|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Backbone||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: May 22, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Maria Montoro
June 19, 2007 - As appealing as Death Jr. and the other characters may be, Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom is just a mere, unsuccessful attempt to transport the theme to the DS. It wasn't a top of the line game for the PSP, and making a DS version turned out to be a downgrade, in spite of the higher expectations I had and the promising use of the stylus which, by the way, can be replaced with the awesome scythe stylus that comes with the game.
Death Jr. is the son of the Grim Reaper, the death itself. He goes to an awkward school of "special" kids like him. You'll have the pleasure of meeting all sorts of creatures that you'll find wandering around the school: there is, among others, Pandora - his ghostly girlfriend, the conjoined twins Smith and Wesson, and the international student who lives in an icky, juicy, glass container. This time around DJ and his friends participate in the Science Fair with original and grotesque projects that will later be rated by the teachers. The twins present a bizarre-looking rabbit with stitched demon parts that will give nothing but trouble. That's the first boss battle you'll be facing, and it's not pretty; the poor creature feels so sick it's going to puke!
Pandora is DJ's best friend, and maybe more than that. When the whole school goes crazy and DJ's friends disappear, Pandora will go along and help DJ on the quest. You can switch to Pandora anytime by taping the spiral-looking icon, although you'll only be able to use her a few seconds at a time. She'll provide you with some abilities that DJ just can't do, plus she carries around up to three colored souls that you'll pick up after beating enemies.
Even though there are some funny moments and comments, you won't really find this game that humorous. It could have used a bit more of that to make the game more engaging and alluring. The bland story doesn't do much for the game, and the poor quality controls basically destroyed it. I can't believe a game that I was so ready to like, ended up disappointing me in so many different ways. I can't put my finger on what fails here; maybe it needed a better story or nicer graphics, maybe more accurate and likable controls, or maybe it just needed a bigger screen, avoiding portable gameplay. I think, most likely, it just needed all of it. You really have to like Death Jr. to be able to enjoy this game; otherwise you will just put it, as I did, in the "mediocre" pile.
Like the PSP iterations, Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom is a platforming game. You'll see what's happening on the lower screen, while the top screen will show you what time it is, what weapon you're using at that time, and little more. You'll control DJ as you would in most portable platforming games, with the D-pad. You'll jump with B and attack with A. You will have the scythe most of the time, but you'll be able to pick up other weapons along the way, like the pistols and the shotgun. Those weapons have limited ammo, so it will be your responsibility to find more as well. Later in the game you can attack with C4 rats as well. With different button combinations, you'll perform varied combo attacks, hover in the air for a few seconds, etc. Not all of the attacks are very effective, mainly because the controls are not accurate enough to guarantee good execution. There is one you can execute by jumping and then pressing A which will be the one you'll use the most. You'll just drop down hard against the floor and slash the enemy (or the air, if you didn't target correctly) with the scythe; that is quite a hit, if you do it right.
Even though the levels have been designed in three-dimensional form, most of the platforming adventure will happen in a side-scrolling manner, much like the old-school games used to be. However, on certain occasions, when you're exploring classrooms, hallways, and other areas of the school, your movement won't be just limited to the side-scrolling style. Instead, you'll be able to move around and take full advantage of the 3D scenario you're in. This will mostly happen when you encounter foes, switches, and other objects. When you move Death Jr., he walks in quite an awkward manner. I guess you can't expect more from a walking skeleton, but it's just kind of weird. One tap on the D-pad in one direction, and he'll advance almost two steps forwards; if you're at the edge of a cliff, trying to jump to a platform above the lava, you'll encounter plenty of frustration here. Because of the imprecise movements DJ performs, you are very likely to fall in the lava and die. Other times you'll finally be at the very top of the platforms and a bad, uncontrolled jump will make you fall all the way down to the bottom, forcing you to start all over again. This is exhausting and exasperating; it will leave you with little appetite to continue playing the game.
Is the stylus necessary for this game? It is, but just for a few gimmicky aspects of it. For example, when you kill an enemy, you'll be able to pick up souls that appear floating in the air. You'll pick them up by tapping on them in Pandora mode. She will only keep three of them for you, and these souls are color-coded. Sometimes you'll find a target that you need to shoot at with a soul of a specific color. You better be lucky and have that color, or you'll have to do a lot of backtracking, which also hurts the game. Come on! Who wants to go back to try and find an enemy after all the progress that had been accomplished? This can be fine on a regular adventure game, but not when platforming is involved. So, anyway, you'll use the stylus to point and shoot the soul, to change from DJ to Pandora, and to perform the combo attacks, if you prefer to do it that way. Of course, attacking is just much easier with the buttons, so I didn't find myself using the cool scythe-shaped stylus that much.
The graphics are quite neat. The environments and characters are all rendered in 3D, and even though a lot of the adventure is played as a side-scrolling fashion, you'll like what there's to see. Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom presents nice shapes and colors - a little rough on the edges, but creative and interesting. There is some lack of detail, though, and some environments are a bit confusing, you may not know exactly where to go next. There's room for improvement but, let's put it this way: if the rest of the game was good, the visuals of this game wouldn't prevent it from getting a good score.
I enjoyed the soundtrack. Even though it's limited and redundant, I liked the dark and appropriate theme which, along with the visuals, reminded me of the untamed Beetle Juice and the adorable Lydia. Follow the rhythm and enjoy the beat as much as you can, because you're going to hear it a lot. Too bad they didn't introduce more notable sound effects; and a bit of voiceover would have been really nice, rather than reading the story, like always. Who said gamers like to read the stories they're playing?
The two minigames you'll unlock at the end are probably not a good enough reason to finish the story, unless you're in fact enjoying it. You can play both with your friends via Wireless Connection; it's not online, though, they have to be close to you in order to play! One of them is yet another version of the popular Arkanoid (or Breakout), and the other one is a one to four player battle where you just attack your friends or get attacked. The best one wins! Neither one of these games is remarkable but they could be fun to play once in a while, if you're in the mood.
Conclusion? This game is definitely not for me. It was frustrating, tedious, and uninteresting. It takes some patience to get through it and, all in all, it's not even rewarding, whether you make it to the end or stop half way through. There are other great games out there that deserve more attention than this one. I feel bad for it, but it's just the truth; maybe next time.
CCC Co-Site Director