- Pedigree - The background of the developer, publisher, and franchise.
- The Critics Said - A brief overview of what the critics said.
- Rap Sheet - The main glaring flaws of the game.
- Silver Lining - Redeemable qualities found (if any).
- Our Deduction - The final word on the title.
Throughout the duration of this column, we've learned a lot about shovelware. We've examined the sharing of blame between the publisher and developer, the curse of a license, the effects of critics' perception, and much more. Our top priority has been determining common attributes. One might ask what is the single, definitive trait common throughout all shovelware. The easy answer would be "it sucks." But to who? You? Me? Everyone? If you were to wander through the graveyard of the DS's library, even the loneliest tombstone will have a sympathizer or two. Particularly for younger gamers who might not know any better, cognizance is everything.
Thus, we must focus on the objective. As the swipe for this series states, "shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit." Theoretically, any game which shows compromise in any area for the benefit of time and/or money might be considered shovelware. Even if the game is a critical success, one can still identify flaws in its design. Without labeling n+ as shovelware, let's examine how its existence relates to the bottom-feeders of the DS.
What was once a prominent pillar in the stealth world has been slowly regressing into mediocrity. The Tenchu series was one of the first and most successful entries in the emerging stealth-based genre of the late 1990's. Though games involving evasive maneuvering over combat had been around for awhile, they truly flourished in 3D. From the onset, Tenchu was there. Peered with and rivaled against other top-notch franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, the word "Tenchu" was synonymous with heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping sneaky gameplay. But everything eventually dies. And the Tenchu series received a terminal illness in the form of Tenchu: Dark Secret. Unless somebody steps in and performs some sort of miracle, we might have to talk to Tenchu fans about video game heaven. It's where all game franchises go when they pass away. All of Tenchu's friends are there, like Golden Axe, ToeJam & Earl, and Ecco the Dolphin (Sega, please prove me wrong on these).
But things get even trickier when discussing the retro-port. I touched on this at the end of the Petz Dogz Fashion post, but it's worth restating: would you pay full retail price for an exact copy of your favorite retro game? As the Super Mario Advance series proved: yes, you will. Apparently, identical or near-identical copies of older games at standard market prices can still sell extremely well. It'll be interesting to see how successful the Chrono Trigger port will be (my prediction: very). It'd be especially nice if we could determine how many of those purchasing the game have never played it before (my second prediction: not very many). Information such as this would allow us to determine what effect -- if any -- retro-ports have on the current state of gaming.
Examining Myst for the DS has been on my queue for quite some time. The reason for the delay was simply because I was unsure if it was fair to put it under the spotlight since I never played the original. But upon deliberating the sentiments above, I realized the DS port of the 1993 graphic adventure would be the perfect opportunity to put the question to a litmus test.
Then, of course, there's the IP that has no business being involved in a video game. Not too long ago, a symphony of forehead smacks was heard throughout the gaming press when GameSpot reported (in error) that a video game based on the successful film Juno was being planned. And rightfully so. Television shows and movies grounded in reality have no business being the basis for a video game. Are there any successful video games about washing the dishes? About paying late fees for overdue books at the library? About going to the convenience store and finding that they're all out of Nantucket Nectars? The majority of situations we find ourselves in during the course of a regular day does not translate well to video games. So neither should a television show that doesn't involve robotic children. Here's an exemplar piece: Drake & Josh: Talent Showdown.
But in order to avoid being a cheap imitation, the inspired game must expand upon or branch the formula in a new direction. Before its release, the excellent Banjo-Kazooie was seen by some gaming journalists as nothing more than a Super Mario 64 clone. In hindsight, that's an amazingly foolish indictment. But there's the trick: while they do share similarities, they are very different games. Banjo-Kazooie did what a good game inspired by another should do: use a solid foundation and build upon it. Some titles, like Best of Tests DS, takes the solid Brain Age foundation, but instead cuts it open and squeezes lemon juice inside.
As discomforting as this sounds, it's actually a very common and natural occurrence. Certainly we've all been persuaded by friends, family, and respectable gaming news sources. Additionally, the influence isn't restricted towards the positive. Indeed, in the wake of anti-French sentiments and boycotts following France's denouncement of the Iraq war, French's Mustard (unrelated to the country) felt the need to release a press statement assuring consumers that "the only thing French about French's Mustard is the name." As you can see, unrelated negativity can percolate into that which is only similar in the letters used to identify it.
Superman for the N64 -- commonly referred to as Superman 64 -- is widely regarded as one of the worst games of all-time. So when I discovered Superman Returns for the DS floating around the very bottom of the system's metascores, I was truly puzzled. "Could they really have messed up Superman this bad twice?" Read on to find out.
To be honest, I was really hoping to be pleasantly surprised by this game. While Jackass was never the Jeopardy! of its time, it has swiped at least a chuckle or two from nearly all who bear witness to its inane displays of consenting human mutilation. This kind of brainless nihilism could easily lend itself to an arcade-style video game: small challenges with cheap thrills. Maybe Sensory Sweep could deliver a unique collage of pain and amusement. Perhaps it could be a truly unique experience, going against the grain of nearly every other game in history and rewarding the player for injury and humiliation, not sustainment or style: the true anti-parkour. But I might be expecting too much from something titled Jackass the Game. Yes folks, you guessed it ... we've got shovelware.
Often, the company will allow its intellectual properties to be used in games developed by second or even third parties. Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Metroid have all had titles outsourced. Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, Nintendo tends to insist on quality development. They will publish these games themselves in part to assure the consumer that the title is worthy of its featured IP (otherwise, things can get ugly). Nintendo is a business, however, and businesses need to make money. And what's one of the quickest ways to turn a profit? That's right: slap a well-known franchise onto a subpar piece of shovelware. The exemplar piece can be found in Pokémon Dash, a disastrous "scratch-your-DS-into-submission" racer.
And when talking about good games on the DS, one need not look further than the only title to receive a perfect 10 from DS Fanboy: Contra 4. It is awesome. For any other game, that wouldn't be enough for a "review," but with Contra 4, nothing else is necessary. WayForward Technologies' 2007 masterpiece was about as close to perfect as a game can be. Thus, the California-based developer was a perfect candidate for closet searching. And was there ever a skeleton to be found inside! Ping Pals, which is well known as being one of the DS's earliest atrocities, was the first game WayForward developed for the DS. At face value, the tween-focused chat utility appears to be nothing more than a glitter-coated PictoChat used to discuss iCarly and Webkinz. Released mere weeks after the launch of the DS, it was universally censured by both critics and love-to-hate gamers. Electronic Gaming Monthly called it "An abysmal failure," and IGN -- who employs Mark Bozon, brother of WayForward's creative director Matt Bozon -- pulled no punches when stating that "Ping Pals is easily the most unnecessary product for the system." Ouch. Clearly, somewhere between Ping Pals and Contra 4 lies the purest definition of shovelware.
For this first installment, I sought something that epitomizes shovelware: a game that shows too little inspiration (or too much from one blockbuster title) and/or is virtually unplayable. These attributes are all well represented in Homie Rollerz. In an attempt to feed off the momentum of the "Homies" craze (of many years ago), developer Webfoot Technologies created a racing title that aspired to capture the invigorating frenzy of Mario Kart DS, but instead leaves the user bored, frustrated, and robbed of their time. How long could I stand Homie Rollerz? Roll on to find out.
Gallery: Homie Rollerz