Review: I Spy Universe

ISUndsFOB.jpg Hidden object games have been around for decades in children’s activity books, but only within the past 5-10 years have they really caught on in video game form. Leading the way has been Scholastic’s I Spy series, which has matured from a line of books to full-fledged video game franchise, with numerous games available for multiple platforms, mainly the PC and more recently the DS and Wii.

I Spy Universe for the DS is the latest game in the series, and it has you rocketing into outer space to collect generator pieces to re-energize the fading sun. 36 pieces need to be gathered in total, and to do so you do a little planet hopping to complete 36 hidden object puzzles.

Staying true to I Spy tradition, clues for each puzzle are provided in a fun riddle (more like a poem really) voiced aloud by a teacherly woman, and once you listen to the riddle, you must scan the accompanying static image to find the hinted-at objects. The riddle text is also displayed on the top screen, and as you find objects the related text is highlighted to help you keep track of what items are left.

Each puzzle image is displayed on the bottom screen in a zoomed view that you can pan with the D-pad arrows or by dragging the stylus across the touch screen, and the top screen also doubles as a full-screen view of the image (pressing the A button switches between the riddle text and view mode). Then, once you spot an object you simply tap it with the stylus and it’s marked off in the poem.

Smaller objects can be a pain to select, sometimes requiring a few taps before they register. But by and large the stylus controls are accurate and easy to grasp. Hints are available on a charged timer if you ever do get stumped, but there aren’t any time constraints, nor is there a scoring system of any kind, so there’s never any urgency to call for aid.

As more of an edutainment game, the presentation is fairly plain. However, the pictures are well defined and the scene themes (music class, outer space, building blocks, toys, seashore, creepy crawlies, etc.) are varied enough to hold your attention.

Occasionally you’ll also have to refuel your craft to reach new planetary zones, and these refueling breaks take the form of six mini-games consisting of activities such as figuring out pattern sequences, rotating panels to create a path for a marble to roll through a maze, and matching objects to their correct shadow. Unfortunately, these mini-games are complete throwaways, only serving to artificially pad the game’s runtime and pull you away from the fun object hunting. The only reason to play an I Spy game is for the hidden object gameplay, so I would rather have seen Scholastic cut the mini-games in favor of more puzzles, because as is the 36 puzzles won’t take you but a few sittings to solve.

I Spy Universe is a quality game and an easy recommendation for younger hidden object fans. But with its limited replay value I can’t shake the feeling that this game would’ve been much better off as a downloadable DSiWare/iPhone/PlayStation Minis title at a fraction of the cost.

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Pros:
+ Classic I Spy hidden object gameplay
+ Nice variety of images and themes
+ Good educational value for youngsters

Cons:
– Slim replay value
– Dull mini-games

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: Scholastic Media
Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Release Date: 7/1/2010
Genre: Hidden Object
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!