Meet the Squinkies: apparently one of 2010’s hottest toys for girls and the latest product from Blip, LLC, a prolific toy-maker fiercely proud of their ability to create “fast-reacting, trend-driven” toys that are as disposable as the plastic wrapping they come in. These small-sized creations are available in a variety of shapes, colors, and characters, with enough add-on accessories and built-in marketing power they seem to have been designed for maximum little girl screamage. Of course, most parents and fanatic toy collectors reading this have seen these things in one shape or another possibly hundreds (if not thousands) of times before. I’m not complaining, as I went through my fair share of trendy toys in the day (and still do, on occasion). I also realize that it was developer Humansoft’s job to assemble this thing as quickly as they could, so as to not miss the narrow shelf-life the Squinkies undoubtedly will have. I just wish they would have assembled something a little more interesting than the bland and flavorless as they have with Squinkies: Surprize Inside for the DS.
As one of several available princesses, its up to you to roam the kingdom and collect any and all missing Squinkies, which have been randomly scattered around themed locations and guarded by giant turtles. But there’s no real threat of getting hurt or sadness here, as it’s all about picking up as many of the Squinkies balls as you can, each revealing their own collectible goodness after completing one of six different activities. There’s really no way to ‘lose’ here, and don’t worry about trying to memorize each of the 250 different Squinkies’ names – they don’t have any. Still, it’ll be tough to resist such a colorful collection of bug-eyed puppies, kitties, and babies; it’s a cuteness overload.
Each of of the four-themed locations (i.e. the park, beach, farm, and bakery) lets you explore a slightly different world on the bottom screen, with a map showing the location of each Squinkie ball and enemy turtle on the top. The balls themselves seem to be placed randomly on the map, and picking one up will trigger one of six different activities: Squinkies Puzzle, Squinkies Match, Squinkies Chains, Squinkies Pool, Squinkies Chomp, and Squinkies Paint. Completing each means earning more Squinkies and/or a special Golden Coin, which lets you unlock even more (you guessed it) Squinkies in the giant Bubblegum Bank between levels.
The activities are what they sound like: Puzzle asks you to rearrange small pieces to form a larger picture, Match asks you to uncover two identical Squinkies from several, Chains is a low-rent Bust A Move clone, Pool wants you to hit the cue ball to hit/match different colored balls, Chomp has you eating yummy fruits before the turtles get them first, and Paint has to filling black and white pictures to match the original picture.
Apart from using the Golden Coins you’ll collect along the way in the giant gumball machine to unlock more Squinkies, that’s pretty much all there is to the game. The activities never change, except to become slightly more difficult the further you ‘progress’, though never to the point where anyone playing should have an issue completing them. The giant turtles on the map cause no damage, meaning there’s no reason to worry about anything other than completing each task/activity within the allotted time (to earn even more Golden Coins, which allow you to unlock even more Squinkies). With over 250 different types to collect overall, the game can feel like its not trying to interfere with all the collecting ‘fun’ while its happening.
Probably the single-biggest issue smaller children (and their soon-to-be frustrated parents) might have is with the game’s clunky controls, which alternate between using the d-pad and stylus, neither of which work particularly well. Using either lets you move your princess around the map and have some control over a few of the mini-games (Squinkies Chomp and Chains, mostly), but they still feel very ‘sticky’ and imprecise, especially anything involving the stylus. The princess is mapped so badly to her surroundings that she’ll often get stuck when attempting to navigate her royal self around corners, making something as simple as walking a real chore. Other activities, like Pool, just don’t feel responsive as a game meant for the younger set should.
I suspect a major reason for this is the game’s horrific graphics engine, which renders practically everything on the screen as pixelated blotches, making this among the ugliest DS games that I’ve ever seen. Apart from the few colorful still screens showing the professional-grade artwork, it doesn’t seem that any real effort was put into making the game attractive whatsoever, which is really sad given the built-in audience of little girls who deserve better than such a lazy effort. At least pretty much every piece of text is narrated with a suitably helium-laced voice, although you might be reaching for the DS volume controls after a few “Yummy!” and “You can win a MAGIC prize!” samples wear out their welcome.
With its terrible graphics, clunky controls, and use of repetition in place of a genuinely fun game, its difficult to recommend Squinkies: Surprize Inside to anyone other than truly super-diehard collectors of Blip, LLC’s latest creation. Just because a game is intended for young girls is really no excuse for bad graphics and terrible controls, let alone pandering and a dull collection of activities to play. Nothing here feels inspired or like any effort went into creating it, and while I’m sure the army of online mommy blogs offering their ‘reviews’ for this game won’t have any trouble ‘recommending’ this one to their undemanding readers, smarter parents may want to think twice before investing thirty bucks in a game where the best thing is actually the collectible plastic toys that come with it.
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