The DSi Shop is currently home to a gaggle of puzzlers and non-game applications, but platformers are sadly few and far between. That said, last week, Gameloft's Castle of Magic hit the service, and this week, EA delivered unto us Foto Face: The Face Stealer Strikes. EA is no stranger to 2D side-scrollers, their latest being Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure for the DS, but this is their first game to utilize the new cameras available on the DSi — the use of photos to customize in-game characters, in fact, is one of its main features. Will it be just another gimmick, however, or will it help this game put its best face forward?
In Foto Face, you play the Hero, a costumed character whose identity has been stolen by the Professor's latest invention, the Facetron 3000. Using your face (literally, whatever faces you use for your hero in this game are also worn by the Professor character), he runs around wreaking havoc in your name as he works on perfecting his invention in order to ultimately become an untouchable master of disguise. Of course, the poor natives of the three worlds through which you wind up chasing the Professor have no idea what's going on, and you end up at the top of their hit-lists thanks to his dirty deeds. The idea is to make your way through the five levels in each world and beat the Professor before he can truly begin his reign of face-stealing terror.
This game uses both touch and button controls on the menu and customization screens. The icons are all fairly self-explanatory, and depending on the situation, the game will explain what you must do in order to proceed. The actual gameplay controls are similar to other side-scrolling platformers, though in Foto Face, B is your jump and A is your attack. There is only one mode of play available, though you may also look at your Gallery of customized characters and change your Options at any time during the game through the pause menu.
As the game begins, you are prompted to take photographs of your own face. There are five different expressions for the Hero, and the game gives you a circular guide in the middle of the touchscreen to fill with your face. As always with the DSi camera, you'll get better results outside in the daylight than you will indoors. Once that is taken care of, you are then prompted to record five different sounds to go with those new faces. Should you decide you don't want to customize your character (or any other character, for that matter), be warned — though each character has its own distinct body, there is only one set of faces and sounds provided by the game. If you don't customize any of them, they'll all have the same faces and call upon the same sounds when they're hit or during sequences where they speak to you.
In each level, one or two new characters are introduced, and you have the opportunity to customize them as well. It's easy enough to find subjects to photograph at first - yourself, your pets, your available family - but ten or fifteen characters later, the idea fountain begins running dry, and you reach a point where you'd just like to continue the game itself. You can always just skip the customization sequence and do it later through the Gallery if you like.
The first world available to you is Haunted Hills, a spooky place where you make your way through a graveyard full of evil trees and boiling goo-pits and eventually into a castle dungeon populated by creepy monsters. Frantic Frontier has you heading west, moving from the outskirts of town through an oil field until you reach an old abandoned mine, and the Mystic East takes you from a cherry blossom orchard all the way into the heart of a forbidden temple. Dancing purple stars are scattered throughout each level to collect, and collecting them all will unlock something special (possibly the eighth costume — four are available at the start and three are unlocked through normal play). You start each level with full stamina and lives no matter how close you cut it in the last level; stamina and life refills are few and far between, but they always seem to be close to areas where you'll really need them. Strength, invincibility, and star-magnet power-ups are also scattered across the worlds, but again, no more than you need and always when you need them most.
In Foto Face, your weapons, attack strength, and running ability are determined by your costume, which you can change at any time during a level by tapping the "costume" icon on the touchscreen. At the beginning of the game, you may choose between a barbarian, a secret agent, a warrior, and a guy with chopsticks in his hair. Costumes using melee weapons (the barbarian's club, the warrior's sword) will be able to bust through walls and take down enemies more quickly, while costumes using projectile weapons (the agent's gun, chopstick-man's throwing knives) are better for enemies with ability to shoot from a distance and switches that are hard to reach. You can only run if you're wearing certain costumes, and running allows you to jump farther, but while running the Hero is more slippery to control and has a harder time landing on small platforms. Three more powerful costumes are unlocked as you defeat the Professor at the end of each world, and you'll have to try them all out in order to proceed.
Between the simple plot, the character customization, and the gameplay, Foto Face is really geared toward a younger crowd. Helpful tips for playing the game show up automatically the first time you play through a level, the objectives are easy to understand, and the fights against the Professor are fairly easy (once you've figured out his patterns). There are checkpoints in each level you'll restart from should you die, unlimited continues if you run out of lives, and note that once you've collected a star, it stays collected — you don't lose all your stars if you die or quit before finishing a level. Also, whenever you beat a level, a picture of your character in a silly pose is automatically taken for you (sadly, there is no option to turn this off in the Options menu). With fifteen levels to beat (some more than once if you want all the stars), that's a pretty big chunk of images that'll be taking up space on your system. Kids will enjoy having all those different pictures of their face on a character's body, but adults will likely find it annoying to have to go through and delete them all one-by-one from their DSi. Oddly enough, the game suggests each time a picture is taken that you upload it to Facebook to share it with your friends, which brings the age-range this game is being marketed toward somewhat into question.
All that said, there is a solid platformer lurking here. There are multiple paths available in order to get through certain levels, and each are littered with stars to collect, so you may have to play through a level two or three times in order to find all of them. Though Foto Face is geared toward kids, it's never too easy, forcing you to really think outside the box sometimes to find those elusive stars. Since you don't need them to progress through the game, you are free to ignore the stars entirely, but those who don't at least try to find all the stars will be missing out on some interesting platforming action. Beating the game may take you a few hours, and collecting all the stars will take longer, but with the stars not reappearing after you've collected them all, there goes the replay value. There's only one save file for this game, and it saves automatically every time you beat or exit a level, so if you want to play through and collect all the stars again, you'll have to delete your save information and start all over again from scratch.
Photographs aside, this is a charming game visually — it's the little things that catch your eye, whether it's a flickering torch, a smoking chimney, or falling cherry blossoms. Each level is chock-full of 2D detail; the artists really packed in the pixelated love. All of the moving parts are animated smoothly, from background to foreground to the characters themselves, which still manage to fit into the game's visual style despite their 2.5D nature. There's nothing to complain about from a sound perspective, either. Instead of using the same track over and over, the music is upbeat and peppy or darker and foreboding where it needs to be, and the generic little ticks, bongs, and xylophone riffs match the different menu music tracks. Like the visuals, some of the sound effects are up to you, but even so the defaults are good enough for you to allow them to go by on their own if you're not in an audio-customizing mood.
The DSi Shop is in need of good platformers, but does EA's Foto Face fit the bill? It depends on who you ask - younger kids will likely enjoy this more than teens and adults, with the ability to customize their characters' faces and sounds however they please. It's a very smooth, well-packaged game with great level design and controls, which helps the character customization gimmick go down a tad easier, but from an adult perspective it would have been much better with preset characters, no silly end-level photographs, and more levels to play instead. As it stands, even at the 800 point price, Foto Face would be a great transition game for younger ones who really like their DSi Camera and who aren't quite into platforming (yet), but teens and adults will want to consider well whether this game is for them or not.