Holly Hobbie & Friends DS Review

Approaching Holly Hobbie & Friends was a bit difficult for me. I am, after all, a 23-year-old male. While I do have a great affinity for cats (which the game is startlingly devoid of), I am not particularly fond of sunshine, starlight or even moonbeams. But rather than letting my prejudice for all things wholesome get in the way of me giving this sacchariney-sweet mini-game collection a fair shake, I decided to hunker down and enlist the aide of someone to help fight the good fight.

I called upon my elementary schooler cousin, who just happens to be a gamer. After a week of phone-tag (apparently, 10-year-olds are incredibly busy people) I finally got around to talking to her, with the conversation panning out something like this: "What do you want me to play? Ew, what's that? Hold on. Yeah, I don't think I want to do that. No, I have to go now; my guild is running Naxx. Bye." And there you have it. This left me with a very important question: if a ten-year-old refused to play this game, then who is it made for? Infants? Pedophiles? The answer is much less nuanced than that: nobody.

The game starts off inconspicuously enough with Holly, her family and her filthy little dog boarding a train for a quaint town called Clover. Once there, they unite with Holly's suspiciously clean-cut, mustachioed "Uncle Dave" (whose passion for well-groomed facial hair is only matched by his love for both Hummel figurines and exotic birds) and her conveniently multi-racial duo of friends, Carrie and Amy. This trio of BFFs decide that they are going have the greatest summer ever, which will consist almost entirely of selling juice. Because this is what little girls do. Sell juice.

Rather than having multiple mini-games available to you from the start, you progress through them one at a time via a "calendar" system. You begin a day having to solve a mini-game which opens up the next "day" and the next "exciting" "mini-game". Not only is this frustrating for reasons I'll get to in the next paragraph, but its incredibly confusing. Rather than being conveniently labeled in list form, you're forced to click on days on the calendar to find whichever game you want to play. It's a total hassle, only magnified by the fact that completing some games is incredibly difficult.

I'm not speaking of difficulty in the traditional sense. This is not a bullet-hell shooter. However, often the objectives are so incredibly vague that you have to play through a game several times to get the gist of just what in the hell you're doing. Take for instance, the cooking game. Your task is to bake a delicious pizza for Holly and her BFFs. You have to first catch the ingredients in a bowl as they come raining from the sky, just like in real life. Emulating reality, it was very easy to discern what to do in this portion. However, you must then dice the toppings yourself and then cook the pizza. I believe dicing consists of quickly dragging the stylus at the very edge of a topping in time with a barely-visible blue bar. I'm not sure, however, as the unresponsive touch-screen mechanics made me question everything I was doing. After several dozen tries, I miraculously managed to clear this "day" and did not question the methods I used as it was clear this was some sort of divine intervention.

Most of the other mini-games revolve around equally mundane chores such as getting dressed, shopping at the market and, of course, selling juice. One of my favorites was the multiple-choice "quiz show" mini-game, in which you have to answer questions relating to Holly Hobbie lore. The questions run the gamut from incredibly obvious to inexplicably specific. Two examples:

What is the name of Holly Hobbie's dog?

b)Bathory Erzsebet

An obvious one, as Doodles was just introduced to the player no more than 15 minutes ago (or you could find this information in the same place I did, the back of the game box). But what about this:

Where did Uncle Dave receive his first kiss?

a)football camp
b)the men's bathroom at a Boston concert
c)his Uncle Dave's basement

Only a dedicated Hobbiephile would know such an answer and it's a lot to expect from a new player.

Though most of the mini-games are utter tripe, there is one shining spot on this cart, and that's the Main Menu theme. A compelling little number, its shiny, angular poppiness is reminiscent of a Postal Service song listened to via iPod earbuds sitting in your lap. Which is to say it is not fantastic, but totally inoffensive and probably composed by an actual musician.

As wary as I came in, nothing could have prepared me for just how fundamentally broken this game is. I can only imagine how frustrating this experience would have been to an infant (assumedly, the target audience). What could have been a quick-and-easy cash-in for Majesco, recommendable to the most hardcore of Holly fans, is a complete mess, a Holly Hobbie that nobody could care for and sadly, should have been aborted.

What's Hot: Electro-pop theme song.

What's Not: Everything else.