Review: Johnny Impossible (3DS eShop)

Mission: Intolerable

Johnny Impossible is a bad game.

We'd be perfectly happy to leave the review at that sentence, as it does actually tell you everything you need to know, but Johnny Impossible is so interestingly bad that we need to say a lot more about it, if only to achieve some sort of closure.

Having made his eShop debut in Johnny Kung Fu, and then dressed up like a cowboy and acted like an idiot in Johnny Hotshot, our hero — and we use that term exceptionally loosely — is back in Johnny Impossible. It's easily the most promising adventure — there's that loose usage again — Johnny has seen yet, and that's probably what makes its failure so frustrating.

It turns out that the evil Mr. Wang is at it again, pointing a world-destroying laser at the Earth — which is probably not a very good plan unless Mr. Wang can breathe in space — and it's up to Johnny to save us all. With such massive stakes and a weapon capable of decimating planets in a single blast, this has the potential to be one grand adventure indeed. Unfortunately "adventure" is not the order of the day, and Johnny saves us all by avoiding spotlights in some warehouses. Hooray.

The game starts off promisingly enough, with a genuinely funny setpiece involving Johnny locating the "secret van" from which he takes his orders. That's simply the introduction, however, and once the game begins this tantalising sense of humour vanishes without a trace. Every so often we get ostensibly funny exchanges between Johnny and a man named Glasses who gives instructions; the only joke here seems to be that Johnny is upset that he has to do all the hard work while Glasses sits safely in the control centre. Of course this only qualifies as a joke if you ignore the fact that the Earth is about to be destroyed and nobody is "safe" anywhere, but since the game constantly forgets its own premise it's probably best if we do too.

Your job is to hop through minor platforming puzzles as you deactivate computer terminals and collect secret codes. When you obtain the code for any given level you can use it to open the final door. That's not a particularly enticing challenge, but Johnny Impossible does add one promising wrinkle: spy gear.

As Johnny progresses he accumulates various items that will help him reach previously inaccessible areas. It's a concept at least as old as Metroid, and Johnny's status as Super Spy should lend the usage of these items a great deal of charm and entertainment. Sadly they're without exception rather dull to use, and their execution never gets more interesting than early rooms that see you briefly vanquishing darkness with Night Vision Goggles, then standing around doing nothing as you wait for the battery to recharge so that you can briefly vanquish it again. Rinse and repeat for what feels like an eternity. Oh, and do it under a strict time limit.

In some levels you'll be able to collect the same item multiple times, raising their level each time you do. However this leads to one of the game's many glitches: items that respawn without any reason. After reloading a save you'll sometimes — but not always — be able to pick up the same item in the same place again. Doing so won't raise your level — being as it's not supposed to be there at all — but it may glitch the battery level so that it's stuck empty.

Even the simple act of saving your game — which you can do at any time, fortunately — can cause your items' battery levels to freeze, leading us to wonder just how much playtesting was invested in this game before it was released. Add to this the fact that reloading saves can sometimes cause you to appear above a pit — regardless of where you were when you actually saved — which drops you immediately into the room below upon reloading, and you really have to question the logic behind this game's design.

Throughout every level your job is to avoid detection. If you are spotted by a light, a laser or an enemy, you will trigger an alert, and you'll have ten seconds to leave the room or duck into a closet before you're caught. At least, the timer reads ten seconds. In practice a robot appears at the five second mark to strike you down immediately, and escaping it is far more a matter of luck than skill, meaning you'll almost never get your full ten seconds of escape time. It's just more shoddy design in a game riddled with it.

Speaking of time, the strict time limit decreases each time you're spotted, and it's very possible to save your game in an unwinnable situation without enough time to complete the level. Of course the game only saves when you tell it to, preventing this from becoming a serious issue as it is in Crystal Adventure, but it's still worth noting.

When you finally do make it to the main computer terminal of the level, you'll have to play not just one but two distinct mini-games in order to hack it. The reason for this is simple padding, as there's no consequence for failure and you can play as many times as you like. One of the mini-games is Canabalt-inspired, and the other owes a debt to Game & Watch. Unfortunately neither of them are any fun, and serve only to break the pace of an already extremely dull game.

Visually the game is animated cheaply, feeling more like a first-year Flash project than a professional title. The 3D effect is present and accounted for, but utterly worthless, as all you ever do is crawl around boxes and box-like objects until you stumble upon the correct path. The jumping and items are slugglish and unresponsive, and the music — which is utterly forgettable — qualifies as the game's de facto high point.

Honestly, if games like this are what Earth is producing nowadays, we're on the side of Mr. Wang and his laser.

Conclusion

The third straight humiliation for this limp attempt at a mascot, Johnny Impossible at least has the germ of a great idea: item-assisted exploration. Granted it's the same germ of an idea that has already served plenty of other games extremely well, leaving you with no reason to waste your time with this half-baked excuse for an adventure. The presentation is amateurish, the controls are sluggish, and there are glitches galore. If you can't find anything better to spend your money on at this point in the eShop's life, somebody should probably take your wallet away.

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