Code Lyoko: Fall of X.A.N.A.
Welcome to Lyoko. Or rather, the supercomputer that houses it. Online virtual realms are hardly a new thing, but there is one thing that makes this place stand out from all the Vana’diels and Azeroths of the world: Lyoko is real. Life exists on the other side of that computer screen, and it’s not content with staying there; both good and evil beings have been secretly crossing over for years. Don’t worry about the little details, though. Code Lyoko’s plot assumes that you’ll just accept whatever magical technology mumbo jumbo it throws at you, logic be damned. The only thing you have to understand is that a group of kids stumbled across some secret computer near their school, discovered an alternate virtual dimension, figured out how to scan their bodies into that world, and now spend their free time combating some evil entity called X.A.N.A. All while balancing their GPAs and awkward coming-of-age life lessons along the way, no less.
It’s not like the game actually tells you any of this stuff, though. Fall of X.A.N.A. dumps you into the game in media res shortly after the disappearance of one of the heroes. You spend the first few minutes exploring the handful of 2D screens that apparently make up the heroes’ school. There are a bunch of secondary characters mulling about the campus, all of whom spout uninteresting lines and reference things that only a fan of the series could appreciate. It doesn’t take much of the half-assed dialogue to realize that the kid has been kidnapped and supposedly brainwashed by their digitized foe. Once you’ve gotten your fill of these boring real-world interludes (the first of many, unfortunately), you’ll be whisked away to the secret lab and tasked with the rescue mission of your missing comrade.
Thus you’re granted the high point of the game: the transformation sequences. Several animated visuals have been ripped from the show, most of which involve the characters stepping into some kind of transporter, getting scanned, and popping up in virtual reality with 3D bodies decked out in their signature costumes. While fans might appreciate how the game’s cutscenes stay true to the cartoon, they’ll be too distracted by how badly their beloved Lyoko has been butchered. Rather than having sleek, realistic avatars, the in-game characters are depicted as little stick people with giant polygonal heads. Instead of vast landscapes and detailed environments, the game forces you to explore a series of interconnecting roads and passageways. It’s not like you can get lost; most of the paths are so mind-numbingly linear that you’ll never need a map to figure your way around the place. Apparently X.A.N.A. is too busy brainwashing its latest prey; rather than annihilating our heroes from the start, it just sends up a bunch of laser barricades throughout the paths. Taking them down is a simple matter of finding a conveniently placed switch and venturing to the next obstacle. Rinse and repeat a few more times, and you’ll realize just how boring Lyoko really is.
The not-so aimless wandering is broken up by a bunch of unavoidable battles with X.A.N.A.’s underlings. You’ll be forced into fights against poisonous hornets, slimy mollusks, and a slew of other poorly rendered monstrosities. The combat uses the basics of RPG turn-based combat; the characters can perform attacks, magic techniques, and items to dish out some e-punishment. You’ll get to see the heroes perform their signature moves from the show, like Ulrich’s samurai sword abilities or Yumi’s Oriental Fans of Doom. What makes the combat unusual, however, is that the order of your characters’ moves isn’t determined by stats. Armed with your trusty stylus, you can tap the necessary commands in any order. The catch is the amount of the time it takes for a character to recover from their move; stronger attacks have more wait time, leaving your hero helpless until a little onscreen meter fills back up and gives you access to the command options again. Since your enemies don’t adhere to traditional turn-based mechanics either, they’ll attack you freely while you’re stuck waiting for a character to get back in action. While this is a clever idea, the ridiculously slow pacing kills any possible enjoyment. If anything, you’ll be left staring at the DS screen and gripping your stylus, waiting for that precious moment when you’ll be able to control your character again.
Modifying your team can spice things up a little, though. Should you manage to make it through a dungeon or battle without angrily flinging your DS away, your patience will be rewarded with experience points, various items, and Lyoko Points. Leveling your characters is a straightforward and easy process; you rack up enough EXP, they get newer and more powerful moves. The items range from the usual assortment of health and magic replenishments to status ailment cures (calling a poison antidote an antivirus is kind of endearing) and objects that can summon special attacks against whole parties of foes. Firefox users might appreciate how you can use “Plug-ins” to customize a character’s stats. Combined with the stuff you can trade in for Lyoko Points, your team shouldn’t have much trouble demolishing anything that gets in your way. Given how simplistic the items and leveling mechanics work, all you’ll have to worry about is enduring everything else the game throws at you.
But if by some miracle you find someone else foolish enough to give this game a chance, the multiplayer options offer a nice distraction from the terrible story mode. You’ll be able to duke it out with the party you use in the main game; all of the items, accessories, and attacks will be at your disposal. Given the likelihood that either team is underleveled, you can place handicaps to balance things out; taking down someone without having to resort to magic or items might earn you some bragging rights. Since you can even bet some of your items towards your victory, you might actually have some incentive to get into the action. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll enjoy the experience, of course; regardless of whom you’re playing against or whatever options you choose, the battles are never exciting or engaging.
You know what the sad thing is? Fans of the show will blindly purchase this to support the series. Considering how the cartoon has been hiatus for so long, it’s not surprising that they’d be hungry for anything related to the series. But for the rest of you that end up gazing at the DS shelf at the game store and come across this, be wary. Fall of X.A.N.A. is hardly worth a fraction of the money it sells for. The game assumes you know what’s going on, thus skipping over a basic explanation of the plot and leaving newcomers in the dark. The exploration aspects are insultingly simplistic and repetitive. The unique turn-based combat is interesting, but the horrendously slow pacing and lack of difficulty kill any possible entertainment value. The multiplayer options offer a little relief, but they’re hardly enough to keep you coming back. So if you really want to support Code Lyoko, go buy some of the DVDs or watch a marathon. Regardless of what you choose, it’ll be time better spent than with this game.