The Nintendo DS version of Crackpot's leading game has been played and dissected. Mojo gives you the definitive review for Ye Olde LucasArts Fans. Filthy hominid – Chris 'The Tingler' Capel.
I love my Nintendo DS. It's an innovative and original design, with the games to match. That said, the one complaint I have about it is the lack of games with graphics that push the system (the same can be said of the Wii). It's a surprisingly powerful console, with N64-level graphics coming easily to it, but 3D DS games are few and far between. Maybe the control furore over Super Mario 64 DS scared off most developers. Thankfully though, not Crackpot Entertainment. Headed by ex-LucasArtsians Mike Levine and Larry Ahern, these guys are used to a little risk. They made a Monkey Island 3 after all.
IMAGINE THE NIGHTMARE OF HAVING AN INSECT BOSS
You already know the story quite well I bet, so I won't recount it. If not, Mike Levine can introduce it himself. Insecticide features a superbly original and entertaining world that rivals Grim Fandango for uniqueness. While we don't get to see the world in quite the splendour we'd hoped for, thanks to the limitations of the hardware, compared to other DS games it's stunning. Peter McConnell's always excellent noir-ish music sets the scene nicely. Voice acting is limited to a few cutscenes as expected, but it is a pity there's no speech animations in the regular game. Even in the old text days of adventuring, characters' mouths would move when they talked. Why not here?
It must also be said on the technical side that the game is incredibly dark, and I don't mean that there's child slavery or hearts being ripped out in it. Sometimes it's very difficult to see what's going on, and it's clear to me that the game was mostly tested on the DS Lite with its superior lighting capabilities. Me and my poor original DS had to squint a bit, but it's nowhere near unplayable. Just a heads-up.
The other criticism the game's been coming in for is control system, but frankly I can't see how it could be better. The only real criticism I can think of is that the alternate touch-powered control method is fairly superfluous. That's it. For a 3D action-platformer-adventure on the DS, it controls just fine. The lock-on function is a lifesaver (just wish it was assigned to the Left trigger Zelda-style rather than the A button), and all the platforms Chrys fights on are large enough not to fall off of while dodging. Hooray!
However, they can be quite fiddly. Choosing weapons is a bit of a nightmare while in-combat, as there's only a 'Next Weapon' button. Why couldn't the X button have been 'Previous Weapon', as the 'Look Around' option is made redundant by the touchscreen? I ended up just sticking with the default weapon most of the time. Apart from those two button-quibbles the controls respond well and fit quite naturally to the Action levels. The Adventure levels are, as expected, mostly perfect.
GOING INTO WORK, "GOOD MORNING MR. WASP!"
It really is quite surprising how different the two sides of this game are. While the 'Jump' button is worn out by the Action sections, the Adventure sections don't let Chrys jump at all! Going back and forth between the two really makes for an interesting game that never really gets stale. We even get multiple pathways to choose from on later levels, breaking up the linearity. Crackpot are also fully aware that people who like action-platformers might not like adventure games, and vice versa. Therefore everything is kept quite simple. The game is never frustratingly hard, but there is a definite increase in difficulty throughout the game, just as there's supposed to be.
Well, except in the adventure sections anyway, where I got stuck on the second section (just after the tutorial)! The puzzles are mostly satisfying to get through, although in order to keep things simple as mentioned the adventure sections are quite short. Don't expect to be exploring the city of Troi in any great detail, at least not in this version of the game. Chrys either jumps over it or is stuck to a few rooms with only a few key things to look at. Doesn't make the game any less enjoyable, as the solutions to puzzles are always nearby but still require some thought to get, but hardened adventurers might feel a bit short-changed.
The storyline is fairly well told, with voice-acting (what there is of it) superb as expected and Roachy being a great narrator in the traditional film noir way, but it is very clear that a lot of the story is missing. Some cutscenes just don't match the ending of the level they finish. For example, at one moment Chrys and Roachy are being yelled at by their boss, then the next cutscene Chrys is in a tunnel saying 'my investigation lead me to…" What investigation? How did she get there? Why is she there? Things are explained, but there are definite gaps in the story in places.
HUMAN SLAVES IN AN INSECT NATION
The ending comes a bit too quickly too, although that is mostly due to Insecticide being a very short game with fairly short levels. I've already mentioned the compact adventure sections, but the shooty-jumpy bits don't last much longer. There's nothing wrong with short games (as Telltale will tell you), as more people will see the end of the story. It's just a shame we won't be seeing more of this fabulous world Crackpot have created, at least not for a while.
The shortness is also a good thing because of the shock I got early on when I found there was no mid-level save function. I got over this, as the Action sections are almost Lego Star Wars with their level of forgiving gameplay, with no lives and respawns not too far from where Chrys died (or more likely, fell). It's a pity if players get stuck in the Adventure bits (as I did), finding they have to replay the level up until the point they got stuck, but that's a minor complaint.
Insecticide is a unique and very playable title that we insist you rush out and buy immediately, but it comes with a warning. The DS version is very clearly not the best way to experience the world of Troi. Crackpot have pretty much made the best game they can on the handheld, just for the most part they are also held back by it. The upcoming PC version will look great, have less fiddly controls, brighter picture, full voice-acting and better quality music. Presumably the game will be bigger too, with either more cutscenes or preferably being able to actually play the game to fill in the story gaps of the DS version. So that's all criticisms eliminated.
That said, only one of these versions is on a handheld games system. So if taking Insecticide on holiday is important, or having a LucasArts-style game on console which otherwise doesn't have any, then the DS version is your best choice. If you want to experience this original and wonderful game in the best possible way, wait for the PC version. You won't have to worry about import tax with that if you live outside the US either.
To finish, here are my favourite two insect-based puns in the game:-
"Call the SWAT Team!"
"It's like something out of that creepy show, 'The X-Flies'."
Pros: Unique and original, fun to play, best it can be on DS
Cons: DS limitations, no mid-level save, some story gaps