Monday, August 24, 2020

Phineas and Ferb (Game)

To coincide with the second Season of Phineas and Ferb, Disney Interactive Studios released Phineas and Ferb, developed by Japanese developer Altron, in early 2009 for the Nintendo DS. While show creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh knew next to nothing about the game until it released, it launched to decent reviews. Years later, as part of our journey with Phineas and Ferb, we decided to check out some of the tie-in video games, including this one. There is some enjoyment in this game 11 years later, though some of its issues are very apparent.

There isn’t much of a story to speak of for this game, as it’s more or less the plots of four episodes of Phineas and Ferb Season One loosely connected by a small amount of original content. The four episodes in question are “Roller Coaster”, “S’Winter”, “It’s a Mud, Mud, Mud, Mud World” and “Leave the Busting to Us!”.

Throughout the game, the player controls both Phineas and Ferb in 3D platforming segments. In order to accomplish what they wanna do today, the player has to find a number of Course Pieces scattered throughout each World, each of those having four subsections. Many of these pieces are found within toolboxes that the player can find, but some are hidden behind other obstacles. To get past some obstacles or obtain certain Course Pieces, the player can take advantage of certain items designed for different purposes. These items can be upgraded by finding spare parts within the environment for increased effect.

Phineas and Ferb can work together.

Phineas and Ferb also need to occasionally work together to traverse the environment. Tapping an icon in the corner of the screen pairs them up on top of each other, allowing access to higher ledges and out of reach buttons or pressing buttons on the ground. The player will also need to switch off between the brothers to perform certain actions. For instance, Phineas is the only one who go through scrap piles and Ferb is the only one who can repair broken objects or use certain items.

While Phineas and Ferb are finding Course Pieces, they also need to avoid Candace, who is always watching them from the top screen. Falling, working together or running around will cause Candace’s Busted meter to go up. If it fills up, then the game temporarily halts for a minigame where Phineas and Ferb have to outrun her in a maze while collecting bolts. They can also avoid her by hiding in the bushes or briefly distract her by opening a toolbox to temporarily summon a statue of Jeremy. If Candace catches the boys, the player gets another attempt in a scaled-down version of the maze. If they fail three times, it’s game over.

Pairing up Phineas and Ferb increases
Candace's Busted meter.

While the idea of using multiple items makes sense for the kind of game it is, there are some drawbacks. For one thing, the player can only equip two items at a time from their backpack. This means that if you need to use more than two items at a time, you have to keep opening your backpack and switching which items you want active. This doesn’t seem as bad at first, but as more obstacles appear and you obtain more items to deal with them, the process gets increasingly tedious, especially if you’re also trying to use items to evade Candace’s gaze or reduce her Busted meter.

The idea of switching between Phineas and Ferb also makes sense, but it’s a little clunky at times, especially with the amount of time you’ll be doing so. It’s easy to switch with a single button press, but since the other brother is controlled by the AI, there’s no guarantee that they’re anywhere near you, meaning you end up wherever they happen to be. The game tries to remedy this by allowing the player to summon the other brother to their side, again with a single button press, but then when you switch, they might be just off from where you want them to be, granularly increasing the time it takes to complete levels.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing is how the game tries to take advantage of the DS’ features, which makes sense for the abundance of minigames, but it often goes a little overboard. You have to use the touchscreen to dig for spare parts (which always takes two attempts for some reason), open toolboxes, activate buttons, talk to characters and pair up Phineas and Ferb. All of these uses in the overworld feel unnecessary at times and only adds to the overall clunky feeling of the gameplay.

The game uses the touchscreen whenever it can.

As for the minigames themselves, there’s quite a large number of them. These occur whenever the player is fixing broken objects, upgrading items or building vehicles and courses, but they are impressively varied and keep the player on their toes. You may be asked to blow into the microphone, saw a log with the stylus, connect the right colored wires within a time limit or hammer nails the correct number of times or in the correct sequence. That’s really only scratching the surface and I enjoyed the variety, but found that some that required constant back-and-forth movement were harder to complete than the others. I don’t know if that was the fault of my screen protector or if the detection on those was touchy.

The level design in each World is pretty varied, as no two locations feel alike. There’s a lot of platforming, which is pretty good outside of the aforementioned clunky controls. I also sensed a touch of Metroidvania, since some obstcales require the player to upgrade the appropriate item and then return later. If there’s one annoyance, however, it would be the secret areas. Not so much the fact that the secret areas exist, but rather the fact that they’re both somewhat difficult to find and mandatory to finish the stage. It actually took me longer than it should have to finish one of the Worlds because I didn’t think to jump down in a specific area to find the entrance to one of these areas.

After all of the effort that the player has to go through to find all of the Course Pieces, they then have to build it, and any vehicles, via minigames. Once all that’s done, the end result is a little underwhelming. You navigate the themed vehicles on a coaster-like track through branching paths and collect a certain number of Stars to complete the course, which gives you a reenactment of the ending of an episode. The underwhelming nature comes from the fact that all of the Courses play exactly the same, but with a different coaster layout and a different number of required Stars. Any semblance of the respective World’s theme is confined entirely to the vehicle you ride. On top of this, the Test Course you build, a condensed version of the first Course, is a waste of time, since it’s simply a tutorial and you end up having to rebuild it anyway by going through the first World again.

All Courses play the same, regardless of theme.

Once you’ve completed all four Courses, however, you get a special treat: a battle between Agent P and Dr. Doofenshmirtz, who uses the (previously unnamed) Flat-a-Platinator. My first impression was that it might be another storyline, like Reverse/Rebirth from Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, but it’s instead one encounter meant to tie everything else about the game together. This isn’t bad on its own, and still reasonable, but the fight is performed almost entirely through QTEs where the player swipes the touchscreen at the right time. For all the effort I went through to get to that point, I’d have hoped for something more substantial.

This is kind of it.

As for the graphics, they’re not that bad for a DS game. The characters are translated pretty well to 3D, though Phineas’ triangle head is inherently odd at certain angles, and the amount of detail is appropriate. The bright color palette is fitting for the show, you can clearly tell what everything is and the UI is easy to read. The music is also fitting, plus I appreciated the use of specific voice clips from the show at appropriate times. I also made the observation that some 2D sprites related to Candace seem to come from the song “Busted” from the episode “I Scream, You Scream”.

If you’re a fan of Phineas and Ferb, this game is a solid pick. It accurately captures the tone of the show and does a fairly good job incorporating different elements of the series into the gameplay. However, if you’re unsure about whether or not dealing with clunky controls and an underwhelming payoff for your efforts is worth the investment, then consider looking elsewhere for your Phineas and Ferb fix.

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