DSiWare | Abylight | 1 Player | Out Now | 500 Nintendo Points
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21st July 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
AfterZoom puts you in the shoes of a scientist for an asking price of $5. Armed with the system's built-in camera as your microscope, Abylight's latest DSiWare release has you using the Nintendo DSi system in an effort to gather tiny bacteria and sustain life. Once all is said and done, though, can AfterZoom's basic premise sustain continued interest within the average player?
With very little introduction, players will quickly discover just what AfterZoom is all about. The game is split up into three main components: the Microscope area, where you hunt for new specimens; the Sample Bank, which allows you to check up on all the organisms you've captured; and the Chemical Lab, where elements like oxygen and carbon can be mixed together to create food for the bacteria under your watchful eye. As you experiment with these small life forms, new entries will be added to the Lab Notebook located in the left-hand corner of the screen but these comments are pretty pointless.
Selecting the first option will instantly turn on the DSi's front camera with a small white ring juxtaposed against the camera feedback. Acting as the eyepiece or the viewfinder for your microscope, all you have to do is aim it towards a surface and then hold or press the L/R Button twice to activate Search Mode. This will cause the camera to zoom in deep into the surface, filling the screen with a visual of a mock bacterial world. The colour of the surface you focused on will be reflected in the background of what's seen on-screen.
Usually solid colours are pretty easy to pick up, but there are many times when colours on a piece of clothing or other more organic forms will show up as white instead. Lighting does play a role in this, as does the distance between you and the object in question. Get too close, for example, and the LED light from the front camera will affect the game's ability to discern the dominant colour. But it's silly that the game can't identify the correct colours under normal circumstances at times.
While in Search Mode, you can hold the L or R Buttons to zoom in further -- up to a setting of 1500. As you do so, you'll spot materials like Phosphorus floating in the area, represented as simple geometric shapes. The idea is to use small movements of the system itself to control the ring as you approach these entities at close-range, but the game doesn't detect your movements that well. Even if you keep still and stay in front of the object you originally used as an entry point, the detection is still unreliable. There is an alternative of using the D-Pad to maneuver the environment, but this ends up being the primary method of control for reasons stated above.
As you get closer to the layer where an actual organism rests, a shadow will start to form to tip off how much deeper you need to travel. When an organism is in full focus, you need to keep the white ring on top for a couple seconds -- long enough for the word "Capture" to appear in the middle. While you're doing that, the organism will move about trying to evade you. Once the ring has reached maximum capacity, you can initiate a capture by pressing the A Button.
When this occurs, a brief fight sequence will take place. In order to add the new specimen to your collection, you'll need to first use your existing captures to weaken it's health meter. Some bacteria do more damage than others, depending on their size and how common they are. They are all laid out in a horizontal fashion, and can be selected using the D-Pad or the stylus. These 30-second battles are require a bit of trial and error and a hint of strategy as you can determine how much damage your units will do only after sending them out onto the field. It's a somewhat amusing process, but it does get a bit boring after you've made a number of captures.
Once the fight is over, you can then head to the Sample Bank to look at your findings. Captured organisms have a series of stats that must be monitored, including what elements they consume as a source of food, their hunger levels, reproduction rate, and even an estimate on when you'll need to feed them again. Some of the neighbouring empty tubes will have hints that give you an idea of what kinds of surfaces to look for (e.g., "green vegetation" or "dairy products") as well as the zoom setting where these new organisms are found. If it so happens that some of the test tubes are neglected, status symbols will appear to get your attention. Feeding is done simply by pressing A on the respective organism and scrolling through a roulette of petri dishes to select the right element.
Things like carbon and hydrogen atoms are easy to find as you traverse the bacteria-infested environment, but many of the advanced life forms feed off of more complex compounds. This is where the Chemical Lab comes in. Here you have a little guide on how to form two elements together to create carbon dioxide and sugar, among others. Some compounds require more than ten of each individual element, and so having to do this multiple times becomes a bit tedious, especially with the way the petri dishes are organized.
The game plays in real-time using the DSi's clock, so the developers use the feeding schedule as a means of getting you to come back to the game. The more you feed them, the greater their rate of reproduction per hour, which means you'll acquire even more units for fights. There are a total of 49 specimens to discover in total. But before you start ordering a month's supply of test tubes, you should know that it's not that hard to find 10 or more after just 20 minutes of play. So don't expect to be playing this game for hours. As a matter of fact, it won't be long before you tire of AfterZoom completely.
It didn't seem like Abylight put much effort into this game's presentation. The visuals and fonts used look a bit on the bland side, but at least the animations during Search Mode look smooth. As for the music, there isn't much to say. It's pretty uneventful, with a couple sound effects here and there that try to emphasize the atmosphere of the laboratory, but that's all there is to say about that.
Aside from a few technical issues, there's nothing broken about the way the game works or anything like that. Abylight's claim that this is built on an augmented reality system isn't entirely accurate. It's more pseudo-AR, with the only identifiable presence of real AR being the juxtaposition of the ring. You won't see petri dishes lined up along your desk, bacteria squirming on your bed or anything like that. So if you're getting into this expecting true AR, then you'll definitely be disappointed.
More concerning, though, is the fact that AfterZoom just isn't very enjoyable. In fact, playing this game feels a bit like a chore, especially once you've gathered many of the available specimens. Much of the "fun" to be had here stems from pointing the DSi Camera towards different objects and seeing what kinds of bacteria are hidden deep within. But this initial glitter (if you can call it that) wears off quickly. I was surprised to see that it only took a short while before the game's thin structure became apparent.
On a similar note, after playing multiple sessions, I couldn't help but notice that the game feels incomplete in some way. Undoubtedly, AfterZoom serves a purpose more than that of your standard demo, but given how quickly I found myself feeling bored and dissatisfied with the direction the game was moving towards, I still have to question its worth as a package. The game simply does not do a good job of keeping players entertained beyond the initial play session. After looking at a few objects, capturing some organisms, and then feeding said organisms, a sense of emptiness that comes over you as you realize that there really isn't that much to the game. Future play sessions will follow a predictable cycle of processes which set the game up for scrutiny. And so, for what boils down to a quickly-worn-out novelty of sorts, I can't say this is fully worth the price tag.
Having said all that, I do think kids who love Science may very well have some fun with this. The process of mixing chemical compounds carries educational value as players try to figure out the individual elements needed to create a sample of sodium phosphate, methane and other substances. Other than getting a taste of the Periodic Table, kids will also use the kinds of management skills seen in pet simulation games as they care for the health and reproduction of the specimens they discover. So yes, I can see little ones taking this out for a brief moment on a car drive or while at a friend's house, visually scanning the area for coloured surfaces that couldn't be found in their own homes. However, the issue of longevity is still a concern even for younger audiences.
Even though interest in this game won't be sustained for very long, parents should feel somewhat comfortable purchasing AfterZoom for their budding scientists. Everyone else would be better off just giving the game a pass, as the game is only a decent buy for those of a younger age bracket.
16/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 6/10 - Zoom into surfaces with the DSi Camera, pseudo-AR, imaginary world, brief capture battles, manage organisms, combine elements for food
Presentation 5/10 - Smooth animations during Search Mode, a bit bland-looking, basic audio, technical flaws, somewhat tedious layout of the petri dishes
Enjoyment 3/5 - Rated from the standpoint of a young gamer, educational value, everyone else will likely tire of it before long, becomes a chore to play
Extra Content 2/5 - Multiple specimens to discover, the gameplay cycle quickly wears out the concept, only somewhat worth it for younger audiences
Equivalent to a score of 53% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)