Whatever happened with the DS version of Kim Possible, it isn't fair. The GBA Kim Possible 2 was outstanding, and a little amazing -- after a disappointing first game, Buena Vista went and changed everything about the gameplay and visual style, got a new developer to make the game, and put the time and polish into what would have otherwise been licensed crap to make for a great game that even non-fans could have gotten into. The third edition on GBA came up short in some ways (it got lost in the shuffle before we had a chance to review it -- basically, the two-character gameplay dragged down an otherwise enjoyable game), but we figured all the effort was going into the new DS version.
Not the case. Kim Possible: Kimmunicator on DS is a rush-job game that wastes the license and does little to take advantage of the innovative system it plays on. The developer clearly had some cool ideas on the drawing board for this game, but they didn't get it done in time, and the game got rushed out for a Christmas release. What a bummer.
What's so wrong with the game? For one, after two hours of playing through it and waiting for it to start heating up, the game ended. Our game clock read 2:03 when we hit the ending, and though we had started jumping over enemies to avoid the game's clunky fights about half-way through, we still finished with 92% completion without much effort to explore the later stages. The game is easier than previous Kim Possibles, which might be nice for girls and boys who had troubles with the past games, but even if you're a new game player, you can breeze through it in the time that it takes to watch a few episodes of the show.
Kim Possible on DS is a wash-and-go platformer, with only a few puzzle sequences to unlock doors (each one the same simple "Don't Go Outside The Line" drawing challenge) to break up the action. There is one cool stage where Kim is parachuting into the secret hide-out of Dr. Drakken's lair, having you blow on the DS microphone to give Kim an updraft as she navigates a volcano while flying in. The game could have used a whole lot more great stuff like that. Outside of this one stage, the only creative elements to challenge players before it ends are the boss battles, with only a handful of those being at all challenging.
Kim Possible 2 had all kinds of cool gadgets to play around with, so we're not sure why the DS version comes short on this as well. The grappling hook is back, and there's a lock-picking comb (for the electronic puzzle we mentioned) and a night-vision scope that turns the stage green and lets Kim see in the dark. There are also a couple of attack powers you can buy to take out robots, as well as a health kit for healing Kim at any time. Rufus the naked mole rat is back, for about two or three stages that aren't any more exciting than the airduct stages he crawled through in previous games. The problem with the gadget set this time is that they don't enhance the game like they used to in previous Kim Possible titles. With Kim 2, you could go back to the past stages and play through them to reach new areas -- the lipstick trampoline would vault her up to unreachable heights, and the grappling hook allowed her to whip through the air and explore new areas. Here, you hardly use the grappling hook at all -- it came in handy a few times to save my life, and it's always fun to swing around, but I'm not sure I even remember finding a secret only reachable by swinging from the ceiling.
You're also always collecting chips to buy things (the special gadgets aren't locked like before, you just have to earn them), but I had picked up everything that mattered somewhere around the middle of the second stage, and after that, the chips didn't buy me anything necessary. I felt like I was already maxed out and ready to finish the game after playing just five or six short levels, and was just biding my time.
The roots of a good game are here, although the game control is less stable than the GBA games. Kim jumps and flips with flair, and has acrobatic skills that are fun to play around with. Control is usually tight, the only little qualms we could find being that she didn't always jump after she came out of her 180-degree turn animation and that the grappling hook seemed a little slow to hit when we were flying through the air.
Fighting, however, is a big problem in the DS version. There are gigantic hit detection problems in the game, probably because of the move to a 3D engine. Littler characters work alright, but when you're fighting man-sized figured, it's like the game draws a big box around the character and keeps you from getting close -- you can still punch them from a distance, but because it looks like you're miles away, you don't think to start fighting from so far away. It looks like a stuntman fight, you punching the air and the enemy throwing his head back without being hit. Fighting also takes a whole ton more hits this time, and when you're in the middle of a combo, you'll get in four or so hits and then the enemy will hit you without your being able to do anything about it. Alternating kicks and punches often break up the combo and allow you to juggle the enemy just fine, but there aren't cool blocks or techniques on the side of the enemy -- either they're absorbing the blows and waiting to hit you, or they're punching bags who can't do anything to stop you. There are the three special weapons used to take out enemies (one's a glue bomb to stop enemies, one's a flashbang to stun them for the same purpose, and one's an EMP for stopping robots), but none have any clever mechanism to playing with them -- they're all the same grenade-type weapon -- and they don't stop the enemy for long enough to be useful. We ended up not using the special weapons almost at all in the game.
It might be that the developer spent all of its time working on a 3D graphics engine, but that only works partly to their favor. Kim's world is a lot cooler to see in 3D, and the use of a "2.5D" locked camera allows it to play like a 2D platformer while looking like an advanced 3D game. The level of detail is sometimes too much of a good thing, however, as it's hard to tell sometimes what's a platform and what's just something in the background. Usually, it's not that much of a problem, but you can't trust your grappling hook to grab on half the time you expect it to. Kim has also lost a whole lot of detail in her character model by putting on a 3D suit, which is a shame given the cute style of the character. She tries to show that she's the same girl with the animation quality, but it's not quite enough -- especially when one of the bonuses to the game is that she earns different dresses to wear (and for you rude little boys out there, that does indeed include the cheerleader outfit), since they're so hard to make out on her unless you look at the picture on the bottom screen. The audio is all MIDI music that sounds chirpy and last-gen on the DS, and we don't even get the voices of the stars in the game -- it's all just text. Today's portables have got the cart space now, there's no excuse not to spend a little extra on production values for handheld games.
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