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101-in-1 Explosive Megamix (DS) artwork

101-in-1 Explosive Megamix (DS) review

"The Explosive Megamix offers up a variety of minigames – sheer volume compels it. Shooting hoops and throwing darts are normal. Reuniting star-crossed lovers by way of catapult is not. If you can find a dozen gems in this electic compilation, then the title is worth its price. The odds are in your favor."

The name Atlus brings to mind niche RPGs and short print runs, not minigame collections for the masses. The company's choice to publish 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix just shows that everybody wants their piece of the casual-market pie. Fortunately, the title they've chosen has the capacity to compete with the rest. Size is its strength. None of the individual activities stand out as technical marvels. Very few will last over a minute. It can't shake the stigma of a minigame collection, but the utter magnitude of eclectic entries could still keep you busy for hours.

The Explosive Megamix offers up variety – sheer volume compels it – though many of the games can be divided into a few general categories. Some are mental exercises: a variation on Sudoku, a sliding tile puzzle, pattern recognition, and object matching. Others test your sensitivity with the stylus, where success depends on using precise amounts of pressure and motion. These include shooting a basketball, firing arrows, flicking darts, and tossing shuriken at an inanimate target. More than a few play on the idea of a top-down shooter, putting you in control of an airplane, submarine, or assault tank. Except the emphasis lies in dodging shrapnel; only one of those vehicles can fire a weapon.

Still others defy such simple classification. Before you unlock a new game, only its title is visible, the singular clue to the object of the exercise. Any ideas about the nature of Thick-skulled Romeo? (Determine the angle and power to catapult the pining, lightweight lover into the arms of his meaty maiden. Avoid splattering into the castle walls.) How about Urban Sky Diving? (Base jump off a skyscraper, guide the daredevil through hoops for points, but pull the chute before splattering into the pavement.) Elevator Escape? (Leap out of the metallic coffin plummeting to the bottom of the shaft. The closer to impact, the more points earned, increasing the likelihood of splattering at the end of the freefall.) Actually, these do seem to have something in common... they offer some off-the-wall alternatives to the more straightforward selections.

Virtually all the minigames exclusively utilize touch screen controls, but the action-oriented activities have mixed results. There's plenty of just plain tapping that works well. For example, juggle a soccer ball before it touches the ground by continually hitting its bottom half, or stab sushi rolls as they tumble across the screen. Those games that mimic a throwing motion require a very delicate touch, lest the projectile fly off into oblivion. One task has you drawing a card castle, and its very finicky about accepting your freehand input. However, the games that fare the worst involve moving an object by holding relative directions on the touch screen, such as those that stress dodging. In addition to being cramped near the sides, the movement feels sluggish, like speed was sacrificed to accommodate the more awkward controls.

Without a doubt, though, the biggest challenge is unlocking everything. Only ten games are available when the cartridge first boots up; the rest must be purchased with gold earned from playing. Gold is always awarded, even for a pitiful effort, but special bonuses are earned by clearing a baseline score. These bonuses are generally enough to purchase a selection from the next price bracket. It's a shrewdly designed system. There's full flexibility, so you'll never be trapped by a task you just can't complete. The bonuses provide incentive to excel in each and every minigame. The unlocking process offers the player a larger goal; in effect, it's the 102nd game. That's important when the basics are fleeting, disconnected experiences.

Size isn't an asset in one area. An annoying user interface accentuates the collection's fragmentary nature. The minigames are lined up in a single file loop in order of price; in other words, it's an arbitrary arrangement. Only three selections are visible at a time, meaning icons for games are large and distinguishable, but there's not much context to memorize the entire rotation. You basically must scroll through until you find the game you seek. On the other hand, it means there's always something fresh and unpredictable up next. The time it takes to explore and unlock all the minigames extracts all the value you would expect from this type of title. If a couple dozen events particularly catch your eye, then 101-in-1 Explosive Megamix is really worth the price. The odds are in your favor.

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Freelance review by Benjamin Woodhouse (April 17, 2009)

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