Despicable Me is the latest big budget animated movie to hit theaters, and it's no surprise that tie-in games were released for several gaming platforms this month. We received the Nintendo DS version for review which has players guiding minions through perilous platforming stages to an exit.
Not Quite Despicable
Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem is a simple 2D, touch screen controlled game in which you must lead the chief minion from the starting point to the exit. The story of the film is told in chapters or sections, and for each section, there is a group of levels that the player must clear before they can advance the story. Clearing levels simply involves safely guiding the chief minion from A to B, but that quickly gets easier said than done.
Each section of stages shares a common theme. At first, players are in Gru's Lab, and next, Vector's Fortress. I wish I could tell you what's after that, but I'm having the damnedest time getting my minion to safety at this point. To help out the chief minion, other minions are included in most levels (some from the movie and several new ones). A certain minion type can destroy certain walls, another minion can defeat enemies, and yet another can withstand fire, and so on. The chief minion cannot defend himself or do anything but be the sole minion who can collect the special item you need to get before you can exit the level. Not every level has an item that must be collected, but most do.
Each level is timed, and in my experience, this timer is always set to ninety seconds. If you fail to retrieve the special item (where applicable) and get to the exit, you will fail the mission. If the chief minion dies, either by contacting an enemy, getting burned, or some other death, the mission is over. If you reach the exit and do not have the required item in your possession, you fail the mission. Fortunately, reload times are instant and you can try again without penalty, but, my primary gripe with the game is control.
From a 'on paper' standpoint, control is great. Players only need to worry about using the stylus -- easy for kids and adults alike. Touchable objects in game, which include the minions and various buttons and things in game (like a spring on the floor, or a button that extends a platform, and so on) are easily identifiable and used. What makes the game tough though is how the minions move, and the lack of control you have over them. Once you tap them to make them walk, they are no longer in your control, unless you manipulate their location by using one of the mechanics built into the level (a spring to pop up them up a floor, for example). Furthermore, you cannot control when a minion gets on a ladder, or steps into an elevator, or what direction he walks in. Only after hitting a wall will they turn around and walk in the other direction. You can imagine the frustration of trying to "control" four minions at once. Fortunately, the mission is only failed if the chief minion dies, but his safety depends directly on getting the other minions in the right position at the right time to help him.
I really would have preferred if the game had some way to simply stop a minion, or allow a player to have even just a little more control over them. Imagine trying to play echochrome, for example, if you didn't have the ability to stop your character from walking -- it would be chaos, and you would fall off of the stage all the time. That's not unlike what happens to the characters in Despicable Me, and despite the brevity of most levels and the instant reloads, it doesn't take long to get annoyed, and bored.
Even though the fun left Despicable Me quickly in my experience, I thought WayForward did make some good design decisions. For one, I think this type of game -- a 2D, platform puzzler -- was a good pick for the DS. While I thought they made some bad choices in the execution, I did like the inclusion of optional, "high risk" extra items that players can try to grab (with any minion) for extra bonus points. Points don't yield anything but a different medal at the end of the stage, and that may yield a bit of replay value for some. The presentation isn't bad; the animations are smooth and cartoony, and the sounds were fine.
What Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem is primarily lacking though is a reason to keep playing when things get tough. For me, the reward for getting through a level wasn't worth the uphill battle of fighting the minions to get them where I wanted them to be, when, and even in what order. Kids, on the other hand, may find more to like here than I did.
To the summary...