The touch screen in the DS family of consoles has often been the focus for artistic experiences. The mere act of holding the stylus should inspire artists, and it’s this instinct that forms the foundation for Freakyforms: Your Creations, Alive! on 3DS. It’s a strange name that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and is perfectly apt for the experience on offer.
This is a Nintendo release, and that becomes immediately clear as you approach for the first time. The digital manual is the first indicator: packed full of colour and detail, it's particularly suitable for young gamers. The first time you launch the title properly, you’re greeted by chirpy music, a burst of colours and a simple, intuitive user interface. Freakyforms doesn’t invite you to explore, but rather takes you by the hand, pats you on the head and gives you a delicious lollipop. Right from the start young children will be charmed, and non-cynical adults are likely to feel all warm and fuzzy.
That’s not to say that you’re not allowed to express yourself, as your first task is to name the world and start creating your first formee. In no time you’re presented with the creation screen, where you select from pre-defined forms to craft a strange creature. That first creature is particularly weird, as the form templates available are extremely limited. That said, such is the nature of this title that the goal isn’t to create refined and detailed characters, but quirky and strange animals, birds, vehicular dinosaur, or pretty much anything that looks freaky. To truly enjoy the creative process, it’s necessary to embrace that ethos.
The creation area, and the rest of the game as a whole, is structured to show you the ropes in a gradual way, gently pointing towards new forms and buttons with each new creation. Everything is done with the stylus, and the sensitive manner of progression means that it’s almost impossible to be daunted or confused. The downside to this is that it’s a slow process, ideal for youngsters, but more experienced gamers and those with unbounded artistic instincts have to wade through a lot of lessons and baby steps before their ideal creations can take shape.
Crafting creatures is intuitive and simple but the next step, unfortunately, is not. The moment you finish your creation you’re whisked into a 2D environment and simply tasked with exploring and finding items. In principle this is a nice idea as it provides an opportunity to see the latest wacky creation in action, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The major issue is that the only means of control is with the stylus, with movement determined by a variety of presses and swipes on the touch screen. Later in the game there are creatures that navigate new environments well, but conventional legged creatures without features such as wings are cumbersome to navigate. It seems strange that the option to use the Circle Pad and buttons for moving and jumping isn’t included.
Control issues aside, the practice of navigating a world is relatively fun. On your travels you’ll complete quests for other creatures that mainly involve going to a location, smashing blocks or finding items. Challenges to eat enough food to lay a ‘golden poop’ are particularly funny for kids and big kids alike. If you successfully complete a character’s quest you can then buy their form parts to expand your creative options, while treasure chests contain new items such as clouds to add to the landscape. Every trip to these areas is on a strict time limit, so it’s a taste of anarchic fun to find and do as much as possible within a few minutes. A sense of repetition may kick in, as it’s necessary to do this at least five times before the game opens up a new expanded area. These spells aren’t optional, either, so if you don’t like this part of the gameplay – or if the stylus controls bother you – then it can become a frustration.
While the main point of the game is to create a formee and then take it into the world, there are plenty of extras and unlockables to pursue. At the start the only options available are to create and explore, but within an hour or two a number of fun features are unlocked. The camera is utilised for AR card images, a neat way to integrate your landscapes and characters into a real setting. It’s also possible to create QR codes for your formees and import up to 80 other QR characters as playable ‘guests’. Add in the ability to exchange creatures and photos via StreetPass, with trophies and accessories to unlock or discover, and there is plenty of content. The only features truly missed are the ability to exchange creations online and the fact that there is only one save profile, so multiple users will need to share a world. Those minor quibbles aside, there are plenty of features in which to dabble.
The overall presentation, as suggested earlier, is bright and perfectly suited to a young audience in particular. Environments and characters have a simplistic hand-drawn quality that looks utterly charming, while the 3D effect is unobtrusive and subtle. This may disappoint some who want drastic depth and pop-out effects, but considering the young target audience the shallow 3D is understandable. Sound is rather delightful with a variety of cheery tunes, while the garbled speech of the formees is pure slapstick.
Freakyforms is a title designed for artistic, creative young children, though it’s also suitable for those who are young at heart. Gamers who aren’t artistic or don’t like the childish aesthetic should stay away, while the repetitive exploration segments and control issues are negatives for anyone. The exploration moments are brief, however, while never being game breaking. If the prospect of creating an army of strange creatures and developing a colourful world is appealing, then this is a package full of variety and humour. For the right audience, this is a title that can give hours of childish pleasure.