DS | Zoo Games / 7 Raven Studios | 1 Player / 2 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now (North America)
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27th March 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Photo Phantasy is split up into three separate stories: 'Dreams', 'Goldilocks' and 'Robin Hood'. Although the latter two share the same fairytale theme, all three stories are completely independent of one another. Each of them feature options for solo and multiplayer play. Single Player mode has you looking for five differences in each scene, while multiplayer allows two people who own the game to compete wirelessly in Challenge Mode or work together in Cooperative Mode. There's also a high score leaderboard you can pull up, along with your run-of-the-mill Options menu.
You play the game by holding your Nintendo DS like a book, where the left screen is your reference image, and the right screen contains the differences you need to pick out using your stylus. Pressing the L or R Button mid-game will bring up a menu along the bottom of the right screen. This horizontal bar indicates the time remaining to solve the puzzle, points you've accumulated as well as the number of lives, hints and time extensions you have left. Since you can't see the timer without bringing this menu up, "tick tock" sound effects will be emitted as it winds down so you have some idea of what's going on in the background. Incorrectly tapping a section of the screen where there are no differences will reduce your timer and take off 10 points from your total. So if you're thinking you can tap your way through it, you won't get very far (although there's little stopping you from trying). But that's pretty much the gist of what to expect from the interface.
What sorts of differences will you be looking for? Just about anything, really. Cobwebs, ornaments, animals, pencils and conflicting hair styles. Many of them are easy to spot -- it's hard not to pick out a girl having pink nail polish in one picture, and normal fingernails in the other -- but I was surprised with how many less-obvious ones there were. Some extremely subtle differences -- like a slightly-lighter shade of a colour, or the absence of a single white stripe -- are actually enough to get you looking very carefully at the screen. There will be quite a few times where you can find three of the five with little problem, but it becomes a different story once you get to the final two. You'll likely find yourself saying, "How did I not see that before?" when you do finally notice them. And although some may find this a bit upsetting especially when you run out of hints, I was actually pleased that the game wasn't a breeze to get through.
Each time you lose a life and are forced to restart, the scene changes slightly and you're no longer looking for exactly the same differences. So that was good. But at the same time, there are probably about 10 possible hiding places per scene, so if you keep repeating the level over and over again, you'll probably memorize what you need to look out for which minimizes the fun factor and the replay value.
The stories themselves were actually somewhat interesting to follow. While the Dreams one wasn't anything special at all, I thought it was kind of refreshing to see Robin Hood approached in a totally different light. The same could be said of Goldilocks simply because it too was slightly different from the actual fairy tale, presented with a creepier vibe. I also liked the fact that there were multiple paths to explore in Robin Hood, and although there weren't many, it was still a good idea for what it was. Does that necessarily mean the game is fun? I'm afraid not. In fact, the game is hardly engaging at all; in fact, on many occasions, you'll experience pure boredom. It just feels like it's been designed for a quick fix if you have nothing else to do. It's not something you'll look forward to playing at all, plus the motivation for improving your high scores isn't really there.
When it comes to presentation, Photo Phantasy isn't exactly a looker. It's pretty average all around, which includes the forgettable music. I didn't have a major issue with the way it was presented visually, but I did have a problem with the lack of consistency. The logos for the Robin Hood and Goldilocks stories label them as "Twisted Fairytales" while Dreams is just, well, generic. Worse yet, it's a bit out of place when the other two seem to be aiming for somewhat of a consistent theme.
Speaking of inconsistencies, the manual led me to believe that the number of differences you were looking for depended on the difficulty you selected. In actuality, the difficulty settings only refer to how many time extensions and hints you'll get to use for the entire story (and, to a lesser extent, how subtle the differences are). Playing on Normal, for example, will give you two of each while on Hard mode, it's only one. So that was obviously inaccurate.
But none of these issues seemed as big as the one I'm about to relay. After doing some research on this game, I came to the discovery that each of these games actually exist online as free Flash games. Right there and then, I realized there was something terribly flawed about the entire package. The idea of paying around $20 for the exact same games you can find readily on the 'net is a bit ridiculous, especially considering there are only three stories to choose from. The only thing it really offers, then, is the multiplayer support, but I doubt you'd be able to even find someone to play this with. Even if this wasn't a major issue, I still doubt this package's worth. It's not hard to see everything in about an hour's time. And to me, there was potential to push this further. In short, it's not worth investing in.
Although the developers have explored some unique ideas (such as the creepy retelling of Goldilocks, and the multiple paths in Robin Hood), Photo Phantasy is still not worth putting money towards. This goes beyond the fact that this release doesn't include as much content as you might hope for, and that they weren't consistent with the fairy tales theme. Knowing that all three stories can be found for free online really destroys any interest the average person would have in getting this. The only thing I can recommend is for you to explore other Hidden Object games on the retail and DSiWare scene before you even think about wasting money on this.
13/30 - Very Poor
Gameplay 6/10 - A couple unique ideas, interesting take on the Goldilocks and Robin Hood stories, some really subtle differences
Presentation 5/10 - Average effort all in all, noticeable visual inconsistencies, forgettable music, creepy visuals for Goldilocks tale
Enjoyment 1/5 - Not really fun to play, surprisingly challenging at times, not hard to memorize the differences for each scene
Extra Content 1/5 - Only three stories to go through, not good value, multiplayer modes, high scores are pointless
Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)