Have you ever dreamed about being a mad scientist? Well, how about being a disappointed gamer? The recent release of Gene Labs on WiiWare will finally give you the chance to feel a little bit of both. Just like its DSiWare counterpart which was also released this week, this self-proclaimed “arcade puzzle game” will show you exactly what it's like not to get your money's worth.
There's no plot and no tutorial, so it's up to you to figure this one out all by yourself. Thankfully, both your goal in the game and the controls are incredibly simplistic, so it shouldn't take too long to figure out what exactly is going on. There are bad viruses afoot, and it is your job to control a good virus and eradicate the ones that are attacking. It sounds exciting enough, but it’s really not. The lack of any sort of story or plot leaves little motivation to play, seeing as you never really feel like you're advancing towards any goal besides a high score.
When you select a new game, you have to choose between single player and multiplayer, with a range of difficulties available if you're going alone. After choosing the difficulty, you will then be able to choose which virus you would like to play as; there are eight different choices with varying statistics, or you can choose to customise a virus to your preferred stats in each of the three groups: strength, growth and speed. Your virus’s strength determines how strong its attacks will be, growth determines how quickly you will replenish ammunition and speed determines how quickly your attacks will move. Once your virus is chosen, you are dropped immediately into the game and start attacking.
The controls consist entirely of you pointing the Wii Remote at the screen, and clicking and dragging from one of your viruses to an enemy virus. Your virus will then shoot tiny balls of antivirus at your opponent until they eventually disappear and one of your own viruses takes its place. Eliminate all enemies on screen, and you beat the level. Also on screen are large uninfected blue areas that you or your enemy can also take over, and gaining control of these early on is crucial as they allow you to accumulate more ammo with which to attack. Having more viruses on the map is advantageous to you as it allows you to chain attacks together, and this is done by starting at one of your viruses, then clicking and dragging to however many of your viruses you would like to chain with, then finally dragging over to the enemy you wish to attack. This causes multiple viruses to shoot at the enemy at once, and makes gaining control much easier. There are no upgrades available and the map, which is only the size of a single screen, never changes, so this is all you will be doing the entire time.
Multiplayer modes change things up a bit, but essentially it's still all the same. Both players choose their name, then you choose whether you’d like to play Co-Op or Versus. Co-Op is the same as single player, except you have a partner to help you out, and Versus mode obviously pits you against another player to see who can get their virus to take over first. While these modes do offer a bit more excitement and mean you don't have to suffer alone, it won’t be long before both you and your friend will be bored to tears. All multiplayer is offline however, so you’ll have to trick one of your friends into coming over to play.
As stated before, the controls are incredibly simple, mostly just clicking and dragging, but they do seem to be lacking the accuracy that is necessary. In a frantic and fast-paced game such as this, imprecise controls make a big difference. It’s not an awful problem, but it is noticeable enough and could potentially cost you a win.
The soundtrack consists of only a single song which plays during both the options menu and during actual gameplay. Oddly enough, this song sounds like something out of a jungle level from Donkey Kong Country and in no way matches the theme of genetics and science. The sound effects do seem to fit the theme better, but they mostly just sound like the disgusting gurgles that a backed-up toilet would make.
The visual presentation is one of the most disappointing things in this whole mess of a package. While the viruses themselves don’t look awful, it's the background that causes a problem: designed to make it look like the viruses are floating in chemical filled water, it's constantly moving, waving and changing colours. The problem with this is that it often becomes incredibly difficult to see the antivirus balls from both attacking enemies and yourself. Not being able to see enemy attacks makes it difficult to anticipate where you should make your next move.
While Gene Labs is not a completely unplayable game, there is no real reason to want to play it. What’s truly important when it comes to video games is whether or not they’re fun. After a short while, this is one of those games that unfortunately just is not fun: it's repetitive, lacklustre and feels like an RTS that has been stripped down to the absolute bare minimum. For 500 Points, there are definitely more fun and exciting games that you could be playing, although almost anything would be more exciting and less disappointing than this game.