Codename Kids Next Door: Operation V.I.D.E.O.G.A.M.E
I think we can all agree that this is the worst name for a videogame (sorry, v.i.d.e.o.g.a.m.e) ever, but then it is apparently only following in the tradition of the cartoon on which it’s based, which splits up the names of its episodes with dots into ridiculous acronyms. Yes, all of the letters in ‘videogame’ stand for something here, but I can’t actually remember what. Apparently a popular Cartoon Network show that I’ve never seen, CKND is obviously aimed at the lowest age group of platformer fans with the gameplay being extremely simplistic and repetitive, and the villains ranging from a toothbrush who wants to make all kids brush their teeth to a vampire who likes to spank children (er…..).
Would you like to take the blue pill or the red?
The story is episodic and is barely tied together into one plot by the end, but basically the Kids Next Door are a group of young secret agent type children who operate from a tree house and fight villains who personify what parents want their children to do. There’s an uncomfortable level of forced coolness here, with a token sassy black character who refers to herself in the first person (none of the kids have names; they are just numbuh one through five. Yes numbuh, not number, it’s supposed to be cool), and characters collect powuh-ups and ride in a rocket school bus. The series of villains on display are somewhat imaginative and entertaining (one is made of toilet rolls and his evil mission is simply to block toilets and cause floods), but all of them are juvenile and eventually irritating.
From looking at the screenshots here and their abysmal graphics you might think you’d be in for the worst game ever made, but it’s actually not all that bad. In concept CKND is fine, with five playable characters, a wide variety of playing styles across the game, different forms of combat to utilise and well designed boss battles punctuating it all. Where it falls down is on execution, few set pieces or ideas come across half as successfully as they should. Levels go on way too long, dulling the appeal of anything the game throws at you. The underwhelming graphics also don’t help, since within levels the game has very little visual variety and helps the game snowball into monotony along with the repetitive level objectives.
Oh no, it’s turned into The Posiedon Adventure!
The Majority of levels are taken up by standard platforming and enemy combat. This is where the rubbish collision detection and camera will come into play the most, making simple tasks of platforming ploddingly slow and frustrating. Characters move as fast as actual babies would (though they are supposed to be ten). The only part of the controls that seem refined enough to work probably is enemy targeting for melee and long range combat. Throughout most levels you will be given the option of using a gun if you collect enough blueprints to make it, while otherwise you are limited to simple combo-based fighting with enemies (who can be surprisingly tough). Level design not bad for this type of game, though the fact that most of the levels take place in the tree house (albeit in different states, such as when it is flooded by the toilet roll guy) can eventually get a little wearing.
It wouldn’t seem so bad if the levels just didn’t go on for so long, but everything takes ages! Enemy combat is too frequent and sluggish, meaning an insane amount of time will be taken up simply beating up armies of identical enemies. This can get slightly more difficult than you’d expect, though the game gives you so many health pick ups that it almost doesn’t seem worth it to have health exist at all. It’s a shame more focus wasn’t given to the platforming itself, since levels are mostly a flat series of rooms connected by featureless corridors. When you do actually get to dodge around some lasers and play some of the more elaborate platforming sequences (which mostly take place is gigantic rooms you have to climb) it can seem a bit more exciting, if still very routine.
“Look at the size of that thing…”
Most of the fun in the game comes from its variety. Playing as all five Kids Next Door is mostly a cosmetic difference, but there are exceptions, such as an enjoyable level where you play a girl who can freefall float down massive rooms and shafts. The most notable segments are ones in which you take control of the school bus (Which is also split into some ridiculous acronym that makes no sense) and the game morphs into something of an on-rails shooter. These are very standard in design, but they are frenetic and furious enough to provide an actual challenge, and its system of absorbing enemy shots to create a bomb, while not totally original, gives an agreeably light sense of strategy to the action.
And while it is certainly childish, the game is imbued with a fair amount of personality which is welcome considering how indistinct much of the game is. Villains will converse with you throughout levels (“You’ll never defeat me, kids next door!”), and there’s a tonne of cut scenes and voice acting that must add up to nearly twice the normal content of what a normal show would have. It rarely manages to be very funny, but you could never say it wasn’t energetic and it does help to gloss over the bland nature of the platforming a little bit. It’s a shame that level structures aren’t mixed up a little more (almost all the levels are linear, but there’s one or two where you get to explore a bit), since constantly changing the pace is the game’s only way to grab your attention.
Kids Next Door disco dancing!
The most fun parts of the game, and the most challenging, are undoubtedly the boss battles, which range from regular combat to environment manipulation to foot races. These are all actually very well designed and never repeat throughout the game. The final boss in particular, which has you as a giant robot fighting another giant robot, ups the game’s sense of scale very well and seems like a truly climactic final battle, and it’s actually quite hard! Another positive aspect of the game is the music, there’s not much of it, but what’s there is surprisingly sophisticated and atmospheric, and the Kids Next Door theme with its James Bond pastiche guitars is very fitting.
“I bet you wish you had a robotic chair like mine, huh?”
In the end I guess it doesn’t matter what this is like, since it’s for very young kids and they will certainly enjoy it enough (it is certainly an excellent use of the license. I’ve never seen the cartoon but now I feel like I know a lot about it), but despite the positive aspects I’ve highlighted in this review, it isn’t enough to save the game. It is a series of brief highlights connected by dreadfully tedious combat and platforming. It’s good value for money to those who are interested (It lasts about 8 hours and contains the biggest selection of unlockable concept art and character costumes I’ve ever seen), but even if it’s not as bad as you’d expect, it’s still pretty bad on the larger scale of platformers. Still, fans of the cartoon should be pleased that it has been fleshed out in videogame form so enthusiastically, even if the rest of us will know exactly what to think of it as soon as we see what it’s called.