Wizards of Waverly Place (DS)
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Jonas DS is a simplistic and slightly unnerving game based on kid-pop's most sinister siblings.
Because you, dear Story Gamer reader, are better than I deserve, and it's Christmas after all, I'll resist the temptation to just do a find and replace on my review of the Wizards of Waverly Place (DS) and actually write a proper review of this, another DS game based on a Disney sitcom.
Although this is a new review, the game itself is very similar to Wizards - a Disney live action Tv property about a special family (teen rock stars rather than wizards this time) who try to live a normal life but find their unusual qualities cause low humour hijinks, turned into a gentle, cartoony but bland adventure game.
The three Jonas Brothers (Nick, Joe and Peloquin) live with their parents and little brother in a colourful home of the kind every fictionalised pop group has had since The Beatles' Help, a gadget-equipped home with firefighters' poles and other big toys. Their lives are an odd combination of rock star fame and the normality of attending their local high school.
You can see how it theoretically works as an innocuous comedy - if comedy is often drawn from unlikely juxtapositions, then high school superstars is a good comedy concept.
As a game idea, it's pretty useless, and the execution is both jarring and taps into some undercurrents I can't imagine are intentional.
Comedy doesn't naturally lead to good gameplay, although comedic premises can drive a generic game plot well enough and sharp, witty dialogue is always welcome. Unfortunately the episodic adventures of the Jonas Brothers are farcical without being particularly funny, and the jokes, such as they are, feel like they've been translated from a different language. By a robot.
What elevates Jonas from banal to disconcerting is the friction between the kids
The game objectives are all based around sitcom frivolities - bake a cake, pretend to act normal for a day - and boil down to criss-crossing the town where the Jonas' live, fetching objects and playing simple DS minigames. Boring, but inoffensive, and anyone who has played many kids' DS games will be on familiar ground.
As los bros Jonas are allegedly musicians, there's a simple musical mechanic built into the gameplay, with a power bar that fills up as notes are collected. Fill the power bar, and you can solve problems by unleashing a magical guitar riff via a quick rhythm action game. It doesn't make an awful lot of sense.
Each chapter ends with a larger rhythm action round as you play along to a Jonas concert. This makes more sense, but is just plain awful.
The presentation is competent, I guess: bright cartoon graphics that would be pleasant enough if not for the rictus grins and corpse-dance animation of the characters, and tinny pop rock music. The game won't suddenly break on you, upholding Disney Interactive Studios bold history of well-at-least-it-works DS games.
What elevates Jonas from banal to disconcerting is the friction between the kids comedy element and the boys' rock star lifestyle. Whenever the Jonas' leave the house, they're in danger of being chased by Jonas obsessed teen girls. If caught, they're mauled until they can shake the girls loose.
Raises all sorts of other questions that I don't have space to get into.
The mauling causes damage to the Jonas' clothes, and there's a game mechanic where you need to spend money to replace torn clothes, but that's kind of beside the point - there's a disjunct between the lust-crazed girls mobbing the Jonas boys in a sexual frenzy and the anodyne, sexless existence of the boys themselves.
The source for this motif is, of course, Beatlemania, and specifically the opening of A Hard Day's Night. But that film shows the teen mob as being funny, but threatening and alarming to the Beatles. To the Jonas brothers, such attacks are just a distraction from collecting the ingredients to make mom a birthday present, and sit poorly alongside the childish, brightly coloured tones of the game.
There's something hypocritical and nasty about all this. The Jonas' are presented in the most squeaky clean, tween-friendly way possible, but the game tacitly acknowledges that their entire appeal is an undercurrent of adolescent sexuality. Disney have their cake and eat it, exploiting sexuality while pushing it beneath a child-friendly veneer.
That the Jonas' don't acknowledge the sexual element of these 'attacks', but then run home to their saint like mother, raises all sorts of other questions that I don't have space to get into.
What an odd, dull, slightly offensive game. Avoid like the plague.
And on that cheery note, a Merry Christmas to all of you at home!
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