Nicktoons Unite! Use four of your favorite Nickelodeon characters to run, jump, and blow bubbles to help save Volcano Island. But being a game aimed at children, should you bother giving this one a try?
Every once in a while you get yourself to try something you've never tried before. Perhaps you never tried it before because it didn't look like something you'd like, or you were afraid to try it, or it just never came to mind until now. The most surprising part though is trying something and finding out that it's not half bad. Take Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island for example. I know I'm not alone here when I say that I didn't expect much from this game. I figured it would be a typical run-of-the-mill platformer. When it arrived I thought I was going to have to suck it up and force myself to play it until I beat it. But boy, was I wrong!
Now, before you start thinking that I adore the game - I don't. It is a typical run-of-the-mill platformer and from a glance it looks like it's another basic child's platformer with no challenge or anything special to it at all. That's exactly what I was expecting. What I got was a decent platformer with good graphics, decent music and interesting game mechanics. Most importantly, it's fun. Well, I'll rephrase that - most of the game is fun. It does have its flaws though, and probably one of the most ridiculous ideas for a final boss battle ever.
Even at the title screen I was skeptical. If you've ever seen a poorly made title screen with a large, stretched-out picture and a generic font that looks like someone placed it there using MS Paint, well that's what it looks like. Then there's the music. If you're over five, the quirky, happy music absolutely screams, "Get the hell out of here as fast as you can!" Suffice to say I wasn't very happy with that. Upon entering the game though, things started to get better.
Dropping down from the sky comes Timmy Turner from The Fairly Odd Parents. It seems he is stuck in a new world that he has never seen before. He asks his Fairy Godparents, Wanda and Cosmo, to get him out of there - being the frightened ten-year-old boy he is. If you're not familiar with the show, Timmy's Fairy Godparents can grant him any wish he wishes (with some exceptions... but you'll have to watch the show for those!) Cosmo and Wanda try to 'poof' him out of there, but are unable to. Timmy asks them to find 'others', who I'm going to assume he either happened to be traveling with or that he took a random guess were also on the island. They disappear, leaving Timmy alone.
Wait a second. There's something odd here. Why did Wanda and Cosmo just leave Timmy all by himself? There's purple ooze dripping from the ceiling. Why is there purple ooze dripping from the ceiling? Why would they just leave him? If they can magically transport themselves to and fro, can't they at least bring him with them? Lastly, why is Timmy so happy he's stranded on an island that he obviously wants to get off? He just stands there with a large buck-toothed grin, with the occasional blinks and sighs of boredom. Well, this is a children's game, so I don't think any child is going to it like this. But I still want to at least know why there's purple ooze dripping from the ceiling...
The graphics look very nice; they're small, but the characters are detailed enough to look like half-inch counterparts of their television selves. The world itself looks a little generic and throughout the game it is, but that's not much to hinder a platformer like this. Also, in the background, there's more upbeat, quirky music. I find myself actually starting to like it; it's fun and highly reminiscent of the old SNES-era platform games.
Cosmo and Wanda transport and find a face-down SpongeBob SquarePants - I'm sure everyone knows who he is by now! Cosmo and Wanda talk to him for a second, and then disappear into thin air again. Finally you can play. The controls are very responsive; pressing on the d-pad moves SpongeBob (or any of the four characters) while A jumps B uses the special attack, which in SpongeBob's case is pulling out his bubble wand and blowing a bubble. Later on you'll find the other characters who all have different abilities, all of which you're going to need to pass through the levels. Pressing the L shoulder button lets you freely switch your character and the R shoulder button lets your character use a different special ability, if they have one. They all start out with a single ability, but once you find a special item for each of them they learn another.
So SpongeBob has his bubble attack and later he learns a corkscrew move where he swims through a certain type of block. The one thing that I found strange about this move is that he turns into a corkscrew, but when you move him, he has no animation for it, so it's just a still image of him in his corkscrew position. Also, when he moves while he's in the special type of block, he doesn't move like you'd think he would, but more as if he were underwater. He's a little hard to control, especially when you're trying to turn tight corners with spiked lining that will hurt you and send you back to a checkpoint with one touch.
The second character you encounter is Danny Phantom from his show of the same name. He is a boy who absorbed ghost powers after a freak accident in which he tried to fix his parents' ghost portal. He has, in my opinion, the best ability, and the one THQ used to make the most unique puzzles with. Pushing R activates his ghost power, which allows him to see invisible paths and blocks to jump on. He can also walk through certain existing blocks when using his ghost power. Sure, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it's a cool ability and the game wouldn't be much without it.
