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Shorts (DS) artwork

Shorts (DS) review

"It's the jumps that make the game; they're spaced so you'll barely make it. The character will only just grab onto and dangle from the edge of the next platform."

“Be careful what you wish for!” warns the back of the Shorts game box. It's the central theme of Shorts the movie, the latest kid-friendly dalliance from acclaimed director Robert Rodriguez. The flick centers around a rainbow-colored, extraterrestrial rock that grants the holder's desires. It just may not result in the reality that person imagined. As the magical stone gets passed around the townsfolk, mayhem ensues as their wishes go horribly wrong. This DS adventure skips the exposition, though, and focuses on returning the situation to normal.

As the film follows an episodic presentation – each installment highlights different characters – the game designers selected the most memorable ones and translated them to the touch screen (the top one isn't really used). The first follows Nose Noseworthy, whose family is afraid of germs, navigating through a twisted house full of mutated boogers. Next up is Loogie Short, who conjured up an impenetrable castle, but now must escape from the army of snakes and crocodiles contained within. Finally, a team of two splits time infiltrating the sinister Black Box factory that dominates the town. You choose between Toe Thompson, the movie's main lead, and Helvetica Black, his major rival, before each stage. These are the only three levels, consisting of eight stages each, and that makes for a brief game – about three to four hours.

Shorts actually includes some interesting platforming elements, even if the goals are rather routine. You're always stuck in a sprawling room. It may have several levels to explore and out-of-the-way alcoves to discover, but the only way to escape is by finding a key or pushing a button that opens the door to the next area. Instead of original mechanisms, it's the jumps that make the game; they're spaced so you'll barely make it. The character will only just grab onto and dangle from the edge of the next platform. Falling doesn't mean death – you'll just have to repeat a portion of the course – but you have to refine your timing to make quick progress.

It also borrows an idea from Kirby: Canvas Curse. When the gaps are too wide to cross or too high to clear, you can use the stylus to draw in temporary supports (rainbow-colored even). At first these are simply extra platforms for jumping, but later they can be used to block out persistent lasers or jam pistons that'll flatten you into a pancake. Eventually it becomes a real puzzle-solving element, because the lines may have to perform both functions at the same time, and you can only draw a limited number at once. The one problem with the execution here is that these are scripted events. You gain the ability to draw right before it's needed and lose it right after.

Here's Shorts' real downfall: it's so repetitive for such a compact game. Each of the three levels has one visual motif and only a few enemy types, all of which can be dispatched by jumping on its head. Even the kids' super-powers are boxed into similar molds. Nose has a special ray-gun that makes plants grow super tall, which allows him to climb to high ledges. Loogie can call upon a giant pterodactyl, who will pick him up and fly him to high ledges. Neither Toe nor Helvetica can soar to those altitudes; they concentrate on length. She's surrounded by the female wasps she so admires, which float her further during a jump. Toe's head is orbited by tiny UFOs, which levitate him further during a jump.

It seems especially weird that two major characters would get short shrift in their own game, to the point that they're interchangeable. Shorts should have built itself up by including more of the film's narrative. Even after seeing the movie, it would reinforce the reasons to embrace these characters all over again. For example, Toe and Helvetica have a cute, contentious relationship on the big screen, but here no one interacts. Instead you only get the most basic snippets of personality. Nose's coke-bottle glasses are prominently displayed. Helvetica's signature pigtails are clearly visible, and her dour nature is expressed in her black dress. Loogie even moonwalks to celebrate the end of his stages. Details are nice, but it needs an explanation to tie the people and events together.

You might wish that this title would have been more than a basic accompaniment for the movie, but if you've learned your lesson, beware of the consequences. You could wake up to find yourself surrounded by snot monsters. The game gets enough of its platforming right, so enjoy Shorts for the adequate, yet forgettable, time-waster that it is. Just make sure to save it until after the trip to the theater.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (September 07, 2009)

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