At this time of the year, game companies love saturating the market in hopes that you’ll plan your summer around it, or pick one up as a nice Christmas gift. This year we’ve been spoilt for choice, with games like Fallout, Tomb Raider and Star Wars being released just over the last couple of weeks. It’s in this period though, that some releases flounder as the big guys take up as much room as possible, and unfortunately Virtual Toys’ Phineas and Ferb: Day of Doofenshmirtz falls right into this year’s shadow; but you’d be a fool to give it a miss.
Startlingly, this is the fourth instalment to the Phineas and Ferb game franchise. It’s also an obvious but important point that if you’re looking at buying this game, you, or whoever’s going to play it needs to understand the flavour of comedy behind the show for any of the gameplay to make sense. It’s pretty chaotic, with Doofenshmirtz’s latest invention turning all sorts of home appliances into monsters, and Phineas and Ferb’s own T-Rex styled robot taking life and running amuck.
The storyline splits into five “comic books” from the menu, with each book holding around six linear chapters. Each chapter can be played as many times as you like to grab all the collectibles and get the best grade. You can play as either Phineas or Ferb for most of the game by tapping the toggle at the top-left of the screen. Phineas is a little more agile than Ferb, but Ferb can take a few more hits from enemies. I usually stuck with Ferb as much as I could for the benefit of extra life, as the levels aren’t spaced out too far apart to get much out of Phineas’ speed.
There’s also a nice balance between easy puzzle-solving activities and battles, but the loading times are irritating. Going from the menu screen into the game takes around 20-30 seconds, and if you enter a new scene, it’s about the same. These sort of loading times would be acceptable back in the PSP days, but with synchronous background loading now the norm, I could expect this would be the main culprit that’d make players turn off after a while.
Virtual Toys does try filling the time with tips and plugging mini-games available from the main menu, and I actually did learn some cool things (like being able to tap and shoot the monster washing-machines that splash up the title-menu) but there are small, constant, infuriating things that let this game down. Time and time again Virtual Toys so-nearly nail the aspects that would’ve pushed it into a higher standard, but things like implementing Arial font in the loading screen and in-game dialogue just seems lazy.
It’s odd, because between chapters, there are these awesome comic-styled cut-scenes that sport really rad fonts; I’m still confused why they weren’t used game-wide. Small flaws like this kept popping up and disappointing me in places that I was really enjoying the game. I also have another bone to pick with the battle system.
Landing a shot on an enemy takes a near-miracle. You have to first run away, get some distance between you and your target and then quickly turn around, spray and pray. I find it ridiculous that the devs hadn’t put some sort of ‘lock on’ feature into the game that features on tons of similar playstyles, like any of the Kingdom Hearts games, for instance. That said, the weapons are cool and all relate to what electronics hate the most: Water, fire, and my favourite, a gun that wreaks havoc by spewing all types of sports balls. Some enemies also require specific types of ammo to be destroyed.
There’s an exciting upgrade element called “shot chips” to each weapon. Every time you take down an enemy, they’ll deposit scrap, which you can collect and later use in the workshop from the main menu to improve your weapons. You do need to buy batteries though, which you can easily earn coin from the arcade minigame if you’re short.
The different forms of camera angles make this a pretty great play as well. Through different levels, the point-of-view alternates between 2D, 2.5D, and 3D, like a mix between parkour games such as Sonic, and an action-adventure title like Ratchet and Clank. It’s a definite palette-cleanser every time the camera changes over. The comic book-styled cut-scenes are also a pleasurable experience to step through, with each multi-layered window a little animated, and rich with detail. The best part is that it works with the Vita’s built-in gyroscope and the scene comes alive by letting you move the different layers in several directions.
Day of Doofenshmirtz does alright with making use with what the Vita has to offer, but it still misses the mark in some aspects, and leaves me wondering if some of their ideas were a little too ambitious. Hitting the ‘Extras’ button on the menu will take you to an augmented reality app inside the game. You’re required to point your back-facing Vita’s camera to the ground, where it highlights follow-points and brings to life a robot which you can customise in the Arcade. Although I’m into the idea and it works to an extent, the execution isn’t as great. Half the time I was fighting against low room light with what is now an antique built-in camera on my Vita, and stabilising the image enough to try and get a full 360-degree view. I got to about 180 before the robot started changing scale horrendously and walking sideways. I found my light-up keyboard worked the best as a platform, giving the Vita tons of reference points.
Another concern I had - and this is generally with most Vita games - is that Day of Doofenshmirtz doesn’t utilise the touch capabilities of the screen enough. For Christ’s sake, even the back of it is touchable, yet you can only use it to switch between Phineas and Ferb and change your guns. I feel like there was a lot of lost potential with the puzzles here.
If you’re looking for a game to get you through a bus ride from Auckland to Wellington, or something chill on the plane, Day of Doofenshmirtz is an absolute winner, but I wouldn’t rely solely on it to keep little Jimmy busy for the car ride to and from the bach, let alone the entire holidays. I also think anyone who enjoys the TV series will love this game, but those loading times will test you time and time again. But if you stay with it, you’ll find it’s still a decent effort for a Vita game.