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21st February 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
To make the main concept of spotting differences more appealing, the developers have decidedly attempted to create this atmosphere of learning whereby, as the title suggests, players can learn a bit about Japanese culture as they view up to 150 different photos. Holding your DS system like a book, you will tap selections and other parts of the screen using the stylus. The game gives you three difficulty settings to choose from that don't necessarily relate to how obvious the differences are, but simply the number of differences you need to find. It would've made more sense to tailor each puzzle to the difficulty setting, but it doesn't surprise me that they took the easy way out.
You're usually on the lookout for pretty subtle differences between the two photos, including tarps that look somewhat longer, a missing line on a wall, and so on. But you also have your usual amount of differences that are easy pickings, including flipped elements, colour changes, and having pieces of a building chopped off. On the Touch Screen, you'll find three hint symbols represented as binoculars that look more like statues. The allotted hints are provided for the entire session, instead of three for each level. At the bottom of the left screen is a timer that will determine whether you get to advance to the next stage or not. The goal is to make it as far as you can, using as few hints as possible.
Upon clearing a stage, you'll be given an overall rank that really won't mean anything to anyone. More importantly, the results screen will give you the 'Description' option to see a run-down of the subject matter shown in the puzzle. A couple interesting topics are presented, many of which deal with traditional customs and architecture, but there are a couple less interesting ones like find out what a number-filled train schedule is all about. Again, this is the main highlight of the game that the developers have chosen to focus on, but the way they've executed the concept hardly adds value to the package. In either case -- whether trying to find differences or reading these bits of trivia -- it's really unexciting stuff.
Other games have pulled this theme off in a much superior fashion that actually allowed players to have a measurable amount of fun exploring in the process. This is best exemplified by the point-and-click genre, particularly those of the edutainment sector. Big Fish Games has explored this many times with their popular hidden object titles for the PC. Comparatively, iSpot Japan is a really primitive game that tries to create a learning atmosphere to hide the fact that the gameplay is boring, but even this doesn't do much to elevate the experience into something memorable.
Besides just being an unimpressive game, iSpot Japan doesn't do so well in the presentation department. For one, the image quality on some of the photos shows evidence of compression, and the overall layout is really plain. Throughout the experience, you'll be subjected to the same repetitive and generic track that contains a continuous sound effect resembling that of a stomach growl. When I first booted up the game, though, I thought there was something wrong it because no music was being played on the Main Menu. I actually had to go into the Options menu to verify that the developers set the 'Music' setting to 'On' by default. Evidently, they either forgot to include a track or didn't bother at all. I also encountered an audio issue where the sound effects were on the whole time, but nothing played. Really, there's little about the game's presentation that's all that pleasing.
The game also includes a multiplayer mode where you and a friend can do a couple rounds of competitive searching. Just like playing on your own, though, it's not really enjoyable. There's also a Gallery option where you can review all of the photos you've seen, but that's about it.
iSpot Japan is an altogether barebones release that's really not worth your money or your time. While having the cultural component is much better than just having a no-frills Spot the Difference game, it hasn't been used as effectively as it could have been to give the game a bit of depth. Even if you haven't tired of this style of gameplay, you could do much better.
12/30 - Very Poor
Gameplay 5/10 - Look for subtle and obvious differences, learn about Japanese culture through basic descriptions, puzzles not tailored to the difficulty
Presentation 4/10 - Not very pleasing, has a really plain look with a single generic track, one or two audio concerns, very primitive overall
Enjoyment 1/5 - Boring to play, gets old fast, the execution of the cultural theme is rather thin and doesn't make the game more fun, unexciting
Extra Content 2/5 - 150 photo puzzles with accompanying trivia and maps to consult, multiplayer mode, no other extras, not worth buying
Equivalent to a score of 40% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System