When it comes to attempts to turn boring, low-paid jobs into exciting DSiWare downloads, Zordix AB jumped to the fore with Valet Parking 1989. It was an intriguing but flawed game, jam packed with nostalgia and 80’s humour. The developer is now continuing the theme of decade-specific chore simulation with 1950s Lawn Mower Kids. The very idea of turning grass cutting into a full download release had us intrigued, but does it make the cut?
The premise of this title is that a group of three kids in 1950s America want to earn money for summer treats, such as visits to the theme park. A kindly neighbour lends these intrepid entrepreneurs lawnmowers, dubbing himself Mr Mowman in the process. Times were clearly different in the 1950s, as a man giving himself a moniker like that today would be looked at with suspicious eyes. In any event, using the custom mowers assigned to each character, the quest for pocket money and summer shenanigans ensues.
The process of cutting grass has been turned into a rather frantic resource management game, played almost exclusively with the stylus. Each kid in your team has different strengths and weaknesses, so your priority is to assess the lawn and its obstacles – such as cats, flower beds and teenagers throwing a ball around – and cut the grass as quickly as possible. This is done by drawing a path for each character on the touch screen, outlining the areas they should cut. The longer the path and the more momentum they gain without being stopped by obstacles, the quicker they move.
As levels progress, lawns get bigger and more obstacles start to appear, each posing different challenges. Drawing paths and managing each character over a larger space becomes particularly challenging, though you can quickly move between them with a tap of the shoulder button. In order to complete a level you need to win a medal by cutting the grass within a time limit: we found that we won bronze medals for the most part, with gold medal targets seeming almost inconceivable. You can gain more time by tapping on birds as they fly past, but even with this time bonus you’ll be hard pushed to gain the top rewards. Much like Valet Parking 1989, the developers ensure that there is a high level of challenge.
There is only one game mode in this title, avoiding any pesky distractions such as diversity in gameplay. With 25 standard and bonus levels available, there is at least a reasonable amount of content. The main problem is that the basic gameplay of drawing paths with a stylus isn’t particularly compelling, and at times can be frustrating. Doing this over and over again, just with increasing levels of difficulty, didn’t make us want to come back for more. In that respect the theme and gameplay match up, as cutting grass isn’t exactly a fun activity in real life.
In terms of presentation, the menus and in-game graphics are reasonably good, by DSiWare standards. Our main complaint is the failure of the title to really capture the 1950s American suburbs theme. Still frames for ‘story’ segments between levels show Mr Mowman in a dapper 50s style shirt and tie, but the environments could conceivably be an opulent American suburb in 2011. The music is also a disappointment; the chirpy tunes are typical of DSiWare, yet bear no real relation to the theme. With such basic gameplay, the presentation needed to provide some humour and 50s style; it fails to deliver.
It was interesting in the teaser trailer for this title that the voice-over said: ‘we know we shouldn’t do this to you’. Well, they were right, as this is a title that delivers so little. The gameplay is passable and there is a high level of challenge for completionists, but the title falls over in almost every other area. Repetition and lack of gameplay variety combines with a theme that doesn’t actually play any significant role. Valet Parking 1989 was flawed but had 80s charm; this is flawed without any significant reference or sustained acknowledgement of 1950s US suburban culture. Not all quirky ideas should be fully developed, and this is clearly a concept that should have stayed in the shed.