The last two characters you get have unexciting abilities. Once you finally get Timmy, he can stretch his arms and lunge when he latches onto rings that you'll find randomly in the sky. Later, he can turn himself into a meteor-like object and crash through a certain type of block when he lunges. Patrick, the last of the crew, can stick himself to certain background blocks. Whoo. He can also use his pants as a parachute to glide through the air!
Once you continue your journey with SpongeBob, you eventually meet an old crab. Corny, giggle-inducing lines are exchanged and he tells you that a monster has escaped from his prison, releasing other monsters and purple ooze all over the island. Well, at least one question has been answered! The four Nicktoon characters were called to the island to help vanquish this evil being and send him back from whence he came. To tell you the truth, I don't exactly think a bubble-blowing invertebrate would have been my first choice, but I guess crabs have some sort of strange sense of thinking. It works out in the end, so hey, maybe I'm the one who thinks strangely!
The first thing that comes to mind for our heroes is to call up their friend Jimmy Neutron, a large-headed boy genius, and they know if they need something done, he's their boy. However, they have no way of contacting him, so they need to find parts that happen to be scattered all over the island. Never saw that one coming. This is your main objective in the game - to go around all the levels finding pieces of junk to build a transmitter and call Jimmy. There are portals set up all around the island, which lead you straight to the parts you need.
Unfortunately, in each of the levels you are greeted with bland environments and generic enemies. Throughout the game you'll only meet about three or four different enemies - that's it. I'm glad they put a lot of thought into them. Not only that, but there is no way to kill them! I've tried everything I could think of, but the enemies have always come out unscathed. How annoying.
That's not where the game shines for me though, as it's the puzzles that I enjoyed the most - especially the puzzles with Danny. None of them are overly difficult, but they do have some "please, oh please let me get through this before I throw the game at the wall" moments. You know, the ones where you're doing something that seems so simple, yet there's always one little thing that messes you up, and you can feel your blood boiling so much you are about to explode. Unfortunately there are a couple of those. Maybe I don't give young kids today enough credit, but while this stuff wasn't so difficult for me, I don't know how the designers expect little kids to get through the entire game. A lot of the stuff when you're Danny is a little confusing, until you realize that you need to actually use his power to discover a hidden path. Still, there's nothing too difficult here so with a bit of help from their parents, kids should be just fine.
I do like the characters themselves. As I've said, they're small, but they pack enough detail to make them look exactly like their bigger screen counterparts. Their animation is fluid and their facial expressions, when they are just standing there, can be amusing. The music is pretty good too, although I guess that depends on your tolerance of happy, somewhat perky tunes. It sort of grew on me, but it's no Super Mario. There are no voiceovers either, but it's not like I expected any in a GBA game.
There are three things that really bothered me about the game though. First, and most importantly, there's slowdown! Yes, you heard me correctly, there is a tiny bit of slowdown at some parts, which makes absolutely zero sense. Maybe it's because I don't understand game development and file sizes as much as I'd like to, but I just don't see why there would be any slowdown in a game like this at all. It doesn't seem like a powerhouse, even for the Game Boy Advance. If it can pull off something like Mario Kart then it should have no problem with Volcano Island. It doesn't even happen at points when there are a lot of enemies - which there never are - but rather when you're done talking to a character, or at other unexpected moments. Crazy.
The second part that annoys me isn't actually an essential part of the game, but in addition to the tool parts at the end of the level, there are golden stars you can collect. There are five in each level and they unlock new areas in the game. I'll just get this out of the way now - I never reached any of the secret areas. Go ahead and laugh, but I haven't. Getting all the gold stars in some levels can be outright ridiculous. If you get hit once, a gold star is taken away, so you must go through all the levels without being touched while also finding all the stars. This is another point where you get the "this is getting extremely tedious, why are they making me do this, I'm about to pull out my hair" feeling. Sometimes I just couldn't get the stars without running into spikes or enemies that are obnoxiously placed - trust me, the stars are a real pain to get, and will only be collected by hardened gamers with a lot of patience.
My final gripe - and I don't want to spoil anything - is that the final boss level is the most ridiculous, extremely poor excuse for a boss level. Whoever came up with the idea for it needs to seriously rethink their level design career! Let's just say, getting to the finish line isn't exactly the most exhilarating thing you'll do in the game.
I know this is cliché, but really, you can't judge a book by its cover. Likewise, you can't judge a game by its license. Nicktoons: Battle for Volcano Island isn't awful like I expected it to be. It's a fun experience that I played for a few hours and will probably never touch again. It isn't a blast, but it is a good time waster. I wouldn't suggest that any adult gamers give it a go, but if you have a young child who wants a Game Boy Advance game that's based on their favorite cartoon stars, then this might just keep them happy for a while.