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Goosebumps HorrorLand (DS)

Rated: 7+.

Story: You find a ticket to HorrorLand, a new and terrifying theme park. Once you're inside, however, you're trapped for all eternity. The only way to escape is to master the rides and, er... play crazy golf.

Gameplay: This is a mini-game collection dressed up as an adventure. You get to wander the theme park, talking to people and collecting tokens, then play the mini-games. There are bronze, silver and gold challenges in each mini-game and beating them earns 'Frights'. (Frights can only be earned once per challenge.) The more Frights you have, the more games that are available.

The mini-games are a varied bunch. Among other things, there's a deathmatch on the dodgems, an on-rails shooter, target practice, a mine cart ride, games of skill and timing, and the crazy golf. There are thirty mini-games on offer but only around twenty of them are unique, with the numbers being made up by variations and harder levels of what's gone before.

Nothing's very scary.

Save System: Regular automatic saves.

Comments: Goosebumps is a strange game. Certain parts of it, such as the cut-scenes and music, have received plenty of care and attention, while others appear to have been thrown together without any thought. Take the plot and structure as examples. A mini-game collection is perhaps the least ambitious genre choice possible and the spooky theme park justification for it all feels tired before the gates have even opened. Initially, everything points to a hastily-produced mess.

Then Goosebumps throws in a surprise - the mini-games are actually good. They're much more substantial than in most similar collections and are generally rather enjoyable. Some of them take several minutes per shot, involve plenty of skill and employ graphics at a level that I'd forgotten the DS was capable of. It's all much more shocking than anything the story ever throws up.

Given the quality of the mini-games, however, it's rather peculiar the enormous lengths which Goosebumps goes to in order to prevent you from playing them:

You have to collect Frights to unlock new areas of the theme park, only to discover you have to collect yet more Frights to unlock half the games in these areas. Even when the games are unlocked, you still need to pay tokens to play them. When the tokens run out, you either have to go and play the dullest mini-games on offer to win more or you have to wander the park searching the bins. (Really.) This just isn't much fun. Even when you have all the Frights and tokens you need, getting from one ride to the next is a tedious traipse through the park that's confusing and fiddly despite the map being permanently on the top screen. There are occasional people to talk to and there's a little exploring but it's mainly mind-numbing padding. Perhaps the original plan was for a Zelda-like adventure. Unfortunately, all that's in place is lots and lots of plodding through atmospheric scenery in a zoomed-out third-person view.

It could be worse, though - at one point, a plot twist reduces your walking speed by about half. It's like plodding through atmospheric treacle. By the time that's over, the normal traipsing feels like bliss in comparison.

The game is also hard. Getting to the end of the story requires the accumulation of well over two-thirds of the Frights. Considering that acquiring the bronze award in some of the mini-games is challenging, this means plenty of perseverance (and rifling through bins). Sprog1 (who's 9 and a hardened videogame veteran) started to struggle about halfway through.

That said, the mini-games are addictive and I kept coming back for more. It's just a shame that the rest of the game is so laborious.

Conclusion: Fun and frustrating in equal measure. Should keep children in the 8-12 age range busy for a while, though, even if they're not familiar with the books.

Graphics: Impressive despite looking rough round the edges. Many of the mini-games are in full 3D and the design is suitably spooky.

Length: Short.

Rating: 3/5.


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