Playmobil Knights (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris
Growing up, no doubt many of you experienced the Playmobil range of toys. For those that didn't, they were plastic figurines that came themed with various playsets which you would build and then enact various games with. Although not as popular as they used to be, they do continue to sell well. But with times changing, companies are trying to keep up with the children of today and as such, publisher HMH Interactive have teamed up with Morgen Studios to bring Playmobil to consoles. Their latest attempt, Knight: Hero of the Kingdom, aims to provide some entertainment concealed within a medieval wrapping, with mini-games and side scrolling elements to boot. But is this game a worthy hero for the Playmobil universe or is this one toy that should have remained in the attic?
Knight: Hero of the Kingdom follows the story of a beetroot farmer who is called into action by the King after an evil magician, named Benedict the Dark, creates a lightning storm, turning all of the King's soldiers into stone and flooding the kingdom. With the kingdom flooded and the troops incapacitated, the magician sends his henchmen, the Dragon Knights, into pillage the kingdom of all its wealth and the mystical Dragon Sword. Fearing what could happen if Benedict uses the sword during the next full moon, the King fast tracks your ascension to knighthood and takes you with saving the kingdom and retrieving the Dragon Sword within seven days.
From the start, you'll be tasked with heading off and either finding certain people or completing fetch quests to further the story. There are 90 missions in total, most of which follow this fetch quest style of gameplay, with little else to provide much variation to the proceedings. All of these sections take place as a 2D side scrolling game, as you move your character through the small environments from left to right, looping back to the start when you get to the end, overcoming slight environmental obstacles and defeating opponents in basic combat, with the latter being one of the game's weaknesses as a result of poor and dated gameplay mechanics which make pulling off combos in these situations a chore. As the mainstay of the story then, you'll begin to grow slightly tired of these sections as little seems to change between locations, and in most cases you'll be asked to retread previous areas to find objects or meet people with new areas only becoming unlocked once you manage to dispel the clouds hanging over the kingdom.
Sprinkled in between these side scrolling elements are some light RPG mechanics, allowing you to upgrade weapons and armour as well as allowing you to buy dragons for flying on and each of the 5 available to you has their own set of upgraded powers you can give them. Yet these add little deviation to the gameplay and any foray into these areas will be short lived. Dragons are an integral part of the gameplay, however, and you will have to invest your in game money on them as they are your main mode of transport between locations, but unfortunately the riding sections are the most dated of the entire gameplay mechanics and make the travelling feel incredibly slow.
A handful of mini-games make up the rest of what the game has to offer, occurring when you talk to certain characters in towns or as part of certain sections in the story. These, like much of the rest of the gameplay, are very basic in their mechanics, employing the touch screen for control. There are only a few of these on offer, with them becoming unlocked for play outside of the story the further you progress in either single or multiplayer play, and even though they are basic, some can be fun. Overall, however, they don't add much else to the gameplay other than the string out the overall length of the experience longer than it needs to be and with an already basic experience in place, it's hard to see anyone other than the youngest of gamers enduring the game to its completion.
Controls follow a similar pattern to most side scrolling games, giving players control over their character's horizontal movement with the d-pad and then giving them a jump button and an attack button. That's about as complicated as it gets in the game, although a secondary attack button is mapped to be used in the hard to do combos should you be able to successfully time your button presses. Yet as simplistic as they are, at the same time they manage to feel incredibly sluggish and dated, with jumping and attacks being slow to react and movement being slightly off with the d-pad, especially when piloting your dragon around. They're annoyances you'll need to make allowances for but thankfully, the game's difficulty never surmounts to anything that makes these issues for failing.
At its heart, the game is a 2D side scroller with some amicable design work having gone on to create the locations you'll walk through. While the standards are lacking considerably behind the best work on the handheld, they get the job done in creating the medieval aesthetic and capturing the feel of the Playmobil universe, with most objects having that plastic sheen applied to them to continue the effect of the toys. Yet, while the visuals get the job done in the side scrolling aspect, at least coming into line with some of the Gameboy Advance stuff, the dragon flying sections and indeed the mini-games all carry a striking resemblance to the style of visuals from the Super Nintendo days, looking extremely dated and very basic even in comparison to some of the best games of that era.
One area where the game does shine visually is with its cutscenes. Getting full motion video or computer generated cutscenes to look good on the DS' screens isn't an easy job, and even some of the bigger developers have struggled to get the compression right for viewing, but the developers here have managed to get create some of the best looking cutscenes on the console, all running incredibly smoothly and with no pixilation or blurring issues. It holds no relevance to how the rest of the game looks, and perhaps the developers should have pushed the boat out more in that respect than with the cutscenes, but they are very well done.
The game's audio is ably suited to the medieval theme of the game, providing a simplistic score to accompany the gameplay. It's nothing spectacular or of any worth but it does fit the game's style and feel well enough. The only issue is the re-using of tracks will begin to bother some, as the game is prone to making use of the small number of pieces over and over again. But as the audio never plays a real part in the game, it can simply be turned off and you'll still get the same experience. There are a few vocal occurrences from the characters, mainly during cutscenes, although these merely take the form of screams and other such noises in an attempt to give a human quality to the otherwise plastic characters, and this quality is never reached.
At times, the game makes some decent use of the two screens, even if that usage is very basic. While the mainstay gameplay is housed on the top screen, the touch screen is brought into play for the mini-games and it works well enough, although is as previously stated very basic in its implementation. It's good enough that kids will never have an issue with it but anyone older will see how basic the use of the touch screen is in these areas.
What essentially boils down to an extended fetch quest with some basic combat and mini-games thrown in, Playmobil Interactive Knight: Hero of the Kingdom falls short of the standard we've come to expect from a DS game. While the single player content will certainly keep some occupied for a decent stretch of time, it moves sluggishly along with dated gameplay mechanics, mediocre presentation and multiplayer options which are sparse to say the least. The game is clearly aimed at a younger demographic of gamer, those who you would expect to play with the toys, and they may be more forgiving of the game's fault but ultimately, the game is little fun to play and you'll bore of the quest long before you can become the hero.
Pro: Cutscenes are well done, some of the mini-games can be fun
Con: Gameplay is severely dated, presentation isn't up to scratch, quickly becomes slow and tedious, combat can be a chore
Final score: 3.4