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99Seconds - DSiWare Review

Game Info

DSiWare | EnjoyUp Games | 1 Player | Out Now | 200 Nintendo Points
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21st June 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

People often wonder how much more they could do if their days got a smidge shorter, but aside from disrupting the space-time continuum, they always end up at a loss for how to go about accomplishing this. Well it looks like EnjoyUp Games has given us an idea: Make every minute last 99 seconds, not 60. With that change, we'd have close to 16 additional hours to take up new classes, learn new languages, and do all sorts of things that our current schedules do not allow. Amazing! But even if we were then able to "find" time to do these and other things; even if you felt indebted to the team for coming up with the solution to a now-forgettable problem, 99Seconds probably still wouldn't be worth spending time with.

    The ability to modify time to your advantage is basically the main gimmick that's at work here, and with this mind, your goal is quite simply to survive against this stream of obstacles for as long as possible. In addition to relating to the gameplay, the name of this game also reflects the kind of time you'll be spending with it. Just as there's a big jump between 99 seconds and 99 minutes, you'd have to be pretty self-motivated to derive over an hour of gameplay from a game that can only withstand minutes of playtime before the luster wears off. But more on that a bit later. For now, let's talk about the layout.

    On the top screen, you have your little geometric dude set against a white background with black-coloured, patterned traps coming at you from all directions (though usually not at the same time). On the bottom screen is a score counter that constantly generates points as you go on, as well as a slightly overbearing countdown clock that serves as a reminder of how far or close your character is from basically running on life support. Once the clock reaches zero, the environment will experience a distortion where the background will turn red and the obstacles appear in white. If you get hit just once, it'll be Game Over, but by continuing to collect blue energy spheres, you can extend your play a bit longer. These spheres act as nine-second time bonuses that appear incrementally for few seconds at a time. Less common than these, you'll also find collectable V-99 icons to add a few extra points to your total. 

To play, you use the D-Pad to move your character around and press almost any other button to slow down the movement of time. Looking at what's been done to make 99Seconds something of an obstacle course, there are various arrangements of shapes including triangles, rectangles, and warped diamonds. More interesting bombardments enter into the mix after about ten minutes in, though by that time, players may find themselves longing for some sort of assurance that there is an entity behind everything that's going on. With no story presence to speak of, persons with such expectations may be in for an unpleasant surprise if they're not a fan of the arcade approach.

    Obstacles do not always manifest themselves in the same order every single time you play, but there are some observable similarities that you can learn from with each new session. This provides players with adequate preparation time to predict where traps and recurring time bonuses might appear. This is a tangible way in which replay value surfaces in 99Seconds, in spite of its arcade roots as far as an overall principle and objective. A second way in which this is accomplished is through the presence of multiple difficulty settings, which pretty much just add more speed to the traps and decrease the duration of time that bonuses stay on the playing field. 

    It's interesting to see that despite the SlowDown feature being the most marketable aspect to the game, everything else about the game feels wholly lacking in personality. The environment where all the action takes place -- this dimension of sorts -- is surprisingly underwhelming, and I won't beat around the bush about my choice of words there. Not only is there a lulling that takes place due to the absence of strong aesthetics, but the development team also made a poor choice in music selection as it neither fits very well, nor does it add to the experience. Still, even after coming to this realization fairly early on, I was more than willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt if this aforementioned central mechanic was behaving as an adhesive to hold everything together. But I surmised that any significant flaws with the system, had I become privy to them, would greatly diminish whatever fun factor might be had from the experience. Unfortunately, I was correct. 

First of all, one important thing to note about the SlowDown feature: If you continue holding down your button of choice, the time function will advance from a slowdown to a reversal that can operate for only one set of traps. But the purpose of doing so is never understood because of the simple fact that instead of saving time, this just wastes it. And the possible justification that you'd use it to prevent a time or score bonus from disappearing does not stand up for reasons I am about to detail now. Although slowing down time can buy you some time, there were relatively few instances where I felt my hand was forced to use it. I understand that this is an optional feature, but when this same feature is, for all intents and purposes, all the game has in terms of appeal and connecting everything together, the obstacles players are faced with have to demand that this feature will see usage fairly regularly. But no, that simply isn't the case. At least on Hard Mode there is an exception to this where the level of importance attached to the SlowDown does increase, but it still doesn't reach a point where it is absolutely crucial to get by either.

    I might have more sympathy for the mechanism if it were not for one big issue I have with the game's setup (notwithstanding the points I just brought up); and that is that purposely getting hit by obstacles ends up being a better strategy than the alternative, when it really should be the other way around. If you get hit by something, you can go for a second without being harmed by anything, and this will allow you to position yourself in a better spot to avoid incoming traps. This also enables you to delay the disappearance of the glowing time bonus, which goes back to what I was hinting at several lines above. When this especially turns into a flaw becomes evident once you factor in momentum; where a player will be compelled to hit a trap purposely so as to move past walls and not to "waste time" by going the long way around -- the way you're supposed to go about it. Bypassing key areas by using this "cheat" works out to be more in your favor this way, thus minimizing the importance of the time modification feature to a point where lines dealing with the game's purpose are blurred. Indeed, the foundations upon which the developers have tried to build a game are not strong enough to resist being chipped at, and the resulting findings unfortunately do spell trouble for the package.

What is more, another surprising find for me was that 99Seconds lacks drive. Aside from a few neat traps that, again, appear after spending minutes surviving everything that gets thrown at you, the game doesn't hold your attention very well. I'm not discounting that it does have its share of, shall we say, "jumpy" moments. And just in considering the basics of what the game is about, sure there is some focus as far as the player being able to recognize trouble as it arises and steer clear of it. But on the whole, the game doesn't convey the action as best as it could have had the foundation not been soiled and more was done to the visual execution. As a result, players don't feel caught up in what goes on and it makes it fairly easy to detach yourself from the game.

    At the end of the day, I have trouble thinking of a group of people who would really enjoy 99Seconds. My reasons for feeling this way stem largely from the somewhat flawed system and the game's inability to recover or maintain a hold on players once such flaws come into question. If you're a fan of arcade games and think you can overlook the conditions described above, there is some fun to be had. But even allowing for different tastes and the low price point, this might not be the best choice you can make.

16/30 - Below Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Similarities with the slightly randomized appearance of traps is a positive, flaws associated with the core system diminish its usefulness
Presentation 5/10 - Changes in positive and negative space, music isn't very good, lacks personality, stronger visuals might have helped in the long run
Enjoyment 2/5 - Surprisingly not a whole lot of drive to continue playing, ability to bypass situations with relative ease reduces level of challenge
Extra Content 3/5 - Longevity a concern, memorizing traps adds replayability, additional difficulty settings that speed things up

Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

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