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DS Fanboy Review: Insecticide

As you may or may not know, I'm a big fan of adventure games. That's one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to play Insecticide -- it looked like it would be one of the best in the genre this year. And the action parts? Those would just be gravy.

Crackpot, the development team behind the game, is mostly made up of people who used to work for LucasArts, and it shows. Insecticide contains the same kind of humor and adventure goodness of games like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. Yet, this title is not only an adventure game but also an action platformer, and when mixing genres, you have to be careful to do it right -- in a way that makes sense, and in a way that works. Unfortunately, though, Insecticide fails in those aspects.

Gallery: Insecticide

Maybe that's not completely true, since the genre mixing does make sense in a literal way. The main character that you control is a detective, so investigating crime scenes and chasing down baddies fits in well with the storyline. But, more importantly, the genre mixing doesn't make sense for the gameplay. Let's look at Puzzle Quest, for example: in this game, the puzzle and RPG elements complemented each other, adding to the gameplay. In Insecticide, the two elements are completely split up, making this title seem like two different games in one. This wouldn't be a problem if both of these elements worked. While the adventure parts are fun and enticing, though, the action parts are nothing but annoying and frustrating.

Before getting into more detail, let's backtrack a bit to the premise of the game. As was mentioned before, you'll play as insect detective Chrys Liszt. Your main objective is to solve a murder case with the help of Chrys's partner and mentor, Roachy Caruthers, although you seem to do all the work. Along the way, you also slowly learn more about Chrys's past, who has only a few memories of her early life.

Insecticide starts off with one of the 3D platforming parts, and it's immediately apparent that the action in the game is less than ideal. The controls (explained in more detail below) don't work well, and the scenery is so dark that it's often difficult to tell where you're going. The objectives are not always clear, too -- even in the very first mission, I wasn't sure where to go or what to do at times. At one point my objective was to kill the enemies, but after I did they just kept on respawning, making me think I was missing something I needed to advance. As it turns out, I just had to keep killing the waves of respawns, but it was confusing because the enemies didn't respawn at all before that point.

After that, though, you get to try out an adventure segment, and you come to see that Insecticide is fun, after all. The only major issue with these parts is that it's difficult to tell what items are useful and what items aren't, since none stand out. This results in you having to touch everything on the screen with your stylus. Doing so isn't necessarily uncommon in adventure games, but usually you're rewarded when you touch something wrong with a bit of text -- not so in Insecticide. However, this doesn't stop the investigating segments from being enjoyable, since the game includes some interesting and challenging puzzles.

Another noteworthy aspect of Insecticide is the dialogue. Invoking the spirit of oldschool LucasArts, the conversations, text, and story are really the heart of the game. It's also cool how the hard-boiled detective story coupled with the visuals and music make this title feel like an interactive noir film. Insecticide even pokes fun at its noir roots at times (Chrys complimenting a photo for it's chiaroscuro, for example).

Despite these noble traits, most gamers will be turned off by the lousy platforming and action sequences. The enemy AI is terrible, since bad guys just seem to stand in one place like idiots. Your guns are slow to shoot, and changing between guns takes a long time, too. To top it all off, the action parts are irritatingly difficult. Being hit by one enemy shot can reduce your health in half, and there will be times that you're pretty much screwed unless you're blessed with ammo refills.

Controls: The controls are, unfortunately, a big problem. For the adventure parts they're fine (although perhaps not even as simple as some other point-and-clicks), but for the action parts they're extremely frustrating. Granted, a D-pad for a 3D shooter isn't ideal, but there are other problems, too. Shooting with the "R" button seems like an odd choice, and at times makes the action uncomfortable and awkward. As for the stylus, you can use it to do things like look around or change guns, but you never will because it's inconvenient. Taking your fingers off the D-pad or buttons (depending on whether you're righty or lefty) to use the stylus is a nuisance, and not useful in the heat of action. It's much easier to use the buttons, since you can keep your hands at the ready that way.

Visuals: Another less-than-stellar facet of Insecticide is its visuals. First off, some of the environments are very dark -- too dark. It's often hard to see where you're going or what you're doing because of lighting issues. Also, the 3D environments and characters are jaggy and lackluster. Yet, the close-up investigation bits (when you take a closer look at an area) during the adventure segments look nice, as well as the artwork interspersed throughout the game. The movies look good, too, and some of the design choices in the game are cool (like oddly shaped furniture).

Sound: The game sports fun music that sounds like it came right out of a '60s noir film. The voice acting parts are well done, also.

Story: As long as you don't have anything against hard-boiled detective plots (which you shouldn't), you'll probably enjoy Insecticide's story. While it can be cliché at times, the charming dialogue and compelling characters will draw you into the mysteries and conspiracies in the city of Troi.

Difficulty: The game is hard, but not for the right reasons. Well, some of it's for the right reasons -- specifically, the adventure parts. This seems to be the theme throughout the review, but that's pretty much how the game goes. During the investigations, things can be difficult to figure out at times, but in a fun way. Those who dabble in adventure games will already know the drill, and will likely enjoy such challenges. The action parts, on the other hand, are difficult in a frustrating way. The controls make it hard to access the weapons you need quickly or shoot enemies properly, and (as mentioned before), where to go and what to do aren't always made clear. There are also other elements that make the action sequences difficult, and it becomes even less fun when you die, go back a few frames, and have to do certain parts again.

Final Score: 6.0/10 -- As an adventure game alone, this would be a good title. As just an action game, it would be awful. So, as it stands, Insecticide offers a mediocre experience. Perhaps people who'd like to play this game should wait for the PC version, which will likely be better in the areas that the DS version was weak (controls, visuals). The main problem with this title is that it was too ambitious. The developers probably took on too much, rather than focusing on the things that worked. Still, Crackpot showed that they have promise, and they're definitely a team worth keeping an eye on.

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