For those people who missed out on the 90s completely, Animaniacs was a wonderful show by Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment as well as Warner Brothers.  It had some incredibly funny writing and quite often was written for not only the children that watched it, but their parents as well.  The show lasted from 1993 through 1998 and spawned (until now) games for the 16-bit era.  Fast forward seven years and we have Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action! for the Nintendo DS from Ignition Entertainment. 


There are two main questions.  The first, naturally, is whether or not the game is any good.  The second is: “Is it true to the TV show?”  Early on it’s apparant that the odds aren’t in the game’s favor, as it seems to be a direct port from the Game Boy Advance version of the same game. 

One thing that can easily be determined about the graphics is that it won’t be pushing the DS to its limit.  To be honest, it wouldn’t push the GBA to its limit either.  The graphics are rather simple, although you can easily tell the licensed characters apart from each other, with Yakko, Wakko, Dot, Slappy, Pinky, Brain and Thaddeus Plotz making appearances.  The problem is a lack of overall detail.  You almost have to squint to make out any facial features on Pinky and only a careful look will tell you that the Warner siblings stick their tongues out during the Polka Dottie minigame.  For that matter, it’s difficult to make out the movements the characters make on screen during said minigame. 


While this seems to be a direct port of the GBA version of the game, the graphics remain the same, although the graphics on the touch screen are a bit more detailed.  For an example of a better-looking port to the DS, see Super Mario 64 DS, which required much more work to bring it to the DS and showed significant improvements.  The graphics are first-generation GBA at best, early Super Nintendo at worst.

We already know that Animaniacs was a cartoon and as such had voices and a theme song.  Unfortunately, none of those appear in this game.  Instead of the theme song you get a derivative of it which is barely recognizable and sounds more like some sort of theme park ride song.  There are no character voices or any voices at all for that matter.  Generic sound effects and bland music litter the landscape of this game, and it’s truly a shame.  The DS (and the GBA as well) is capable of far more than this.  To be honest, there’s no reason to even play the game with the sound on.

Given the fact that this is a port, you wouldn’t expect every button to be used in the game, and they’re not.  What you would expect from a port to the more-powerful DS though is a few bells and whistles to incorporate the DS’s touch screen, as that’s the item that really defines the difference between the two handhelds. 


What you get, unfortunately, is the touch screen as a menu of how many ‘bonus’ items you’ve picked up…and a pause screen.  That’s it.  The only buttons that are used other than the directional controller are the A and B buttons.  There’s no use for the shoulder buttons, X and Y, and the same applies for the touch screen which is used for only pausing, which the start button does as well. Beyond that, the controls seem rather mushy as well on inputting commands in the Polka Dotty minigame.  In a minigame where time is of the essence, fluidity of control is what keeps a fun challenge from being an exercise in frustration. 


When you combine this along with the Diablo-style isometric view it makes it hard to line up shots and make jumps effectively.  While you’re given the choice between isometric controls (where pushing left moves you left and up) or direct controls (where left is left), neither are really comfortable to use.  It’s like trying to play Q-bert (for those who remember that title) on a console.  Without tilting your controller (or in this case the entire DS), it dosen’t quite work and honestly makes the game more frustrating than it needs to be.  Considering the game is aimed primarily at younger gamers, that’s a bad thing all around.

In Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action!, the Warner siblings have racked up a zillion dollars in damages over the years at Warner Brothers.  Thaddeus Plotz, the CEO, has decided that the Warners have two choices.  They can either spend the rest of their lives locked away in the water tower, or they can film three different movies at the same time.  Somehow, Pinky and the Brain are thrown in for good measure.  The three movies are a pirate movie, a horror flick and a sci-fi thriller.  The game progresses through each of the three films with five levels apiece, moving back and forth in order.  Along the way, whichever character you have can pick up ammunition to throw (or burp in the case of Wakko) and each character has their own special abilities:  Brain can’t jump but is the only one who can throw advanced switches.  Dot can float down from ledges via skirt-gliding.  Wakko can’t throw items, but can burp anything to death in one shot.  Pinky is able to get through small areas and mouse holes, as is Brain.  Yakko seems to just be a jack of all trades.


Part of the problem is that the game is done in a 2/3 isometric view, somewhat like Diablo, in an attempt to make the game seem three-dimensional.  It’s a perspective that works in some games, but given the Nintendo DS’s control layout it ends up making the title’s gameplay more of a chore to work through than truly entertaining.


Another big gaffe is the save system, or the lack thereof.  In another blast from the past, one guaranteed to have people scratching their heads, the game has no save ability at all.  Instead, when you complete a level, you’re given a password to write down.


Let me repeat that:  You’re given a password.  On a portable system.  First off, passwords went out of vogue in games sometime in the early 90s…about the time Animaniacs first went on the air.  Second, this is a portable game, not a console.  Who is going to want to carry around pen and paper (or the instruction manual, which has a page expressly devoted to keeping passwords) to write these down?  That rather cuts down on the portability aspect of things.  Last, these passwords copy over perfectly from the DS version of the game to the GBA version.  This means that the games are entirely the same, other than the multiplayer aspect of the game. 


The multiplayer mode is straightforward:  One person with the game is able to serve to up to three other players in basically a game of tag where the goal is to carry a crown around as much as possible.  Players run around a stage to find the crown and then run from the other players, who can step on a star plate to get one projectile to throw at the crown-wearer.  At the end of the round, whoever had the crown the longest wins.  First to win three rounds wins the game.  At least it’s something different.

Generally here is where the replayability aspect of the game would be brought up.  Unfortunately, with Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action!…there is none.  There is absolutely no benefit to playing a level over again.  The password you get is the same no matter how many items you collect.  Other than changing the star rating for a scene, picking up the items strewn around the levels seems to affect nothing (other than picking up film cans, which adds to your time, the only important stat). 


It’s hard to justify playing the game through once, much less more than that.  The multiplayer might be fun for a few plays, but outside of that, there’s not much here.

I really wanted to like this game when I heard about it.  I loved the TV show when it came on, and I really hoped some of the wit and charm would carry over.  Then I discovered that this was a port of a GBA title.  The first thing in my mind was, “Why bother making a port of a GBA game for the DS when the DS can already play GBA titles?” 


The password system, the lack of detail in graphics and sounds, the annoying controls…  I honestly can’t even justify playing the GBA game on the DS, much less the DS port of it (which only seems to add a multiplayer tag mode). 


While I realize that this is a budget title (priced at $19.99 for both GBA and DS), there isn’t that big of a gap between $19.99 and the $29.99 many much better games are coming out at.  After all, I’d much rather spend the extra $10 and get something like Meteos, for example. 


When it comes down to it, I cannot seriously suggest purchasing this game unless you really love the Animaniacs and absolutely have to own everything related to the franchise.  Hopefully Ignition’s next effort will turn out much better.

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