Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole review (DS)
Like its console counterparts, the licensed game based on Legend of the Guardians for the Nintendo DS shows signs of potential. It's too bad that this handheld version is too dull to play; there are glaring flaws that impact nearly every aspect of the game, and an overall lack of inspiration that makes me question the purpose of this handheld port.
The story is the only part of Legend of the Guardians that the DS handles well - in fact, the hand-drawn art and background music make the cutscenes a real treat.The DS version is often effective at telling the story of the movie, and it helps that the terrible voice acting and repetitive lines of dialog aren't a problem such as they are in the PS3 version.
Playing Legend of the Guardians on the DS is easy enough: you control Shard with the stylus, holding it down to move, and sliding it around the screen to fly around in different directions. The controls are responsive, and being able to turn around 180 degrees by pressing any button is a helpful touch. Unfortunately, the satisfying feeling of flight that I felt in the console version is completely missing on the DS. Flying is just too simple, and Shard has no acrobatic maneuvers to speak of. He most often feels like a weightless object that constantly moves forward in the barren space, and the sense of speed is incredibly slow. The levels are generally spread out and provide plenty of room to work with, but the action is frequently broken up by invisible walls that constantly prevent you from flying freely.
Combat is a major part of the game, but it also fails to impress due to the mindless simplicity of the whole process. Whenever enemies fly into range, you tap an icon to initiate combat. Each fight operates on a 2D plane, rather than 3D, so there is no vertical movement involved. Most battles boil down to holding the block button, waiting for a chance to attack, and scribbling wildly with the stylus. You can usually kill everything on the screen without any method to the madness, but the block makes Shard invulnerable to nearly anything that could potentially harm him. Once you fill up the "prowess" meter in battle, you can use some powerful special attacks similar to the various attacks in the console version. Sadly the touch screen usually had trouble with detecting the proper attack or target that I had chosen. I typically had the most success when I ignored the tiny, inconveniently-placed prowess meter and scribbled away like a madman.
Each mission provides the same simple objective types as the console game - escort, protect, recon, attack etc. - but none of the levels in the DS game are very much fun to play. Even the bare-bones RPG elements fail to spice things up: you can use experience points to upgrade your attacks and wingmen, but these upgrades seem to be pointless in an easy game that lasts 4-6 hours, tops. I thought it was bizarre to see the RPG elements featured in the DS version of Legend of the Guardians, but not the console versions. Still, the system is unnecessary for such a limited experience, not to mention an experience that is so boring to begin with.
The console version of Legend of the Guardians was a surprisingly enjoyable flight-combat game, but the DS version falls flat with its general lack of inspiration. It is just too boring, too simple, and too easy for even the young target audience. For $30, you could buy at least 20 better games on the Nintendo DS, or two tickets to see the movie in 3D - both are significantly smarter decisions.