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Club Penguin, the popular online virtual world purchased by Disney, comes to the Nintendo DS. As the first move by Disney after acquisition it's both sensible and well delivered. Most importantly it genuinely reproduces and to some extent extends the online world.
Mini games come in a variety of shapes and sizes. What unites the genre is the speed with which players can pickup the games and the relatively short time required to complete a level or two.
The game's trump card is the Club Penguin universe it inherits. For the uninitiated, Club Penguin is a online world that has proved as popular with youngsters as World of Warcraft is for adults. In this world, the Elite Penguin Force is a crack team of do-gooding secret agents. Although often distracted by life's trivial mysteries such as returning lost property or delivering fast food, they delve into deeper mysteries complete with a Scooby Doo like villain.
The game is essentially a point and click adventure (where the player uses a stylus to move around the world, collect items and solve puzzles) interspersed with a series of Penguin Club related mini games. The end goal of all this is to solve the point and click puzzles, complete the mini games and save the island.
As players progress, they assemble a spy kit that would make Secret Squirrel jealous. Many of these special abilities are delivered through the fur ball pets from the online game.
The game's down side, is a lack of feedback when the player is trying to move to an inaccessible area. Younger players can quickly get frustrated with repeatedly trying to go somewhere and getting no response. This is also seen in some mini games when incorrect moves are sometimes left unmentioned until the end.
Young gamers will be attracted to the game (in their thousands) because of it's mobile provision of their favourite online place to play. Impressively, the DS game manages to create a believable connection to the online game. Completing the puzzles and mini games, finding new clues or simply meeting the various Club Penguin characters away from the PC creates more wide-eyed excitement than you may imagine. This is taken to fever pitch when players realise they can transfer their coins earnt to their online accounts.
Like the online game, although sessions can be as short as fifteen minutes they invariably last a good hour. There is always one more thing to do, collect, unlock or complete.
Young players will find the click and point hunting and running the easiest aspect of the game to pick up. The object-manipulation and decoding mini games may require a little assistance for the very young. Providing they can read reasonably well, follow directions and persevere long enough to uncover the various clues they will progress through the story quickly enough to keep them interested..
Intermediate players will quickly polish off the game, their enjoyment most likely determined by how much they have brought into the game franchise as a whole. Parents can team up with their children pretty easily - perhaps taking care of the adventuring whilst leaving the mini games to the kids.
Experts and older players will find this an experience that is tailored to a different audience. Some of the mechanical failings of the overarching point and click adventure will be insurmountable for them. They are likely to get more from experiences like Hotel Dusk DS or even Zelda: Phantom Hourglass although this strays from the strict point and click format.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: