IGN Review of Ener-G Gym Rockets
When looking through the shelves of games at your local dealer, how often do your eyes lock on a gymnastics game? Unless the cover features the epically glorious moustache of gymnastics coaching legend Bela Karolyi, probably never. Well, next time you're at the ol' mom and pop game store, you might want to give Ener-G Gym Rockets the time of day.
Gym Rockets hits the mat running. As soon as you start a game, you customize your very own female gymnast. I place the emphasis on female because with the exception of an annoying brother character, the game is almost completely testosterone-free. And who needs those sweaty guys messing everything up, right ladies? Hello?
Once you customize your gymnast, you meet Beverly, a cool girl at school who talks you into trying out for the gymnastics team. You go to practice and meet Coach Tammy, a gum-smacking former Olympic gymnast. At this point, you take your stylus in hand and bring your inner gymnast to life.
There are five different events in Gym Rockets: uneven bars, balance beam, floor, vault, and freestyle. While there are only five gameplay categories, understand that each event has dozens of moves and combinations that can be performed.
To start a routine in any event, simply slide the stylus upwards. As soon as you initiate a routine, a quick stamina-building game starts. These exercises range from tapping flowers to vigorously rubbing the stylus back and forth. It should be noted that all of these stamina games take place on the same screen as the actual event. There's no separate "mini-game" screen between building stamina and the actual event. This makes it a very smooth, streamlined process.
After building up stamina you are ready for the actual maneuvers. All techniques are performed by drawing lines in a specific direction with the stylus. For example, once you begin your routine on the floor, drawing a line to the right will initiate a sideways salto. Once a move has started, other directional arrows appear on the top screen. If you have enough stamina, these arrows will appear highlighted. The highlighted arrows represent maneuvers that can follow up the trick you started off with. So if you started with a sideways salto, drawing an arrow up and to the right will start a backwards salto. The goal in each event is to string together as many tricks as possible.
Each tournament that you go to on the gymnastics circuit has built-in achievements. These range from getting a certain score to performing certain tricks. While these level goals may not sound difficult, they can be downright challenging. Completing challenges and winning medals rewards you with credits and unlockables. You can spend your credits in the games store (the Pro Shop) where you can buy new outfits, accessories, music tracks, and more.
Finishing more tasks also rewards you with stat upgrades. Stats include balance, flexibility, agility, upper body, and lower body. Increasing these stats boosts your overall stamina, allowing you to perform longer and more complex routines. These advanced routines will make it more feasible to beat the advanced challenges, yielding more treasures and upgrades. It's a smooth cycle and surprisingly addictive.
In the looks department, Gym Rockets holds up well. All characters and events are brought to life in stylized cartoon presentation. The colors are aimed at the game's young girl target audience with pinks, greens, and blues, but never come off as loud or annoying. The brief story sequences are told in stills with textboxes, which flow quite well.
Going hand in hand with the graphics are the animations, which are another of Gym Rocket's strong points. Even with all of the running, jumping, twirling and arsenal of moves, Gym Rockets is a smoothly animated package. Everything looks natural and ultimately graceful, which is a great thing in the world of competitive gymnastics.
On the sound side of things, the game's soundtrack is very well-suited for the events. Despite the "girly" label most gamers will attach to Gym Rockets, the music in the game is diverse and more focused on concentrating than feeling pretty. None of the tracks stood out as annoying and, more importantly, manage to capture the feeling of focus and improvement.
Outside of Gym Rocket's main features are a few mini-games. The trampoline jump lets you have fun doing tricks on a trampoline. Like the main events, tricks are performed by drawing arrows in specific directions. The catch in trampoline mode is that the game will tell you which way to draw your arrows. After successfully pulling off a combo, another move will be added to the list, causing you to have to memorize each set of tricks you do. It's a fun memory game that will also award you some stat and store credits.
Another thing that should be mentioned about Gym Rockets is that its use of the DS stylus never feels gimmicky. Everything from performing moves to navigating the menu feels great. The execution of moves takes practice, but is very responsive overall. They even throw in a few things that could feel gimmicky, but they are so brief and well done that it does nothing but enhance the experience. For example, at one point your friend Beverly breaks her leg and asks you to sign her cast. This ultimately serves as a small break in exposition, but it's still neat that you can sign your name in your own handwriting (choosing your colors in the process) and feel that it moves things forward.
The only standout fault in the game is that it doesn't hold your hand through all of the training. The lack of longwinded tutorials is welcome, but some things take a bit to figure out. A good example of this is the level achievements. One achievement may ask you to perform the illusion technique, which sounds simple enough. However, there are multiple combos that set you up to do the illusion, and only one of them is the one the achievement wants. The achievements are not specific, so you will find yourself spending some time figuring out which approach gets you the illusion move the computer wants.
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