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My daughter got into Zhu Zhu pets about a year ago and so when she spotted a DS game featuring the little critters, she couldn't wait to get it for her DS. There is a lot of merchandise linked to these furry little creatures, originally hamsters but extended to include the 'wild bunch' comprising skunks, bunnies etc.
You get to choose your pet first off to adopt and the main premise of the game is to take care of your virtual pet by entering Nuture Mode where you can feed them, let them exercise put them to bed and play with them. Your pet has a health meter which goes up and down depending on how well you look after it so I guess an element of learning about responsibility does come with this game which is something all children need to learn! As you go through the game you also get the opportunity to adopt more pets which is appealing as who wants one when you can have two or more!
Adventure Mode is where you play through various levels travelling through mazes where you can collect items and race against the Wild Bunch and each other. If you do well nurturing your pet you can obtain a high Nuture Rating which helps you progress through the game and receive extra items and ultimately race against the wild bunch at the end.
The game is narrated which is good for children that maybe are not at a high level of reading capability although the music can be a little annoying but both can be controlled or turned off which is helpful.
There are a total of 36 levels to unlock so there is lots to keep a little one occupied but some levels (particularly the boss level) is pretty hard to get through and even a parent may struggle with parts of this game which is not great as you want something that is challenging for you child, yes, but not something that is virtually impossible for them to do as at some points you have to use the stylus and the buttons on the DS together which may be difficult for younger players and can get frustrating.
The game does automatically save and update your progress and profile and achievements which is a plus that I always look for on games to save the upset of a child losing all of their progress should they forget to save at appropriate points.
A bonus feature that comes with this game is that it has bonus levels with special camera features designed for the DSi but if yours doesn't have a camera then obviously this will make no odds to you!
The graphics are fairly good and this is a bright and colourful game but I feel that it could have been structured better so that it doesn't come across so confusing. Perhaps less is more is a good adage that should have been adhered to as far as this game goes.
My daughter soon tired of the difficulty and confusing aspects of this game after getting off to a positive start and it has been relegated to the no longer played with pile so this is not a game I would ultimately recommend despite the idea being a good one with a fairly entertaining premise so I only give it two stars.
As a parent to two children who quite enjoy playing with DS consoles, I've been surprised quite how good some kids' games are; how they make full use of the ds platform, have better graphics than you would think possible, an interesting premise and, most importantly seem to have been kid tested. To cut to the chase this isn't a game like that at all - Zhu Zhu Pets the Wild Bunch (the same game is marketed as Zhu Zhu Pets 2) is the perfect demonstration of a game where the developers have tried to produce what they think kids want but don't appear to have actually tested their product on their target audience or, on a basic level, to have any understanding of what modern children can do with a piece of kit like the DS. In a market full of games that actually are fantastic for children (the Lego games, Let's draw and the Peppa titles spring to mind), this game is perhaps unforgivably poor in many ways.
If you are not familiar with Zhu Zhu pets, they are a range of hamster toys which come with all kinds of overpriced plastic tunnels and have a nurture and explore mode. Clearly the game developers (who have also come up with a wii version which we haven't played) had the two modes in mind whilst coming up with the game which starts with you having some hamsters in a play room similar to the ones the real life robotic hamsters have, and having to nurture them before they are able to explore their virtual world. The bottom screen is used for play whilst the top screen shows you more or less what is going on.
The games gets off to a slow start in all honesty as you have to randomly pet, feed and give the hamsters teddies to play with, something which you probably won't do much once you have unlocked the rest of the game as it becomes pretty pointless as the pets' health metre doesn't seem to change much regardless of what you do - stuck permanently to happy - and there's not really any progression as such. I wonder if the idea was not to upset children too much - in any case it becomes pretty boring for a five year old very quickly.
Once you have unlocked the world to explore things get better, albeit somewhat confusing. The basic concept is not bad - you explore a maze world using the stylus and pick up a key and then have to find the exit, graphically things are, on the scale of the ds, actually quite good. You have to move your hamster around - and can play as a variety of recognisable Zhu Zhu favourites, amassing carrots and other food stuffs to keep you food metre up as you go. There are also three stars per level to find, and various coins and jewels and the top screen has a compass on it to give you some idea how near the key and then end goal you are. So far so good, however the whole thing is narrated by someone who I can only describe as a mix of Bugs Bunny and Sarah Jane on helium (if you are a parent you will be familiar with the latter character, a CBBC presenter with an annoying squeaky voice). It's dire and the music isn't much better being of the supermarket plinky-plonky sort. We quite often turned both off, when even children find music annoying it's a bad sign in all honesty, and in this case pretty indicative of the quality of the game play to follow.
Though the maze is quite good and can even be fun for a while as you earn cups, ignoring the ridiculous back story which is something to do with the hamsters having to beat the Wild Bunch and find Captain Zhu Zhu, however the Boss level in which you have to get a Gold Cup to unlock more worlds is an exercise in futility and annoyingness. Before you even get there you have to work out that to get through the maze you need to use the "A" button as well as the stylus to smash through boxes with your hamster nose - I don't think I was the only parent to have to resort to google to find that out and the booklet in the box does not make it clear. This makes what should have been simple over convoluted, a theme that is continued in the aforementioned Boss level. For some reason you have to race a car against the other hamsters with the stylus of all things. It's not long before you are longing for mario kart, which, developers of this game take note, your average 5 year old can managed to play rather well. I had to play the boss level multiple times as though my children could do it, getting a gold cup was fairly random due to the fact that the stylus and a car race are just not a natural marriage.
On a positive note there are a fair few levels to unlock (36 in all) and navigating around them through the central screen is easy, though there's a random swimming pool world which just has a cut scene of some hamsters in a pool and nothing else - why? The game doesn't evolve in any meaningful way, other than the mazes getting more difficult and by the end being quite challenging having gates and buttons. It certainly even makes an adult think and can even be kind of interesting however you can't help but feel that they really haven't exploited the potential of the characters at all. My five year old loved the fact that the characters looked just like her real life zhus running around the screen, but I just wished they had been set to do something more child friendly and fun. The scrolling nature of the game could have been used to better effect - if it had been more in the vein of the lego games and involved puzzles and going through different worlds for a different purpose each time it could have been so much better. The game did redeem itself at points where you could enjoy the zhu zhu being in a car or a boat (you'll have to believe me on this one), but overall it's not as good as it could be and the fact that it started crashing a lot somewhere in world 5 (when do DS games *EVER* crash?) is unacceptable. I think also, that to say there was an "exciting feature" for dsi games was rather optimistic - all they have come up with is the ability to use a photo from your ds for the background to that pointless car race - not exciting at really.
Overall, like the original Zhu Zhu pets themselves I would describe this game as mildly entertaining but ultimately a bit of a disappointment in terms of understanding the needs of children. Somehow Activision have managed to produce something that, in an effort to look accessible for the younger market, manages to be patronising whilst actually being frustrating at the same time. My kids stuck with it to the end somehow in those five minute waits at the doctors and the like just because they like the hamsters however my involvement due to them not being able to progress without it was far more frequent than anyone involved would have liked, which goes to show how un-kid friendly this game actually is. I've given it 2 stars because if you bought it for the £20+ I've seen it for (we picked it up for £7), you would have paid too much and also because it's a game that could be so much better than it actually is. I'd only recommend it to the most die hard Zhu Zhu fans, there are far better games for children out there - buy one of those instead.