IGN Review of Disney Friends
It was only a matter of time before Disney did a pet simulation title. The genre has been ripe for the plucking with little other than puppy and baby games keeping it afloat. But rather than dumping out some schlocky shovelware, Disney got the guys over at Amaze to make a game that actually manages to be fun. Disney Friends isn't original, but it follows the newest Disney tradition for instant success: slap Stitch all over that thing.
Disney Friends puts the player in the role of a Guardian, and by Guardian, we mean Babysitter. It's the player's job to take care of four famous Disney characters: Stitch, Dory, Winnie the Pooh, and Simba. It seems like a weird batch of characters, but it makes sense. Stitch is a ravenous little imp that needs constant supervision. Simba is a cub, not yet trained to do stuff on his own. And Poor and Dory are... kind of dumb. So everyone in the game has a valid reason for needing a Guardian.
The characters are not completely helpless, like babies or puppies, so taking care of their physical needs is much simpler than a normal life simulation. Sure, they need to eat (some more than others), but besides that and sleeping all the Disney characters need is to be played with. Players never have to give Stitch a bath. And we never had to clean up after a Pooh in the Hundred Acre Woods, if you catch our not-so-subtle drift.
This is a game for the biggest Disney fans. A lot of work has gone into preserving the personalities of the characters involved, and it really comes out. Each of the four characters has full voice work, either from the official actor (Stitch, Pooh) or someone that sounds pretty darn close (Dory).
Much like Nintendogs, players use the stylus to interact with the characters by rubbing the character's head to pet, or their body to tickle. Player's can also poke them to punish, though it rarely seems necessary. The animations are chained together well so that the characters move fluidly, even when we're doing actions in quick succession. They also all interact differently, so it really feels like four very distinct characters, and not just four breeds of the same animal. They even require different care. There are only a couple basic things to take care of, but each character has a few special quirks. Dory is forgetful and absent minded so the player has to keep her away from the anemone in her area to keep her from getting stung. Winnie the Pooh is almost always hungry for honey, and needs to be cleaned up after his messy eating. It's small stuff, but little nuances like this add up to give the characters the personalities that fans expect.
Disney Friends also supports voice commands. Each character has a set of phrases they recognize. Things like "Hello" and "I love you" are standard for every character, but they each have special phrases too. "Hakuna Matata" only gets a response from Simba, and only Stitch will tell you what "Ohana" means. The voice recognition is a little iffy sometimes, but we didn't have much trouble when we bothered to enunciate. The game also includes the command list in the touch screen menu for players that can't, or don't want to, talk to their Disney friends.
While this simplified caretaker service does limit the game in some respects, Disney Friends is more about developing relationships with the characters than it is about keeping them alive. Every interaction the player makes with the character earns Guardian Points which can level up both the player's overall rank and the relationship rank with an individual character. Leveling up opens new places to explore, as well as quests and minigames.
Each character has three extra areas to take the player too, and within each of these 12 areas is a minigame of sorts. Some of them are basic collection quests, while others are actual games. Other characters from the respective movies (Lilo, Nemo, Piglet, Timon, etc) hang out in the areas too. The minigames are hit-or-miss, mostly due to the clunky movement controls. Trying to pick up an item and bring it somewhere is far more difficult than it should be. At least the minigames are optional. Players can earn Guardian Points any way they want to, so the not fun games can just be skipped over.
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