Bolt Review for Nintendo DS

Bolt Review for Nintendo DS

Not Quite Potty Trained

Disney’s latest animated, holiday movie offering, starring the wonder dog, Bolt, hit theaters this past weekend, and trailing behind are a host of cross-platform, tie-in games to get those cash registers ringing. The DS game puts you in control of both Bolt and his owner, Penny, and you’ll travel to various places around the world in this 3D, third-person action adventure.

Bolt screenshot

In the movie, Bolt is canine actor who plays a super hero on TV. However, he one day gets accidentally shipped off across country and has to make his way back home. The DS game, though, is based on the made-up TV show from the movie, and you and Penny will be tasked with chasing after the evil Mr. Calico who has kidnapped Penny’s dad and is attempting to rain down a storm of missiles upon the Earth.

The game is broken up into a collection of missions, and you’ll take turns playing as Penny and Bolt. Bolt is super strong, has a sonic bark that can incapacitate enemies, and he can shoot lasers from his eyes. Penny’s more of the brains of the operation, though she’s armed with a stick (motorized wheel bar) she can use both as a weapon and a means to traverse ledges and tall buildings.

Control of the two characters is executed with the buttons, with the exception of various mini-games and special attacks, which are relegated to the touch screen. Each character can jump and attack, as well as utilize a special ability unique to each character. When you defeat enemies, they drop energy bits your characters can use to improve three main abilities: damage, armor, and energy expense/wheel-bar speed (each character has a different third ability). Every few times you increase a character’s abilities, the character will level up and gain a new fighting combo. Both Penny and Bolt start out with a Y-Y-Y combo, and each of the other combos is merely a three-tap variation of the X and Y buttons.

Bolt screenshot

The leveling system is actually pretty cool, and it should offer incentive for young players to stay and fight whenever the opportunity presents itself. In practice, however, the first combo is not only all you’ll ever need, it’s the most viable attack for each character. The character movement is quite jerky, and lining up with enemies in order to attack is never a smooth process. Most attack combos take precision input to execute, though the input is greatly out of sync with the actions your character performs. Combat ultimately feels clumsy throughout the entire adventure, and it’s unfortunate, since it’s such a large part of Bolt DS.

Another element that plays a prominent role in the game is Penny’s ability to hack computers and other devices. You’ll play through a simple mini-game that requires you to link numbers and shapes in order as they appear on the top screen. It’s a timed event, but it offers little challenge. Bolt also has his own special ability, one that allows him to cut through objects with his laser vision. Piercing objects consists of a micro-game where you simply trace an outline on the touch screen. It’s also simple in the extreme, though the screen-sensitivity setting often causes your input to be misread.

Bolt screenshot

Levels are an odd amalgam of well-designed challenges and mindless romps through over-simplified environments. Often you’ll need to navigate basic platforms and puzzles, fight off a few baddies, and open a pathway for your partner; other times you’ll be required to merely run from one end of a room to the other in order to receive the “mission complete” screen. Enemies usually approach one at a time, though occasionally you’ll go up against as many as three. When surrounded, however, you can tap on your character to execute a special attack. For Penny, she does a circular kick that will throw back enemies, and Bolt’s special makes him invincible. Bad guys, however, usually just sit there and take their pounding with little resistance.

The game’s level of difficulty never really ramps up, but as a whole, it’s still fairly balanced, considering the young gamers Bolt DS is likely aimed at. However, poor combat, unfocused level design, and a generally ho-hum adventure still leave much to be desired in the gameplay department, regardless of who the game is meant for.

The presentation fares a bit better, and though the graphics lack polish, the game’s vibe and look are sure to appeal to the Disney audience. Character models and environments look good, though a little grainy. You’ll travel to different locales around the world, including Russia and China, and you get a nice variety of distinct visual settings. Again, character movement isn’t very fluid, but the framerate is steady pretty much the whole way through. Cutscenes are done using still art and text dialogue that offer little pizzazz, but still make for a tight package, overall.

Bolt screenshot

The music is broken up to fit the locales you’ll travel to throughout the game, and they generally do a fine job of supporting the adventure. It’s all very generic and there isn’t a single cadence to tug at your heart strings, but music and sound effects are effective and fitting with the bubble-gum nature of this game.

As an aside (though not for Disney), Bolt DS includes something called DGamer. It’s a completely separate offering from the actual adventure, and it’s where the real value of this package lies. Simply put, DGamer is a chatroom device. No other DS tool – including Nintendo’s own Pictochat – has offered this level of personal interaction. You log on via the Nintendo WiFi Connection, and once online, you can enter various Disney-related chatrooms and engage in discussion with other DGamers. There’s a nice selection of options, and you’ll be able to customize your avatar with almost the same level of depth offered from Nintendo’s Mii system (from the Wii console interface). You’ll have to first register (for free) with the DGamer website if you want to be able to type in actual comments within chatrooms, though you can simply lurk as a guest if you like. By playing through the Bolt DS adventure, you’ll unlock a bunch of cool features you can use to further enhance your DGamer experience.

As a single adventure, Bolt DS is mediocre. It’s not a terrible game, but it greatly lacks focus and the mechanics are too loose to offer even mindless, button-mashing pleasure. Levels are repetitive, and the story and production values aren’t strong enough to support the lackluster gameplay. However, the unlockables available for DGamer are incentive enough to muddle through the adventure; the low level of challenge makes doing so an easy proposition. Additionally, there are a handful of challenges based on the Monkey Ball formula, and an unremarkable multiplayer offering also helps round out the package. Bolt DS might be worth a rent for fans of the movie, but only those folks who plan on making extended use of its DGamer tool should consider it for the long haul.

Though lacking polish, the overall look is pleasing and the framerate is steady. 3.0 Control
Basic control of each character works well enough, though movement lacks fluidity and lining up for attacks is haphazard. Screen sensitivity is also an issue during some elements of play. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Themes and sound effects do a decent job of supporting the gameplay – nothing more, nothing less. No voice acting; little excitement. 3.5

Play Value
The actual adventure isn’t worth much on its own, though there are far worse games on the market. But DGamer is where the real value of this package lies, and kids looking for a decent chatroom device to use on DS will find value in that alone.

3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • New story inspired by action-packed TV show from the film.
  • Play as Bolt or Penny.
  • Play as Rhino on special missions.

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