Review: Halloween: Trick or Treat (DSiWare)

It's the Great Disappointment, Charlie Brown!

Holiday-specific games are nothing new to Nintendo's download services, but developers just don't seem interested in providing much for your money. Just take a look at the scores for Happy Holidays: Halloween, Happy Holidays: Christmas, Just Sing! Christmas Songs or the immortal Fireplacing. Rather than produce a quality gaming experience that complements the feelings and traditions associated with the holiday, we're asked to shell out money for games just because they have something — anything — to do with the season.

Halloween: Trick or Treat shambles along mindlessly in the tradition of those games mentioned above, hoping to trick a few people into buying it because it's named after a holiday. It's a buggy, boring, braindead mess of a game that's going to make you wish you spent your time playing with the guts of a rotting pumpkin instead, and we're putting that politely. This game is terrible.

The plot is that Mike and Sally are going trick-or-treating, and... sorry, we shouldn't have typed an "and" there, because there's nothing else. Mike and Sally are going trick-or-treating. You, for whatever reason, are expected to spend your day tapping blindly around on your DS while they do so.

Our problems with the game begin with the visuals. In particular, the character designs. Mike and Sally are, quite simply, the most hideous human beings who have ever lived. Their frozen, cold expressions suggest not children excited about the holiday, but corpses improperly preserved by a mortician who isn't all that good at his job. Their dead eyes stare soullessly at you while you fight to concentrate on a game you wish you never bought in the first place, and they hover like unsettling gargoyles over every scene and sequence.

The bulk of the game consists around single-screen pixel hunts. Mike and Sally have lists of things to find in each scene — don't ask us why — and you tap each hidden item as you see them. While this may not sound like the most exciting premise to begin with, the game's execution only makes it worse.

As there are so many hidden objects packed into every scene, and as there is no punishment for tapping something that is not a hidden object, the easiest and fastest way to play is to tap everything on every scene. This might be considered something of a cheat, but since the game doesn't seem to care if you play it this way, neither do we.

In fact, if you'd like to experience all the fun of Halloween: Trick or Treat without spending the money, just dig out an old magazine and find a full-page advertisement. Tap your stylus on every object you see. Congratulations! You win!

The muddy visuals are also a huge problem, as they even further discourage a legitimate hunt for the item by making everything so terribly pixellated and dull. It's difficult to tell a steering wheel from a wagon wheel, for example, so why not just tap both? Ugly graphics are always disappointing, but in a game that's built around the concept of identifying finding specific objects, that's unforgivable.

There also seems to be a problem with the game detecting taps in the first place. In one scene we tapped on a Bigfoot-looking creature, and nothing happened. That's fine, but when the scene refused to end we looked at the list of items to find and one of them was Bigfoot. We then tapped Bigfoot again and, still, nothing happened. We assumed we must have tapped the wrong Bigfoot so we scanned the area for another, found none, and frustratedly tapped Bigfoot a third time, which all of a sudden counted as finding him. This was just the earliest occurrence of such a bug that plagued us through the entire game, and it gets particularly frustrating when you know you're tapping repeatedly on the toffee apple you were asked to find and the game won't react to what you're doing.

If you have trouble finding any of the objects, you have an infinite supply of hints that you can use by pressing Select. Only by "hint" the game means "direct, unmissable indication of exactly where the item is." Fun.

Once you've finished tapping everything in sight — sometimes several times — the scene will end, and Mike and/or Sally will skulk creepily into view to congratulate you and make you wish you could throw a towel over their horrible faces. They will also ask you to play a mini-game, which is intended to break up the action a bit. "Action," of course, being a term used with exceptional generosity in this case.

The mini-games are impossible to lose, and they consist of such challenges as solving puzzles on the bottom screen whose solutions are displayed clearly on the top screen. Needless to say, they're a real blast.

Typically these mini-games are presented as part of the narrative. Mike and/or his pod-person sister will see something that inspires further investigation, and that investigation is your puzzle. Later on, however, all pretense is dropped and puzzles just appear on the screen without any attempt at explanation at all. Perhaps the developer was afraid it wouldn't hit its Halloween deadline if it took the time to add another scene in which Mike pointed at something and said, "Hey, look at this!"

The music isn't bad, but you're bound to become tired of the game's only song before you're even through the second puzzle. The story, as it is, is next to non-existent, and it consists entirely of the kids repeatedly saying, "that was fun. Now let's check out this room over here."

We're not sure who was meant to enjoy this game. Small children will be bored by the repetitive, static gameplay, and they wouldn't recognise most of the items on Mike and Sally's list anyway. Anyone older will correctly see this as a pointless money-grab and keep walking.

Perhaps, just perhaps, at a much lower price point it would have been a passable novelty. As it stands, though, it's just another addition to the pile of holiday games that seem to think strategic release dates are more important than good ideas, competent execution, or even simple beta testing.

Happy Halloween, indeed.

Conclusion

Halloween: Trick or Treat is simply mishandled on every possible level. From the muddy visuals to the abysmal character designs to the downright insulting and unresponsive gameplay, it's hard to imagine anyone getting much enjoyment out of this. Charlie Brown notoriously got nothing but rocks when he went trick-or-treating. It could have been much worse, though, Charlie; you could have got this game.

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