Years ago adventure games were nothing more than screens full of words and the challenge was to say or do the correct, prescripted action in order to advance further into the plot. Zork
, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
were all the rage back in the day. Since the programmers didn't have too much in the way of visual capabilities to work with back then, the focus was on a compelling story that would keep gamers occupied until the very end. As hardware capabilities increased, the text adventure genre slowly faded into obscurity, and though the classics can be found on anything from Java applications to downloadable cellphone files, these games are really only revisited for novelty's sake. Today's gaming standards aren't "text adventure" friendly, which is a pretty good reason why you never see new entries appear anymore.
Except on the Nintendo DS, as a launch title. Sprung, Ubisoft's second title for the dual screen handheld, isn't much more than a glorified return to the days of the text adventure...and not nearly as interactive as the "classics" since this one's reduced to simple multiple choice responses and obvious guesswork. Sprung is only a game in the technical sense, and as a game, it just isn't fun. It's more an interactive novel, a virtual, sexy, "choose your own adventure" book that's admittedly written as well as a book-masquerading-as-a-videogame can be. But to sell people on the virtues of the Nintendo DS platform? Sprung feels like a failed design concept given a second chance, but even here on the new hardware it just doesn't work.
Sprung's interactive text was provided by Colleen McGuiness, a script writer whose credits include the short lived TV series "North Shore" and "Miss Match". For Ubisoft, McGuiness has provided, either intentionally or not, a plot that feels derived right out of the stereotypical teen comedies of the 80s. In Sprung, players head off to a Ski Lodge in the Rockies and try to hit on the clientele for a little action. And true to the stereotype, you get the pretty boys, nerds and nerdettes, and the spoiled little rich kids, all the way down to the boppy-happy Casio-style theme between missions. Really, the only thing missing is an action montage midway through the second act.
The game is essentially just a bunch of conversations that take place during two characters' stay at the Ski Lodge, so anyone actually expecting to hit the slopes for some skiing will be very, very disappointed. Tasks range from scoring a VIP badge for a party, to hooking up with a model, to scoring with one bodacious babe. And having two different characters to play as means two different ways to play the adventure. Conversations are handled through multiple choice selecting via the touch-screen or the D-pad, and each action has its own concequences that will hurt or help your chances in completing the task that's set forth at the beginning of the game. Some decisions will actually stop the mission with a screeching halt to a "game over" screen, while some branches actually reward players with what's known as a "Golden Line." These "golden lines" can be accumulated which will open up additional missions not in the normal level tree.
At the very least, the writers push the limits of the Teen rating with uncensored "a--hole" namecalling and the hint at homosexual and bisexual encounters in several of the games dating "missions." And the dual-screen interface comes in handy to gauge the two people's moods before and after each response -- the game's animation is actually incredibly well done, almost feature film quality as each person moves from his or her happy, sad, horny, embarassed...even if these sequences are canned and recycled over and over throughout the storyline. No lines are spoken, though, and with so much noiseless yammering back and forth these characters do, the game unfortunately feels like an interactive silent movie more than it does an adventure design.
Sprung has a "fun" style throughout its production, but the entire experience is absolutely, dreadfully dull and unfulfilling. Break down the game to its parts and it's nothing more than a rigid algorithm tree, and even if you don't even read the thousands of lines of text you can poke your way through the dialogue to a "win" situation. The entire design of Sprung is what most other adventure games would consider a side-quest or a mini-game to a much more elaborate production. It's a bunch of menus that are masquerading in a production that seems to promise more than it can ever dream on delivering.
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