Note: This review is part of a series I am going to call “Resurrected Reviews”, essentially stuff that I wrote for previous (now deceased) blogs and review topics on various gaming forums over the years. I have dragged them kicking-and-a-screaming into the harsh light of the present day and revamped them where necessary. Some may say “Rehash” but I say “Recycling”.
If the recent coverage of relatively mainstream games on this blog has failed to ignite your interest then I sincerely hope that this review of Sprung: The Dating Game for the DS will go some way to making amends. To the gentleman sitting in the back corner of the room there: recoiling in horror was indeed the correct response. We’re heading a bit further off the beaten track this time and we may find ourselves in the tangled undergrowth where anything could be lying in wait; woeful software for handheld gaming devices for instance.
A few important side notes before we continue:
1. People handed over £25-£30 of their hard earned cash for this at the DS launch!
2. Some people out there (they won’t show their faces for the shame) would have bought this back in April 2005 instead of the likes of Mario 64 DS or Warioware Touched. Christ. I mean…I’m all about personal tastes and all that but still…Christ.
I’m not going to pull any punches here; this game is crap. However, I’m a reasonable chappie capable of spotting redeeming qualities in most games and I firmly believe that too many gamers these days rush to use the “worst game ever” judgement. In my experience, most disagreeable games are merely average or flawed with merit-worthy aspects. I’ve played hundreds of different games across many consoles and I can honestly say that I could count the truly awful ones on less than ten fingers. They simply don’t exist in the quantities that are made out. Unfortunately for Sprung, it easily manages to make it onto my Worst Games I’ve Ever Played roll-call.
Without a doubt, this should be the undisputed worst game in the DS’ European launch line-up but it is spared that accolade due to the existence of Ping Pals, a title that was nothing more than a tarted up version of FREE software built into the DS from day one yet PP was expected to sell to customers for real money (lolz etc.).
Now I don’t have anything against dating games per se as there have been some really quirky and interesting examples produced in Japan (such as Konami’s Toki Meki Memorial series) that I’d love to play but the language barrier is a big problem. More recent examples have been a bit too much for our Western tastes which simply (and rightly so) do not gel with the concept of chatting up digital schoolgirls with obscenely voluminous water balloon knockers but there are alternatives that won’t have you checking the skies for black helicopters. If Sprung was intended to be the Western response to the Japanese games however then the developers failed and I’m going to explain why.
To start with, the story is a load of stereotypical rubbish about a group of college friends going off to a ski resort to have a good time. You can choose to play as either a boy or a girl and the entire game from there on in is literally just a series of conversations with other people on the mountain. Most of these exchanges involve you trying to chat somebody up in a park, club or bar but others are supposed to be humorous and some are just downright bizarre. ‘Gameplay’ boils down to choosing from a preset selection of lines on the touch screen and trying to say the right things to advance the conversation in the correct direction. Remember when you bought your shiny new DS for those revolutionary new ways of interacting with your games and all the innovative possibilities that the touch-screen might offer? Yeah – I do too.
There are so many problems with this basic game premise that it’s difficult to know where to start. First up, it’s a bit boring isn’t it? Sitting there and just tapping away at lines of wordzzzzz..zzzz…The boredom is also complimented by infuriating frustration as it quickly becomes apparent that the ‘right’ things to say to NPC characters are the things that you’d never expect and when most of the conversations are so bloody weird in the first place, selecting the correct options is a lottery. Additionally you can only get so far with making the wrong decisions before you fail the chapter and have to start all over again. ‘Miserable’ and ‘brain-rotting’ are apt descriptions for the typical mental state that Sprung will induce after just a short while with the game. You start to analyse this software a little too deeply i.e. is Sprung telling me that I should tell a woman whatever it is they want to hear in order to stop them slamming their legs shut? (protip: don’t use this game as any form of ‘training’)
There are also various items that you can use at key moments but you’d have more luck cracking a combination safe than deciphering when to use them and with which NPC. Just in case you needed an extra layer of cryptic obscurity of course. But the worst is still to come, oh yes it is.
The game throws you a lifeline by offering checkpoints which, on paper, is a great idea. Some of the chapters are very long so not having to re-do the entire thing over due to an inevitable error should be a relief but in practice these checkpoints have a downright sinister side. You see, saying the wrong thing sometimes means that certain text selections don’t pop up further on in the chapter. This is already bad enough because you will unwittingly play on, unaware that an earlier mistake has made it impossible to complete a chapter and so you proceed until its Game Over. Huzzah for checkpoints then eh? You wish…
In a heinous turn of events, making that critical mistake before a checkpoint means that you can return to that checkpoint as many times as you like but it will be impossible to correct said error and you will always be left with the same strand of dud responses post-checkpoint. You can’t backtrack because you are locked into restarting from the checkpoint and you can’t talk your way out of it because every available line will only lead to dating doom since the options you need won’t appear due to that mistake before the checkpoint. Did anybody test this bullshit? Clearly not.
Are there any positives? Well, the cartoon-like character art is pretty good but otherwise…no! The “gameplay” is about as inspiring as an empty void, the DS’ unique features are all wasted and the humour is as funny as a funeral on a rainy day. It all adds up to a nasty maelstrom of frustration and tedium that must be binned off with all haste to preserve one’s sanity. Sprung’s tag-line is “The game where everybody scores” but it seems to me that they forgot to add “an all-expenses paid trip to the sanatorium”. It must have not fitted on the box.
Why would anybody play this shit instead of doing the real thing? Who was it aimed at? At least Japanese dating sims have an anime charm and far eastern weirdness that makes them appealing for us Western gamers. Sprung on the other hand has literally nothing to offer apart from negative vibes and a guaranteed bad mood when you finally switch the console off (hopefully after no more than five minutes of suffering and even that would be showing the game some saintly generosity…). It may seem like I’ve barely described this game but that’s because there’s nothing to discuss. You click on lines of text and stare at character portraits hoping that something, anything else will happen but it never does.
If you see Sprung on the pre-owned shelves for a few quid and are curious then don’t be. They say that curiosity killed the cat and if you were to compare yourself to that proverbial cat then you’d be sprawled in an upsetting heap in some gutter after being hit by a bus at 50mph should you give in to curiosity. I paid five English pounds for this game to see what it was like and that was embarrassing enough but if I’d paid £25 on release? I would have killed myself as a bare minimum response to such epic masochism and stupidity.
Playing Sprung is like taking a hot date to bed then discovering that you’ve contracted a multitude of STD’s. Heed this public service announcement and avoid, avoid, avoid.