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Zoey 101

Score: 60%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Barking Lizards
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Arcade/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

Zoey 101 is based on the Teen Nick show of the same name and follows Zoey Brooks through her trials and tribulations at Pacific Coast Academy. Though the gameplay is reminiscent of the more recent Lizzie McGuire GBA games, it isn’t as fun.

Although the show is live-action, the game uses stylized graphics to depict the show’s stars. Unfortunately, the style is generic, resulting in characters who look exactly the same except for their hair color, clothes and accessories. Fans will probably be able to pick out characters based on these small details, but it certainly doesn’t help to make the game stand out.

As generic as the character art is, I still liked some elements. It is colorful, but not overly so, and simple – two things that tend to go far in handheld games. The in-game stuff isn’t bad either. It is not great, but it is passable.

Like the visuals, music is kept simple. Nothing sticks out as particularly memorable, though it keeps the game’s mood light. Still, after a couple of loops you may find yourself turning it down.


Gameplay:

Zoey 101 loosely follows the plot of the show. Zoey is starting out at PCA and trying to make new friends. On the show, this involves wacky misadventures, some boy – girl drama and lessons learned. In the game, it translates into a series of short mini-games.

The setup is pretty straightforward. PCA is broken up into three groups: boys, girls and teachers. By completing favors for each of these groups Zoey earns friend points, which result in her making friends. Every semester, three people from each social group offer up tasks for Zoey to complete. These make up a bulk of the gameplay and involve several types and variations of mini-games. Most of the games are entertaining the first time you play them, though they are over-used to the point that they get tiresome quickly – leading to one of Zoey 101’s major problems, a lack of variety.

During each semester, each group gives you the same set of tasks. One group’s may be slightly harder, though the difference isn’t enough. After completing all of the tasks for a group, you are required to play another variation of one of the games you just played, only longer or more difficult.

Zoey 101 doesn’t save gameplay data, but instead uses a password feature. It is beyond me why some games even have passwords anymore (beyond for unlocking cheats), but this is something that is unforgivable – especially in a kid-targeted handheld. To make matters worse, passwords aren’t easy to remember and rely on a random combination of lower and upper-case letters and numbers.


Difficulty:

Mini-games aren’t all that well thought out. The concept behind some games works, though the implementation is way off. There really doesn’t seem to be a solid idea behind how the designers wanted to have games play out. Rather than stick to one simple mechanic, several are thrown in, making gameplay clunky.

For example, in one game Zoey has to run down a hall while avoiding flying rolls of toilet paper and boys hiding in pots trying to jump out and scare her. For starters, there’s a time limit to the game, as well as a health bar of sorts that monitors how many times Zoey has been frightened. If the object was to simply race down the hall and avoid obstacles, it would have been fun. However, a sneak ability and a water balloon weapon are added in, complicating things. In addition, the layout of each level is terrible. Some elements are clustered together, making it impossible to not get hit.


Game Mechanics:

Before each game, everything is explained, however the text is confined to a small box, while the rest of the screen is unused. In other genres targeted towards older players, this wouldn’t be much of an issue; however, this is one of the worst things for Zoey 101. For starters, the instructions are wordy and the confined space doesn’t do a whole lot for the readability. They are understandable, though more pictures and less words would have been a better route, especially since the game’s target audience isn’t down with the whole “Reading Instructions” thing (and trust me, I am speaking from first-hand knowledge).

Once in-game, controls are responsive, if a bit clunky. The setup is okay, although, again, there are too many mechanics present in some games, something that doesn’t work for this style of gameplay.

Based on its license and price, Zoey 101 will probably make some of the more hardcore fans happy. At the same time, the game becomes so frustrating and repetitive that they may not stick out for long.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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