Sprung Nintendo DS Review
The dating-game comes to (or is it on?) Nintendo’s new handheld in the form of Ubisoft’s tongue-in-cheek “Sprung”. How does it feel to play “A Game Where Everyone Scores”? We dont know, but we’re keen to find out…
For the large part, Sprung looks a lot like one of the internet chat services that use animated avatars; the characters are toon in appearance, and are bold and striking. A range of expressions have been designed for each, and while none look any more impressive than a Saturday morning episode of Scooby Doo, they do the job surprisingly well. The backgrounds are similar 2d illustrations that the animated characters are placed on top of; this is surprisingly primitive, but again works well for the game. Possibly things could have been made a little prettier considering the relative power of the machine, but given the concept of the game is all about pretty, shallow individuals, perhaps its quite fitting.
Games like Sprung don’t usually make it to the US and UK (unless they’re coded by an individual most likely named “Cyber_Knight69” in a darkened room in his parents house); pretty much the most similar is the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. Therefore, its somewhat surprising that Ubisoft have chosen to tread this somewhat taboo-ridden ground and give us this title. The premise is pretty simple; you play as either a girl (bountiful Becky, recently dumped by Sean) or a boy (studly man-beast Brett, trying to come to terms with his feelings for his best friend), and have to guide them through the thrills and spills of life on a ski-resort break. Luckily for you, you have your best friends there to help you out (if help you out means getting you into even more awkward situations than before), and get you the man or woman of your dreams. Along the way you will have to diffuse difficult situations, manipulate various people and ultimately use your chat-up skills to the extreme. And they said that Nintendo made consoles for kids.
In order to advance in the game, you have to use the power of the spoken word (or pepper spray if words aren’t working out the way you planned). The top screen shows whoever it is you’re talking to; the touch screen shows your character (and allows for an excellent view of their responses) and the various speech options that you can select from. Depending on how you craft the conversation (and the conversations before hand) you will have one to several options of dialogue; will you let the weirdo that’s been hitting on you down gently, or use your rapier-like wit to leave them a traumatised mess quivering under the table? Will you sweet-talk someone into giving you a job, or will you lie your head off? All of the options have different outcomes, and the combinations they can be used in are nearly limitless. As well as this, you can use various objects on your contacts; offering roses and chocolates is nice, but you can guarantee spraying an overbearing lad in the eyes with pepper spray will land you a night in jail. These objects can be obtained through careful choice of your words; be nice to the lady at the Boutique and fulfil her need for gossip and you just might get a bunch of gift vouchers to use later on. All of these things are required to advance in the game.
Sadly, the ways through the dialogue seem a little limited; while you can go off on a tangent about how someone would look in a clown suit, you have an ultimate goal and have to steer conversation in that direction, and generally there is only one way to achieve it. This is a bit of a shame, as the initial freedom of the game’s choices (teasing your friends with sexual innuendo and seeing them get a little hot under the collar is great fun) seems to give way to a more linear formula. This also begins to get annoying as the game progresses; its not unusual for one line to ruin everything and leave you needing to start the level again, and while this is permissible for the fact that this kind of thing DOES happen in real life, what’s not so acceptable is the fact that the dialogue never changes. This means that if you screw up the chat about 10 lines in, you will have to do the same lines over again to get back to where you were. This repetition quickly gets annoying, and makes you feel like you’re being channelled into a specific set of lines that might as well have been scrolling text. It also discourages players from being too adventurous; later sequences are quite long, and messing them up by risking a humorous line is often too great a chance to take. Thankfully these sections are divided by checkpoints, and screwing things up will allow you to restart chat in a certain place; this takes the edge off annoyance a little.
All too soon, the game becomes a case of trial and error in most incidences; while some lines of dialogue, like “Let me smack you in the face!” will have somewhat obvious outcomes, others cause the recipient to react in completely unpredictable ways and destroy your progress. This is compounded by the fact that, most of the time, its hard to actually get an accurate idea of the person you’re speaking to; who would have thought that Leane wouldn’t like a Long Island Ice Tea? This makes the gaming experience something of a chore at times, which is never a good thing.
Sprung does offer some quirky dialogue and interesting scenarios, and may appeal to the puzzle-solver in all of our gossipy youthful selves (not to mention the abundance of slick one-liners and suggestive themes), but it really feels like an adventure game minus the actual adventuring at times; sometimes the whole experience feels slightly pointless, and I did spend the first ten minutes of the game or so wondering exactly where any of it was going. The story is suprisingly touching at times, and several short intermissions in which you have to kiss every guy on the mountain in a certain time limit/come up with the best insults possible/show off your snowboarding knowledge do break things up a little, and offer a chance to increase your scores – but at the end of the day its still a somewhat shallow experience. If romantic comdey is your thing, or you just like spouting random comments until your friends run away in terror, then this is the game for you.
Various samples of bleepy midi-esque music have been compiled to capture the essence of the locations; there’s a beepy dark dance track, a beepy cheerful melody for the lobby and a beepy romantic serenade for the restaurant. The use of these is pretty good; while one minute the music will tie in with your location, phone one of your friends with your handy mobile phone and the music will alternate with that matching their location depending on where they are. While some of the music is impressive anc catchy, unfortunately some are rather bland, and can get a little repetitive after a while. Other than this, sound is sadly non-descript; there are no vocal sound-bites to express happiness or disgust, which leaves the audio experience feeling a little empty.
The game will take some time to complete largely because you will have to repeat sections so often. As well as this, the fact that you have two characters to play through, both with different agendas and friends, will offer more reasons to come back to the game, but on the whole it isn’t big on lastability. There is an “Extras” menu on the main screen which lets you view the items you have gathered, various pictures that show your progress and various tunes that have been unlocked. While this is a nice feature, again it feels a little shallow.
While Sprung is an interesting style of game and makes fairly good use of the touch screen, it really feels like there’s no weight behind it at all. These kind of games have been freeware on the net for years now, so Ubisoft’s offering seems a little incredulous at this point in time. It’s a shame, as the game could have been opened up so much more with just a few options; right now, though, it just feels like the bare bones of a good idea that never quite filled out. The quirkiness will no doubt appeal to some, but I would recommend playing this before you commit to buying. Better luck next time.