According to several online sources, at some point next year, a live action movie based on Heathcliff, the comic strip about an orange cat that isn?t Garfield, may or may not be released. Though there are a variety of reactions that one might have to this, ranging from horror to joy to blank indifference, Storm City Games has made the decision that this makes right now the best time possible to release video games based on the Heathcliff license. The publisher?s DS entry in this strange marketing move is Heathcliff! Frantic Foto, a spot-the-differences game featuring art from the comic strip. Even though this does not seem like the most logical combination of factors to create a video game, the game does manage to do enough right to provide a short-term diversion. Its lack of focus, however, stops it from being as entertaining as it could be.
Even though Heathcliff!: Frantic Foto bills itself as a spot-the-difference game, the cartridge splits itself between the game it?s sold as and a low-rent version of Mario Paint. The spot-the-difference game works exactly as one might expect. Each screen on the DS displays a picture, and it?s up to you, the intrepid gamer, to spot the differences between the two pictures, which either pop up in color or in black and white. Things get repetitive fast, especially when you consider that the differences are very similar from picture to picture, such as Heathcliff?s tail being missing in one picture, or the moon being backwards. It sounds like a small problem, but it drastically reduces the game?s challenge and highlights the problems inherent in making a spot the difference game in which every one of the 240 images used is from the same source. The game does try to spice things up by having stars that you click on for bonuses pop up and including a simple whack-a-mole style mini game every five levels, but it doesn?t really matter. It?s a flawed version of spot-the-difference, but one that has the potential to be fun for a few minutes at a time.
The paint program included in this game, however, is much less passable. You might think that it would be hard to screw up drawing on the screen with the DS stylus, but Heathcliff: Frantic Foto pulls it off. The interface is clunky, often leading to total erasure of pictures that you spent insubordinate amounts of time drawing, and the undo button occasionally doesn?t work, leading to extreme frustration. If you get sick of trying to do your own art, the game also offers a coloring book mode. That, however, is even worse, and bound to irritate the kids who are likely to end up with this game. With every picture to color, you can choose between grayscale mode, in which using the fill can to color leaves you with white splotches along the outlines, or black and white mode, where the contrast adjustments from grayscale left the line art so weak and spotty that using the fill can once turns half of the image your chosen color. There are ways to get around this, but digitally inking the pictures or filling everything in by hand requires massive amounts of patience when the problem could have been saved by one person spending a few extra minutes with each image before slapping it on the cartridge.
Since the biggest problems with the in-game paint program and the graphics in Heathcliff: Frantic Foto are one and the same, there?s not really much else to be said about them. In the spot-the-difference part of the game, the graphics are bright and clear, making it easy to see the necessary differences. The flat and cartoonish style looks a little lazy in the whack-a-mole minigame, but it doesn?t hurt the game at all and keeps it looking like the comic strip on which it was based. The music in the game, however, can?t be defended on the grounds of its capturing the feel of the Heathcliff comic strips. At first, it sounds all right, but after a while, the incessant perkiness of all of the music starts to grind against your eardrums, making you feel like you?re trapped doing the puzzles from a doctor?s office magazine while someone really cheerful with a synthesizer practices for their boring band in the next room. Since the sound effects are minimal at best, they aren?t really a factor, but at least they aren?t annoying.
If there?s nothing else that can be said for Heathcliff: Frantic Foto, it at least provides a fairly good value for people who really do like spot-the-difference games. There are 240 different pictures, and since the differences are random, it takes a long time to see everything the game has to offer. Unlocking all of the comic art is also a long-term commitment, since it involves playing through every image in the game through 40 round sets of puzzles. Seeing and unlocking everything in the game, however, requires extreme dedication to spot-the-difference puzzles that I am not sure exists. It?s a good enough game to use for killing a few minutes at a time, but for long term gameplay, I?d recommend looking for a different game.