A Sweet Cock Tale
A terrible darkness threatens to devour the land; only four chosen warriors of prophecy are able to stop the dark lord. And of the party, everything rests on the shoulders of one blonde, bright-eyed young man. It sounds like the start of so many Final Fantasy games, except here you aren't Cloud and you don't have a nifty gun/sword. Instead you’re a daycare-aged yellow chicken. I mean, chocobo. Uh, wark?
[image1]Chocobo Tales tells a story of a fateful island, where all the local Chocobos are kidnapped by an evil . . . book. Your anonymous main character leaps into books across the land, living out classic children’s stories like “Tortoise and the Hare” as a collection of minigames. You must beat the games to overcome obstacles in the world, though you can rescue friends and other rewards by replaying each book. NPCs provide arcade-style 'microgames,' providing plenty of entertainment and variety for up to four players.
The re-imagined fairy tales are a glance into the Horrible Future, where children don't know “the Tortoise and the Hare” but they know “Adamantoise and the Cactuar,” and they even tell you the Cactuar's stats as they drink Potion energy drinks. If you don't mind all the branding, Chocobo Tales is a short and sweet game with lots of variety and lots of tapping, tracing and stylus flicking.
The minigames range from shooting galleries to puzzles to races and more. The DS fares best when all you have to do is tap; a few games are made tough by unclear or weak tracing and dragging controls. Each major minigame has seven different challenges to complete, you'll play once or twice to advance the story and keep going back for collectibles. AI opponents don’t put up a fight, so the big challenge is in mastering all the different controls.
[image2]Single-player bosses periodically challenge you to a very simple trading card game; collecting the 120 creature cards quickly takes precedence over the story or sleep. The card battles themselves are often close, owing to the fact that the most of the cards are fairly equal in strength. When you perfect your deck, you can turn your collection against live opponents over WiFi, or even send cards and games to complete your collection. It's more functionality than you would expect out of a first-try kid's game about chickens, I mean, chocobos.
Chocobo Tales employs a clever collage of average 2D and 3D images to recreate the feeling of a pop-up book. Aside from a few huge models, the 3D fails to impress; the real enjoyment is in watching 2D and 3D fold up and stretch into levels, in all their clever variations. DS-synthesizer lullabies set the proper tone, and the experience rarely gets too saccharine to stomach. The storytime motif works for all ages, and the stories and characters actually develop over the course of their three to nine vignettes.
[image3]I'm happy to see that, even though these classic tales are smothered in corporate branding, and even though the developer h.a.n.d. sounds like a supervillain army out of a James Bond film, Chocobo Tales has retained the morality and soul of the original stories. This is a world where when you see a Jailbird henchman peering over the fence, all he wants to do is play on the see-saw for a while. Tap him, and he pops out and you play on the see-saw. That’s may not be as creepy as it sounds, for it is just a pure little moment of childlike play. It's no more cutesy than any Mario title, a mellow balance of manga stylings and mild sweetness, and it ties the whole experience together. But don’t expect the game to teach your children any cautionary tales about the dangers of felons on see-saws.
The storytime experience is way more enjoyable than the vanilla overworld plot; you crawl around fire and water kingdoms, bantering ceaselessly with characters who do mostly nothing. There's a deeper story going on with the White Mage Shirma and her midriff-baring nemesis Irma, but it’s the kind of “deep” that a Muppet Babies episode will sometimes achieve. And yet, there's that strange Japanese sexual vibe happening, where Irma seems to be hitting on her evil overlord boss, and the female Chocobos seem to be hitting on you... At least this isn’t one of those “special” Chocobo breeding farms.
Children already love animal fables and trading cards; parents may hate this addictive little electronic combination of the two. Beyond the babytalk surface, however, Chocobo Tales fits that wonderful handheld rhythm where you can turn on your DS and play one game or ten, as the plot moves in contained, light segments in the background. Even as Chocobo Tales devours your children's attention, it successfully delivers at least 10 hours of safe and shareable gameplay for gamers of every feather.