Aksys Games makes most of their living by translating and localising Japanese games for Western markets. Their choices for WiiWare offerings, at least, haven't been great so far, but they've now graced the DSi Shop with partner developer Arc System Works' Animal Puzzle Adventure (formerly Chiria no Doubutsu Koya). In this adorable-looking puzzler, you work alongside Chilia, a pink-haired girl who quite possibly is the worst shepherdess ever. Completely incapable of keeping her animals penned up on her own, she's counting on your assistance to return her assorted lost creatures to their respective barn-shaped homes. The concept is simple enough, but will such a simple game be able to keep your interest?
The game is mainly controlled via the D-Pad and buttons, though the stylus may also be used at times. A allows you to enter menus and select options, while B cancels and exits. During the game, the D-Pad moves the animals around on the map on the top screen. X pauses the game and allows you to restart if you like, and Y gives you the option to quit and return to the title menu.
There's no real plot to this game, and no tutorial mode, either. Selecting 'Start Game' brings you to a level select area, where you may choose from any of the ten levels available for the particular chapter you're on. There are five chapters in all, each with ten stages, and by beating eight of the ten stages you'll unlock the next chapter to play. Upon selecting a stage, you're presented with a little island of land on the top screen as your puzzle, upon which you begin in the first chapter by herding kittens and puppies into their barns. No matter how many animals are in a puzzle, they all move at the same time, and in order to solve the puzzle they must all reach their tiny individual barns at the same time. In each puzzle, there are scattered stumps, rocks, and fences that may be used to help split up your group of creatures so that you can get them all home together safely. If one of your animals falls into a hole or walks off the edge of the puzzle map, however, you instantly fail and are given the option to try again from the beginning. On the bottom screen, Chilia helps you by providing occasional tips for manoeuvring her scattered animals around the obstacles in each puzzle, but never anything specific enough to really help you through.
Upon solving each puzzle, you are rewarded with a piece of a picture in the Gallery. Solving each of the ten puzzles in a Chapter will reveal the entire photo of Chilia looking cute. Considering the first shot involves Chilia waking up in her somewhat skimpy bedclothing, it's probably a safe bet that the Gallery images are where the 'E10+' rating comes from. Once you've unlocked an image in the Gallery, you may set it as the game's 'wallpaper' (the image you see upon loading the game) if you like.
As you progress through the stages, the puzzles become progressively harder and harder. This is not really the kind of game you'll sit down and play straight through in one session, because you'll probably be bored just a few puzzles in. The concept is simple enough that a tutorial is not really required, but the bare-bones nature of the game will become frustrating when you get stuck. Considering the main puzzle mode is the only mode of play, some kind of relief (either via more specific tips from Chilia or some kind of 'hint' function) would have been nice.
Graphics-wise, Animal Puzzle Adventure is adorable in a 'generic cutesy Japanese game' sort of way. There's nothing offensive to the eye, but also nothing truly spectacular, though you might get a kick out of unlocking the different Gallery images, if that's your pleasure. Musically, the soundtrack is upbeat and cute, providing a synthesised backdrop fitting for the adorable graphics. The sound effects don't really mesh with the music; in fact, there are times when they clash dissonantly, prompting a quick wince from any audiophiles who may be playing the game. Thankfully, the Option Menu at the main screen gives you the option to set the volume for both the background music and the sound effects independently of one another.
This surprisingly plain 'Adventure' rapidly becomes boring unless you're in it for the sheer intellectual challenge of solving each puzzle. There is no 'hint' feature if you get stuck, which may well happen even within the first Chapter. Unlocking pictures of a cute girl is not terribly interesting, and certainly not incentive enough to keep you going when you're frustrated, but the good thing is that you can pick this up and put it down at any time if you like. Guiding cute little lost critters to their barns is a simple enough concept, but Animal Puzzle Adventure really leaves it at that, which isn't a good thing - it's a generic puzzle game with cute graphics slapped onto it, and it shows.