The DSiWare service certainly has the ability to surprise with its diverse variety of genres and concepts. Developer Zordix AB is throwing its hat into the ring with Valet Parking 1989. The title is self explanatory, and the concept of valet parking has been envisioned as a time management puzzle game with a distinctly 80s flavour. The question is whether parking cars can actually be fun, or whether you’ll be driven around the bend.
The meat of this title is the Story Mode, where you play a nameless young Hollywood dreamer who wants to buy a flash car and go to the beach. Spotting an advertisement for the valet job in the newspaper, the anonymous hero sets off in his pursuit of the LA dream. He looks like a distant cousin of Michael J. Fox in Back to The Future, to us anyway, while his boss is a fat, balding bully. This being LA, you are providing a valet service for Hollywood stars, who aren’t renowned for their patience and tolerance of scratches to their cars. At times the writing isn’t particularly strong, but nevertheless the vibe of the 1980s comes through loud and clear. The storyline is described as ‘movie-like’ in the game’s press release, but despite the occasional charming moment it isn’t quite interesting enough to live up to the claim.
The concept of the game is simple: there is a car park with an entrance and exit point and you have to park cars as quickly as possible, and also get them to the exit when the guests are leaving. Using an overhead view, you drive the cars using the stylus on the touch screen, literally dragging them into parking spaces. The controls, initially, are awkward; perhaps this is authentic of how a typical car would handle in the 1980s. After a bit of play time, however, we found that the controls just about worked, but they can be imprecise when you’re dashing around the car park in a hurry.
The game has a few methods of upping the level of challenge. As would be expected of a time management game, you are often faced with too much to do in too little time. While you’re driving around on the touch screen, the top screen shows you how many cars are waiting at the entrance, and also how many are waiting to leave. When customers are waiting, there is a bar alongside their image to reflect their increasing impatience. It is here that ‘gifts’ come in handy: satisfied customers will sometimes reward you with a gift such as a bar of chocolate, set of handcuffs – we’re not sure why either – or even a gizmo that looks suspiciously like a Game Boy. When you can see a waiting customer who is getting increasingly annoyed you can use these gifts try to calm them down and buy yourself more time.
It's the increase in challenge, particularly in the second half of the story mode, where this title is at its strongest. There were moments in the game when your workload will become suitably chaotic, with cars queuing up to both arrive and leave and not enough placating gifts to go around. Experienced gamers will be tested without necessarily seeing a game over screen, while some will need a few attempts. Unfortunately for those who find the latter levels difficult, there is no save feature in the game. This is more than likely an attempt on the developer's part to add challenge to the story mode, which can be beaten in under an hour. If you lose four lives in a level, either by crashing cars or knocking over pedestrians, it’s game over and you go back to the start. Although this was standard in the 8- and 16-bit era it seems strange in a modern title, and especially frustrating if you lose your lives towards the end of the 12 levels on offer.
As you progress in the story mode you unlock up to six levels that can be played in Endless Shift, which is a mode where you chase high scores. The problem with this mode, and the game as a whole, is that it lacks the spark that makes this genre compulsive and addictive. This could be attributed to the slightly clumsy controls, or the lack of variety in driving and parking car after car, but there is insufficient diversity in the gameplay to keep the player coming back. Some may get drawn in by this game but for most players, the novelty will likely wear off within an hour or two.
The developers deserve credit for the overall presentation. The storyline is told through pictures and text boxes, but overall the visuals are colourful and easy on the eye. The driving animation looks decent, and the 80’s Hollywood celebrities are well represented through pictures and changes in music. The celebrities are an eclectic group, ranging from Axl Rose to Margaret Thatcher – yes, Margaret Thatcher – and they have themed music and written lines that will be appreciated by those familiar with the decade.
Valet Parking 1989 has some good qualities and areas where the developers have succeeded in making an unlikely concept work. There is a quirky humour throughout, supplemented by some enjoyable gameplay moments and solid presentation. Unfortunately, this game is lacking in sustained addictive and compulsive gameplay, which is a must have in time management puzzle titles of this ilk. Considering these points alongside the sub-hour story mode and cruel lack of save functionality, and it seems that this game falls short of its potential. This valet service works, but with a few bumps and scratches along the way.