Review: Sparkle Snapshots (DSiWare)

Adults may find it excessive, but little girls will eat it up.

In 1995, Atlus joined with Sega to create the very first Print Club machine in Japan. Print Club was a special kind of photo booth with the ability for users to add decorative borders, graffiti, backgrounds, and clip-art 'stamps' to their images, which were printed out in sticker form and could then be traded amongst friends, slapped onto folders, or given to one's sweetheart. They became very popular with girls, who mobbed the machines along with all their friends, and as more of these decorative photo-sticker booths popped up in arcades across Japan, they soon fell all together under the umbrella term of 'purikura'. As camera technology has improved and become easier to use in the form of digital cameras and cell phones, purikura machines have gradually become less popular in arcades. With the cost of producing new machines as high as ever, Atlus announced back in March that they would no longer be producing arcade purikura machines. Instead, they've joined with Nintendo to bring purikura to DSiWare via Sparkle Snapshots.

For this application the DSi is held like a book, with the option to specify whether you are right or left-handed for ease of use. When you begin, you may either Take a Photo or View Album. There are quite a few options under Take a Photo before you reach the actual photo-taking step, and as you progress through each option, you're prompted to make each choice by a perky female voice. You can choose between Sharp, Normal, and Soft lens focus, indoor or outdoor lighting conditions, and whether you're trying to take a photo of a person or not. Once you've set your preferred options, you can skip this step next time by choosing 'No' when prompted to choose your camera settings.

After that's done with, you get to the first fun part - choosing your cute little border and background for your photo. Because you're holding the DSi sideways to use the application, most of the borders are made to look right-side-up if you view the images on their side as well. There is no option to rotate the photos afterward, so if you take an awkward photo, you'll have to hold the DSi oddly to view it properly once you're done editing. On the top screen, a preview of your settings will be displayed so that you can see how everything will look all together once you've picked out what you want, and you can toggle the example girls in and out of the preview with the Start button. If you don't want any special frame or background for your image, just hit 'Yes' to continue, which takes you to the Shutter Timer option. You can set it to wait up to 99 seconds before taking your photo.

As soon as you're done setting all your options, you come to the point where you can finally take your picture. Just like in the DSi Camera application, the X button will switch between the inner and outer cameras, B will take you back into the options menu, and any other button will take your picture for you. If you chose to use the shutter timer, it will begin counting down on the preview screen for you as soon as you press any button other than the aforementioned B or X, and audio cues will warn you aloud when you hit the 30, 10, and 5-second marks, finishing with a prompt to look at the lens and 'say cheese!' just before the camera snaps. If you take too long to press a button, you'll be prompted every 10 or 15 seconds to "press any button except B or X to take a picture". It gets a little annoying if you like to take a minute or two setting up your shots.

Once the picture has been taken, you may either retake the photo, begin editing it immediately or save and quit, which will take you back out to the main menu. If you choose to save the image you've taken in order to edit it later on, you'll lose some edit functionality (namely the ability to erase your frame from the image later on as well as the ability to erase parts of the image to show the background beneath). If you choose to edit your image, you're taken directly to the image editing part of the program. Here, on the preview screen, button functions are displayed - L and R remove the menu from view so that you can edit your image, B and Y control the zoom function (you can move the image around with the D-pad in order to focus in on tricky areas), X will hide the menu for you and Select saves your image and quits.

You may choose from five different decoration menus - Pens, Stamps, Ribbons, Goodies, and Other. Each menu has five different tabs full of pen types, sparkles, hearts, stars, cut-outs, patterns, and other stuff to choose from, all for you to use to doctor up your photo however you like. Frankly, there's enough girly stuff here to choke a unicorn. Draw moustaches on everyone, stick hearts on your cheeks, write a message or paste a curly blond wig onto someone; it's all up to you. Save Progress will save whatever you've done to your image so far, in case you've reached a point where you're happy with what you've got but still want to do more. Be careful with Save Progress however, as the program doesn't actually save your changes to the DSi unless you hit the Select button; if you 'Save Progress' and then shut off your DSi, you'll lose all your changes. Undo allows you to return to your last save via Save Progress, and if you want to revert to your original photo (provided you haven't saved with Select yet), choose Start Over. Beneath Start Over there's the Eraser menu with three different settings: Normal allows you to only erase things you've added to your image; People allows you to erase parts of the image you've taken with your camera, and Frame allows you to erase parts of the frame you chose.

