It can often be very difficult to keep young children entertained but often they are happy to pick up something like an iPad and play some child-friendly games and enjoy them, but also maybe learn something. But it’s not just on tablets you can find such software; they are available on home consoles too. And one of these is ‘Luv Me Buddies Wonderland’, a cutesy animal-based mini-game collection firmly aimed at the younger market.
But ‘Luv Me Buddies Wonderland’ is a game of contradictions. Its colourful and cute 2D sprites feel perfect for the target market, but they come across as nothing more than you’d get on a flash game downloaded off the internet, except this game comes in at 10p shy of £25 on the Nintendo eStore and you’ll wonder, when playing it, where the rest of the game is for that amount of moolah. It’s also a game aimed at young players but has a surprisingly steep difficulty curve combined with games that test the patience and attention span of all but the most tolerant child.
In a nutshell it’s a limited collection of thirty-six mini games, split into eight themed worlds such as China, England, France and the Wild West – with the expected visual and musical tropes that come with them – including two smaller ones based on Christmas and Hallowe’en. Though thirty-six sounds a reasonable number, many of these are duplicated in each world, so the variety is very limited. Each world, to the game’s credit, does have a distinct theme and music track, but the games are re-skinned each time and the music loops very quickly and noticeably. Each world is represented by a particular animal, very much stylised, which will give some appeal to the young audience.
You get five main games throughout the overall package, all presented on the main screen with the GamePad only showing the number of lives you have left and a generic background, and can be forgotten about altogether as you use a Wiimote to navigate, suggesting alongside the graphics that wouldn’t particular test the Wii never mind its beefier cousin, that it’s a last generation game slapped on a current generation console. You could navigate the menus with the left analogue stick if you wish but this doesn’t work for games, and there’s no touch screen functionality at all.
When you enter each world, through a menu system that is slow, awkward and seemingly unnecessary clunky, you discover one game is unlocked with the rest opening up when you complete the first. Mostly you have three lives to play with and two minutes on the clock, but this does vary on some games. You get multipliers for continuous unbroken success, as in Guitar Hero and many other games you could name. But two minutes in some of these games feels like a life-time and some are surprisingly tricky to complete, with many asking you to try again unless you reach a certain score, a score that is not revealed to you. In fact, aside from an image showing you how to move the Wiimote there are very few instructions present to tell you how to play. It was confusing initially to me; I’m not sure how a young child would fare.
The first style of game is a simple ‘click your character’, with a life lost each time you press the wrong one. This is both quickly tedious and straight forward, but then pretty unforgiving as the animal appear and disappear quickly and become unclickable when they start spinning to disappear.
There is a version of a jigsaw puzzle with a 4 x 4 square that you get a preview of, which you then must drag one of three pieces to the right place, a new piece replacing each one you correctly home, and a life is lost if you place it in the wrong place. Surprisingly tricky and – dare I say it – fun, you have five puzzles to complete or two minutes, whichever comes first.
The third game presents you with an image made of three parts and in a particular colour and you have to drag the correct elements onto the picture from a bank of fifteen images and select the correct colour; it’s a game against time to complete as many, with mistakes costing you lives. Again, it’s refreshingly challenging but hardly sets the world alight.
The most frustrating game I found was the balloon game, where the animal sprites float up the screen on balloons and you have to collect them and drag them to safety on a cloud, all whilst avoiding clicking on storm clouds, naturally, and hot air balloons, unusually, which penalise you. A lack of instructions means you might try and rescue all the animals – you don’t, and the pace is so fast you can’t – but it’s very frantic and would test the abilities of all but the best young gamer. It’s especially frustrating when you have the aforementioned – unknown – threshold to pass.
Other games include a reverse of the first one I mentioned – i.e. click on any character but your one to score points, a rule that without explanation will lead to many failed games until you work that out; a version of card matching where you have to turn over cards and pair them off, but you don’t see it before hand and so becomes an increasingly tricky game of luck and memory, and though I could do it, could be pretty tricky for the target player; and the most varied game of the lot in the Christmas zone where you have to hold the Wiimote sideways and use the motion controls to move animals across a lake using a frozen platform without them falling in. It’s still repetitive and tedious but was at least better than constantly pressing on animals. There are probably other one-shot games in the collection but I lost interest before getting there after getting the click-on-animals mini-game as the first in each world, meaning I’d have to play that again and again to unlock everything. Life’s just too short for that.
Sadly, the game doesn’t even reward replay as there’s no individual high scores for each game so no incentive to better yourself, and boredom quickly sets in with the lack of variety. You also can’t quit out of a mini-game using a menu – you have to commit in-game suicide, and there doesn’t seem to be a distinct autosave as the game crashed my WiiU half an hour in and I lost all my progress. Not that I think the points add up to anything in the end, making it a pretty pointless exploration.
It does tell you in one world to go eat a snack though, so it’s not all bad!
Alongside having three profiles (un-nameable though so make sure you protect it!) you can also play the game with up to three friends joining you which I tried, but aside from the competition created by battling against your friends, it doesn’t add much and it’s all successive multiplayer, each person playing the game for two minutes and moving on, so the competition aspect is diluted even further and at eight minutes per game for four people, your patience will be tested. We were bored and I think younger kids would have reached that emotion far before us.
It goes without saying, I suppose, there’s no Miiverse implementation in a game that doesn’t even really use the Gamepad.
‘Luv Me Buddies Wonderland’ isn’t a horrible game: it knows its target market and designs the visuals around it, with the world map being the star of the show in a game that doesn’t really excel anywhere, even if the flat characters don’t so much animate as translate or flip over. But parents will scoff at paying almost £25 for a glorified collection of flash minigames that are too boring for young children whilst also being simultaneously a little too difficult in parts, with a clunky unresponsive menu system that throws too many things at you that need skipping, too much repetition, nicely themed but repeating music tracks and a lacklustre multiplayer. Young children will lap up the cute animals and the visual appeal but will tire quickly of the actual gameplay, that also commits the crime of not testing the WiiU in any way and not even offering a touchscreen mode which, I feel, would suit the game more. Maybe they didn’t want three year olds throwing the GamePad in frustration and destroying it?
‘Luv Me Buddies Wonderland’ is a game that has its moments but there are cheaper and far more enjoyable games out there for young children. Not quite a Wonderland, more a bit of a Bland-erland. If that’s a word. Kids deserve a better game than this.
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