"Of course, whether or not little girls are ready to solve some of the challenges here is a matter that's up for some debate. There's nothing particularly taxing until right near the end, but at the same time, sometimes the answer might not be clear. Believe it or not, the game eventually gets rather rough and actually requires a bit of platforming skill."
Strawberry Shortcake: The Four Seasons Cake is meant for preteen girls. There are simply no two ways about it. From start to finish, there's almost no testosterone fuel in sight. The closest things get is a snowmobile race that serves as the finale, but even that feels more like girl power than anything. Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.
As the game opens, Strawberry Shortcake becomes aware of a cake baking contest. She and her friends, also named after various fruits, are convinced that they can bake the greatest cake ever. They will call it the 'Four Seasons Cake,' and they will dominate all comers. To accomplish this commendable goal, they'll collect strawberries from throughout the land, harvested in the Spring, Winter, Summer and Fall. That's where the cake gets its name, see?
Of course, the premise is just an excuse to send players on a prolonged fetch quest. The game consists of a bunch of vibrantly-illustrated stages, each of which contains around 20 to 30 berries. Action areas are selectable from a map that is blocked by various gates. To pass through and see every level, you'll need to have gathered enough of the delicious strawberries to satisfy the toll. That's how the developers keep you more or less where you want to be. It's up to players whether they want to keep playing until they've snagged every last trinket, or just make a mad dash for the finish with only minimal fruit in tow.
That's actually one of the game's flaws. When you play through a stage, the berries you gather are sometimes located in out-of-the-way places. You might even have to resort to ingenuity to grab the lot of them. Once you complete a level, though, the counter resets. So if you missed just a single berry on the way, you have to go back through and grab everything to beat your previous record for the area. In that way, the developers punish you for moving in a hurry. Instead, the careful player will explore each and every dead end, hoping to find a plump red berry hidden in some shrubbery, or perhaps at the bottom of a waterlogged tunnel.
For the most part, the action you'll encounter throughout your fruity quest is fairly standard fare. You run from left to right and the screen scrolls where it needs to as you jump wide gaps and avoid spikes and other uncomfortable objects. There are enemies, but they're of the Super Mario Bros. sort: evil snails and purple-hued rabbits. You can't harm them, though. Instead, you have to memorize their simple patterns of movement so that you can avoid them and live to tackle the next hazard.
As she works through each stage, Strawberry Shortcake can find berries encased in bubbles. She can carry up to three of these, which for reasons unknown serve as bubbles that she can blow to turn swirling symbols into platforms. She's also capable of a neat little stomp while jumping, which nicely destroys weak platforms so that she can move beyond them to waiting fruit. There are a few other such landmarks along the way, including pillars you can pound into the ground to reveal new paths, as well as ledges that are powered by movement. The focus here isn't on carnage; it's on solving puzzles.
Of course, whether or not little girls are ready to solve some of the challenges here is a matter that's up for some debate. There's nothing particularly taxing until right near the end, but at the same time, sometimes the answer might not be clear. Believe it or not, the game eventually gets rather rough and actually requires a bit of platforming skill.
The action stages aren't the only attraction in the game, either. At the end of each season, you'll find a little mini-game that should test your mettle and provide a nice break from the platforming segments. One enjoyable one is a trip down a river. Players must dodge water hazards to collect berries. Another (less successful) diversion is a para-gliding segment. The player must swipe leaves on the bottom screen before they reach the character drifting around on the top portion, and also hurl strawberries her way. It sounds simple, but it's not. Bizarrely touchy controls nearly ruin the whole affair. Fortunately, control everywhere else in the game is spot-on. Finally, there's that snowmobile sequence I mentioned at the start of the review, which is actually a nice challenge. Players have to pass through gates to extend the timer, plus they need to avoid giant snowballs and streams of water as they gather--you guessed it--strawberries.
Overall, Strawberry Shortcake: The Four Seasons Cake is an odd title to rate with a numerical score. On the one hand, it's a proficient platformer that provides a non-violent means of testing a gamer's skill. On the other, it's difficult to imagine many girls maintaining an interest in the proceedings as the puzzles and action bits grow increasingly difficult without much in the way of incentives. Even the beautiful environments get old, since they all start to feel the same. The mini-games are a nice change of pace, but they don't come along often enough. To sum things up, consider this review a recommendation if you have a little girl who likes action-oriented games or the Strawberry Shortcake license (or both). Otherwise, spend your money on something else... like a real shortcake!
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 25, 2007)
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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