Once you're done editing your images, if you'd like to view them again, View Album allows you to interact with images you've created with Sparkle Snapshots as well as any other images saved to your DSi's internal memory (sorry, just like MySims Camera, there is no SD card access in this application) as one big photo album. You can view your images on the preview screen, edit them in the photo editor portion of the application, or pick out your favorites and mark them as such with a dancing pink bow for ease of finding them later on. If you do decide to edit a saved photo, the edited version will be saved as a copy, so you won't lose your original. View Album is also where you may share your photos via wireless connection if you so desire with up to three nearby friends at a time.

The sharing option is this application's biggest flaw. The ability to directly upload photos to the internet, even if via Facebook, was the best thing to happen to the DSi Camera... sadly, though Nintendo is listed right next to Atlus on the main screen, this program does not feature that ability, nor does it allow you to send and receive photos from users of the DSi Camera. Everyone involved must be using Sparkle Snapshots, which seems odd considering both programs can access and edit the same photographs saved to the DSi's internal memory. Even the option to send photos via e-mail would have been great for this program, but as it stands, one has to take the photos and edit them in Sparkle Snapshots, exit the program, enter the DSi Camera app and then share them that way, which is annoying at best. At least this can be done on-the-fly though, as opposed to transferring the images to the SD card, which would have to be done via DSi Camera. It's a hassle to have to use so many programs just to get these pictures onto your Facebook or MySpace or blog properly, so chances are you'll end up just showing friends your DSi in order to share your creations with others.

Photos and decorations aside, the graphics are all pink and frilly and studded with butterflies, jewels, hearts, sparkles, and other girly things, the menus transition smoothly, and there's no problems with slowdown or hiccups in the program anywhere. The menus are clear and easy to read, the tips that show up occasionally are helpful, and the Japanese women that dance around on the title screen are as cute as the little girls featured in the frame/background previews. As for the pictures produced by this application, they're not bad at all, as purikura images go - they were never intended to be high-resolution works of art, just cute little things to share with friends. As always, the DSi camera itself is hit-or-miss in terms of picture quality: you will get better pictures outside in natural light than you will indoors, no matter what settings you use. As for the decorations, the stamps and ribbons and other preset images are all anti-aliased and even somewhat fuzzy when viewed on a computer, but anything drawn onto the screen with the stylus will have crisp, jagged edges. Again, as purikura images go, this isn't a huge issue.

The music alternates between two or three background tracks that are very upbeat and pop-techno-ish. They fit the application well, which is good because there's no way to turn the background music off. The female voice that prompts your every major action, however, does get annoying at times, especially if you save your progress or use the Start Over option often. There's no way to turn off the audio prompts either, but they too fit the overall style and the age-range targeted by this application, so it's not so bad if you keep that in mind.

Conclusion

For what it is, this isn't a bad application, even at 500 points - that's a week's allowance right there. Sparkle Snapshots is chock-full of options for both taking and embellishing your photos, and you (or maybe your little sisters, nieces, and perhaps daughters) will spend hours dolling up the family dog like a queen or pasting jewels and tiaras on yourself and your friends. Being able to take pictures with friends, edit them to make them super-cute, and then going on to share them with each other is undeniably charming. Though it's great for throwing sparkles and hearts all over the photos you take, it's not so friendly when it comes to sharing your photos; it's a shame Facebook or DSi Camera wi-fi interactivity was not included with this application. What it needs to really shine is some kind of DSi printer peripheral to go along with it.