there's just not much to enjoy. Completing each level is extremely easy and redundant, perhaps in an attempt to emulate Frogger for kids. To activate the exit teleportation device at the end of each level, players must collect all of the alien-green energy crystals floating about while avoiding enemy patrols and conquering small obstacles, which usually require switching to specific aliens that can do the job. Some of the few obstacles worthy of mental effort are having to push boxes through a laser gate and the occasional Pet Alien character pad that makes the player step back and think about which alien is best for the situation.

Since dying seems to be too traumatic for kids, accidentally grazing a robot, if just by a hair, means restarting the level all over again. People who are not amused by Barney anymore will probably find Pet Alien quite a breeze, so the one-hit restart doesn't come into play very often, but for the game's intended 3+ audience, it can amount to wails of frustration. Not only does the player have to repeat the crystal-gathering process for each of the eighty levels, but nearly half of them must be completed no matter what. So whether it is due to flat-out aggravation or character switching for the umpteenth time, there is no escape from the big-ol' yawn.

To be sure, several features mix up the action in the hopes of lending an air of well-roundedness: stage-end bosses, mini-games, and Marathon mode. Some of these attempts do keep the difficulty above the juvenile level, but most of them fall short of their potential. Stage-end bosses only take three hits to be scrapped, and none of them need more than one lowly character to kill. Even the final boss is as easily destroyed as the first one. Whatever happened to climax? Each defeated boss also yields a mini-game, which can be selected at the opening menu, but they only provide about ten minutes of interest. Finishing the game, if one can reach that far, opens Marathon Mode, provoking the player to beat every level over again except with a time limit. It is a wonder as to why this appears after the gruntwork and not during the adventure in the first place. The time limit could have spawned a time-based reward system or a higher difficulty setting for those who want a challenge.

No one likes bashing an innocent little kids game, but Pet Alien is a wasted opportunity. Thought it's certainly playable and fun in a few spots, the game takes hardly any inspiration from the original source or the DS. The touch screen is used merely for menu selection and mini-games, and as a numerical placeholder for how many crystals and keycards the player currently has. In other words, everything that could have made Pet Alien a success is suspended in an atmosphere of mediocrity. Parents, if you want your young ones occupied, get them something else. Children all over the galaxy deserve better than this.

Rating: 3/10

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Staff review by Nicholas Tan (June 19, 2007)

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