Everything is Not as it Seems
When you look at today’s variety of kids shows, they generally fall into three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Wizards of Waverly Place, which is a Disney Channel original series, falls pretty nicely within the good category. Despite taking a few nods from other, more well-established magic-based series, Wizards of Waverly place manages to be good fun that both kids and adults (to a certain extent) can enjoy. However, games based on TV shows (especially those aimed at kids) rarely are as good as the source material, and unfortunately this adage holds true with Wizards of Waverly Place.
The game takes place during the most recent season of the show, and involves Alex, the main character of the TV show, getting into trouble (as usual) by accidentally freezing her friend Harper. Unfortunately, the story is one of the weakest elements of the game. While the program features plenty of one-shot shows with a clear focus, the game just can’t decide where it wants to go with the story. Though it starts out with Alex’s accidental freezing of Harper, the story then changes into Alex’s pursuit of sometimes-boyfriend Dean. Throw a little sibling rivalry in the mix and a science project gone wrong, and you’ve got a story that is schizophrenic at best.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t the only thing working against Wizards of Waverly Place. The gameplay suffers from being lackluster as well. Wizards of Waverly Place can best be described as a point and click adventure, in the vein of the Nancy Drew series. However, even though the Nancy Drew series (at least on the PC) challenges you to explore different environments and talk to people to solve puzzles, Wizards of Waverly Place just tells you what to do and expects you to do it. For instance, one early mission had Alex gathering materials for a cake. The other characters tell you exactly where these ingredients are, and the only thing you’ll have to do is walk along a rigid path and tap what you need in order to progress.
There is a small bit of variation, as the game includes several mini-games, but these are rarely more complicated then tracing simple shapes or remembering small sequences. Although I am sure that the game was intended for tween audiences, the game is so simplistic that I can’t even imagine the most bored nine year old being amused with it for very long.
However, despite having a fairly boring and lackluster story mode, there is one area where this game actually gets it right. Like many other Disney Interactive games, Wizards of Waverly Place includes a D Gamer mode, which is a special online mode. The D Gamer feature is available in many other Disney games, and if you already have a D Gamer account, you can connect to it with Wizards of Waverly Place.
If you don’t have a D Gamer account, however, you can also set one up by choosing a screen name, creating an avatar, and outfitting it with special Wizards of Waverly Place goodies. Once you are all set up, you can launch the Wizards of Waverly Place online content. This includes competitive versions of the mini-games you unlocked in the game’s main story mode. Although the online mode can be sluggish at times, finding other D Gamers to interact with is fairly effortless, and kids who play this game should have no problem getting into the game’s simple matchmaking.
Even though the online modes really redeem this title in terms of gameplay value, the same can’t be said for production values. The game looks and sounds awful. The characters all have giant heads and tiny, featureless, stick-like bodies that just seem to float around. The environments are also very plain. Though they try to recreate the look of the show upon which the game is based, the environments feature little to no detail or movement, which results in a bland, almost desolate look to the world. The sound also suffers from being too basic. Repetitive sound effects and music clips play during each level, and they don’t really change as you move from stage to stage.
Control here is also just plain bad. Since most of the gameplay revolves around selecting different objects and then drawing shapes, the decision to make the game’s control entirely stylus-based seems logical. However, the game will occasionally refuse to recognize a command. During missions where you have to search nearby items, the stylus control also breaks down, as you have to hit a certain area of the item to search it, which can be hard to find.
Of all the things that disappointed me about this game, I was most dismayed by the difficulty level. Although Wizards of Waverly Place is certainly a show for children, the extremely low difficulty makes this game absurdly easy for anyone over the age of 5. Just clicking random objects and drawing up to five shapes to cast spells is boring, and I can’t imagine children interested in this show (who I would imagine to be in the tween category, based on the show’s focus on fashion and dating), to be very interested in the game’s preschool level of difficulty.
Wizards of Waverly Place on the Nintendo DS can best be described as a missed opportunity. The Wizards of Waverly Place TV show has a lot of spunk, and its magical premise would have made a great adventure-style game. However, the title is nothing more than bland point and click fare, which kids and tweens probably won’t find very enchanting.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.0 Graphics
Graphics are poor and character animations are painfully slow. The game’s environment is very bland and does not resemble the world of the show. 2.5 Control
Point and click controls are very simplistic. Although this is good for really little kids, anyone over the age of 6 will be bored quickly. 1.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is repetitive and annoying. 2.8
Though the game itself is quite boring, the D Gamer component saves it from being a complete bust and actually gives it decent replay value.
2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.