The Luv Me Buddies seem to do a number of things right when creating a new children’s brand. A menagerie of cute and cuddly characters? Check. A silly but charming origin story? Check. Hints of personality? Check. A lovable, entertaining game that introduces characters to new fans?
No check. Uncheck. An idea vacuum in which the concept of “check” cannot exist.
Luv Me Buddies Wonderland is not how you want to present your brand to children. Take the aesthetics away, in fact, and it can feel more like a psychological experiment in how much children are willing to endure.
Everything starts out pleasantly enough. The heart-shaped-headed Buddies greet you from a colourful, hand-drawn map. Select a character with the Wii Remote or GamePad stick (the touch screen is not supported for play, no matter how blatantly the activities beg for it) and it will whisk you away to its own little corner of the world. The Buddies have no real animations, per se. They hop about like blinking cardboard cut-outs, but that could be seen as a style choice.
Start playing the mini-games in each area, though, and the choices made in this game become substantially harder to defend. Each area has about five mini-games that must be played in order, although most come from the same pool of around 10 or so. A brief, sometimes vague description of each game is displayed on the GamePad before playing. They’re easy to miss if you’ve set the GamePad aside for being the mostly useless accessory it is here, and it’s possible to get kicked into a game without being told what you’re getting into at all! There’s no convenient way to quit or back out, either. Either lose as quickly as possible or wait for the time limit on the game — usually 2 minutes — to expire.
Every game comes with three lives, and sometimes these will be lost just for the sake of discovering what makes you lose a life. Why does touching a friendly-looking hot air balloon make you lose a life in a game where everyone is already clinging to balloons? Who knows? The game sure doesn’t tell you, but what more edifying way for children to learn than by sheer trial and error! Imagine Dora the Explorer asking kids to find the coins for a treasure chest, then telling them they failed because they didn’t find the key she never mentioned.
All games hail from the stable of unoriginal mini-game fare and are either mindless zone-outs or require surprisingly strict standards of concentration. Can you piece a jigsaw puzzle together from memory, given only three random pieces at a time, and each piece you place incorrectly causes you to lose one of your three lives? Can you do five of these puzzles within a time limit? How about recreating a song by copying the right patterns of colours/performers, bit by bit, against the clock? Oh, and the instruments the performers are holding are related in no way to what plays when you click on them. If this sounds potentially difficult to you, remember who the target audience for this game is.
Win conditions are relatively clear with some games, such as completing all the jigsaw puzzles, while others are not provided at all. What score must be reached in time? How many matches need to be made? But why would anyone want to know such piddly details as how to win; especially a child playing the same two minutes over and over with no idea of how well they’re doing? Regardless of whether one wins or loses, they’re always brought back to the map where the Luv Me Buddy spouts the same exact greeting every time before a game can be selected again. A Button Hammering: the hidden mini-game.
Clearing all the games in an area seems to earn the victor nothing except a battle-tested sense of patience. Points add up from game to game, but also appear worthless apart from quantifying one’s suffering. If rewards are given out for points, it’s doubtful anyone will endure enough of these tedious games to earn enough of them.
If credit can be given to this game, it is in the presentation. The hand-drawn scenery, while not interactive, is still often quite pretty and possesses variety. The music can also be surprisingly catchy, although it’s not always looped perfectly. So please feel free to look at or listen to Luv Me Buddies Wonderland as desired, but take great caution if you choose to directly engage the critters.
The biggest disappointment with Luv Me Buddies Wonderland is that its source material seems perfectly harmless in itself. It has a decent foundation that, with the right guidance, could become a positive franchise for kids. Wonderland, however, is tone deaf toward its intended audience, failing to make often basic choices that would have made it more appealing, engaging, or even playable. This game does no favours whatsoever to its brand, its players, or other creators who would demonstrate more consideration in making children’s games. A real shame.