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Littlest Pet Shop Friends

Score: 72%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Play
Developer: EA Salt Lake
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Family/ Adventure/ Party

Graphics & Sound:

It's hard to fault the developers of Littlest Pet Shop Friends for the look of the game. After all, their source material consists of creatures with eyes the size of dinner plates and irises that look like they've been misshapen due to the ravages of some unknown disease. In a twist of cruelty, they're also placed in the brightest environment you can imagine, forcing these poor creatures to be blinded every second of their lives.

Alright, the look of the game is what one might call cute. The pets have big heads, big eyes, and everything is bright and cheery. Unfortunately, none of the animals are animated very well, and it can be distracting. A jump will often look like someone is just taking a model and shaking it around. Forget weight and timing, everything simply floats along while it does a walking animation. It's not that you can't see the attempt at cuteness, it's just hard to make out.

Then we come to the sounds that all the pets make when they talk. If you've played a few Japanese games, you've probably come across this. When a character speaks, it repeats a few variations of a sound over and over to imitate talking. Well, that's what happens here. I don't want recall this part of the game, but I suppose in the spirit of journalism, I'll have to bear it. It goes like this: the dog makes a "woof woof" sound, the peacock makes a "tweet tweet" sound, and then the cat makes a sound that makes me think it would be nice to put down the game and floss my teeth while someone runs their nails down a chalkboard.


Gameplay:

The basic story of Littlest Pet Shop Friends is that your pets are planning a party for a new pet that's coming to town. It seems that no children's game can allow a party to simply be planned and executed. No, it's always a long, drawn-out scavenger hunt for the most exotic items. Your pets want new clothes, but they want new colors to dye them first. So you'll go collect items like flowers and fruits to create dye, which you can then use to buy clothes, which will finally allow you to go to the next collection quest. You'll unlock new pets as you invite guests from the guest list and complete quests. If you want to simply switch over and play as them, you can. Then you're free to play mini-games and dress up your pet as much as you like. You won't be able to beat the game or unlock new pets unless you switch back to the last pet that was continuing the story, however.

Mini-games are the next big thing you'll be doing in this game next to collecting items. There are a lot to choose from, with a fair amount of variety. There's a bakery game where you rush to complete cake orders from pet customers (make 3 customers wait too long and you're finished). There's a "keep-away" style game where you have to tag other pets before they knock over your stash of gems. Another game is a washing game where you have to shake the Wii-mote at just the right pace to keep water running or the dryer drying.

Customizing or caring for your pets doesn't seem to be as big a part of the game as I expected it to be. Yes, you can buy hats, scarves, and even sunglasses, but the variety is a bit limited. You can feed and bathe your pets, but they never seem to be hungry or dirty, so it doesn't seem to matter. The whole "pet" title seems lost here, as you're really just taking the role of these cute animals as they run around town playing games and talking. If you're looking for a "pet care" game, this is probably not your best bet.

You can also bring a friend in to play cooperatively in your mini-games, or just to run around town with you if you like. There's nothing specifically designed for 2 players in this game, except for a few bonus Kibble Coins that you can earn in the play areas. Other than that, the second player can drop in and out without affecting anything.


Difficulty:

There are adjustable difficulty levels in Littlest Pet Shop Friends, but they really only apply to the mini-games. The easiest level should be easy enough for the most novice gamers and young children. The hardest level introduces a challenge, but it's not impossible by any means. Your timing will have to be a bit quicker and you'll have to concentrate on the action a little more. The thing is, most of the mini-games are endurance style games where you try to make as many points as you can for as long as you can. For example, there is a flower cutting game where flowers bloom all around you as long as you tend them. If you fall too far behind, they will wither and die. If three flowers die, then your game is over. So really, you only have to be as hard on yourself as you want to.

Finding your way around the city is the bulk of what you do, and it's made easy by the use of an arrow at the bottom left corner of your screen that points the way to your destination. There are no puzzles or brainteasers to stump you. It's just a matter of going to meet a pet or going to gather more items as you're told to do.


Game Mechanics:

Littlest Pet Shop Friends isn't a poster child for great control, but I don't suppose anyone was expecting that. In addition to the animation issues, pets move slowly, and there is no running option. At least there is no "run faster than a slow jog" option. You never have to go far between quests, but it still would have been nice to have more variable speed, a jump, a roll, anything to mix things up while you travel. It probably wouldn't be so bad if your pet didn't slow down even further when you bump into a wall or an object, or another pet. Speaking of bumping into other pets, they won't move out of your way for anything. Instead, you'll be stuck pushing them out of your way ever so slowly, or waiting for them to move. Neither option is much fun, even in this bright and colorful world.

There are "play" hotspots scattered across the world, but these simply trigger pre-set animations. For example, if you hit play next to a log, your pets will roll around on the log in a pre-programmed animation. You don't get different animations for different pets, so there's really no incentive to try these play spots more than once.

The mini-games feel just about as responsive as the rest of the game as far as controls go, but they seem to be forgiving enough to where it doesn't become frustrating. You're only required to do a few different "waggle" motions throughout the course of the game, so that's something you can also get the hang of eventually.

There are codes included with the game that you can input into both the Wii game and a free browser-based online Littlest Pet Shop game. The codes will get you a few things like a free trial of the "premium" version of the online game and a special pet. Honestly, the online game just looks better than the 3D Wii version. It may just be that the style of the franchise is just better suited to 2D flash than to 3D on a console. Or it may be that this just wasn't the best 3D execution that could have been done.

It's hard to be excited for this game, and it's hard to imagine it holding even the target audience's attention for very long. There is potentially a lot to do, but it just doesn't seem like there's much point in doing it over and over. The addictive quality of something like Animal Crossing is not to be found here by far. The biggest Littlest Pet Shop fans may be excited for a while, but I wouldn't expect it to last.


-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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