Juka and the Monophonic Menace (Game Boy Advance) - Review by Andrew
After Orbital Media leaped into the GBA world late last year with the wonderful Racing Gears there was some considerable interest in what their next game would be. After all, Racing Gears was an all round hit with both gamers and critics giving it a resounding thumbs up. It was easy to see why too with the developers demonstrating their skill in game design by producing an almost perfect balance of sound, graphics and finely tuned gameplay. It's almost a year on now and rather than a mindless sequel Orbital instead have gone down the Adventure route with Juka and the Monophonic Menace. Pushing aside the fact that it's is a complete mouthful to say we're just hoping that the game is as satisfying as their first GBA outing.
It's sometimes difficult to properly review and adventure without spoiling too much of the plot so we'll do our best to focus on the various gameplay aspects and not the storyline. You start out playing Juka and a little clueless to be honest with tasks fed to you from Bufo who appears to be in some kind of central control centre. One of your main tasks initially is to collect different coloured ingredients for potions but before you even attempt this you'll need to locate the collection jars. The ingredients in question are everywhere but you'd be wise to shake all of the trees and bushes as most of these hide the things you seek within their branches. Once you have enough ingredients you'll be able to mix your first potion which simple sends enemies to sleep for a short time allowing you to pass them without being attacked. All this is contained in your notebook with new recopies added usually when you help other inhabitants.
I say inhabitants because the first thing you'll need to help is a rock. That right, I did say a rock. The problem here is that the rock is a gem guardian and the gem in question has been stolen. Recover it and you'll be rewarded with yet another recipe. Other tasks have you collecting Sheep Pigs and putting them back in to their pen for the farmer. Again this was rewarded although this time not with a recipe but rather an invaluable piece of information. Not all your problems can be solved this way though and occasionally you'll have to indulge in a bit of combat with the help of your magic staff. This does seem pretty complicated at first but basically you capture the various enemies' power omissions and use it against them once you've amassed enough of them. The challenge here is to gather the correct ones and while some make you more powerful, others will actually drain you. If you do find yourself feeling a little weak you can always seek out one of the many muffins laying around (if only real life was like that) which quickly give you the energy boost you require to continue your quest.
While the control system is a little overwhelming at first it does get easier once you start practicing with some of the potions. On the plus side not all of these are available at the beginning so it's not nearly as daunting as it could be. Even with all the moves at your disposal (and there's lots) you'll never fell alone thanks to the ever-present Bufo (a kind of frog) who beams instructions to you throughout the game. If all this fails you are also armed with an incredibly handy map, which is in your inventory but be warned: places you have yet to visit are covered in a heavy fog.
Visually Juka is every bit as appealing as Racing Gears and it's clear the graphics department at Orbital know a thing or two about condensing artwork for handheld titles. The whole thing uses the same type of isometric world too although the colour scheme here is far more vibrant and cartoon based. The animation also deserves a mention and while some of the enemies simply slide around Juka himself is incredibly fluid with every inch of his body bouncing and flapping around as he travels around the levels. It's the overall presentation, which is the real star here though, and everything is just as you'd want it proving that it's not only first party developers who process the skill and imagination to create truly memorable, not to mention classy, visuals.
As this is a title based around music a killer soundtrack is the very least you'd expect and as with the visuals, Orbital has delivered and the audio is outstanding. The real standout is the music though which is incredibly impressive especially when you consider the amount of poorly composed generic audio, which seems to accompany almost every game at the moment. Do yourself a favor and crank the volume up or, better still, get yourself some decent headphones.
While Juka is clearly a great deal simpler than the likes of Zelda it is aimed at a far younger audience and the gameplay isn't designed to frustrate but rather challenge. You could also argue it's also not incredibly original with the majority of gameplay elements already featured in countless other titles. What separates Juka though is the way these have been combined to produce an entertaining and immersive adventure, which is ideal for gamers new to the genre. With this second release it does appear that Orbital are indeed 'one to watch' and judging by the teasers on their website the best is yet to come.
Pro: Looks Fantastic
Con: A Little Too Easy
Final score: 7.5
|Platform:||Game Boy Advance|