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Nintendo DS Review: Insecticide

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Insecticide, published by Gamecock Media Group and created by Crackpot Entertainment, is a game for the Nintendo DS that takes a bold risk, trying to straddle the gap between adventure and action games. It's a hard-boiled detective mystery containing both action and adventure elements, set in a futuristic city full of anthropomorphic bugs.The story follows Chrys Lizst, a new bug on the police force with two arms, four legs, and a past that's about to catch up with her.

Insecticide tries to mix action that's not too difficult with puzzle sequences that aren't too convoluted in order to satisfy the cerebral fans of adventure games and the twitch-hungry lovers of action games. While efforts to make both groups happy have resulted in some compromises, there have been no noticeable sacrifices in this game that should appeal to the more moderate elements of both camps.

The puzzles are logical for the most part, and—with one possible exception—they do not involve tapping the stylus all over the screen to find the one pixel in the environment that needs to be manipulated. Some of the screens rendered for the adventure sequences seem a little wasteful, containing only one or two things to interact with, but almost everything noteworthy in Chrys' world is clearly visible. Players usually have an idea of what needs to be accomplished, even when they don't know the specific steps required to accomplish it.

The action sequences contain a mix of running, jumping, and gunfights, with a few boss battles included. The controls are solid, with only a few minor irritations. Several action sequences require Chrys to traverse narrow wires, and while she corrects herself to stay on the wire once she is underway, getting the game to recognize that she is on the wire in the first place can prove to be a challenge.

There are only a small number of enemies, but lot of effort has been put into providing variety; the game's weapons are dressed up in futuristic trappings but function as pistols, shotguns, mines, rifles, and there are psychic abilities that can slow targets or make them attack each other. There's also a level where the player faces off against a new type of enemy while being prevented from using any weapons at all. The story-based availability of weapons can cause some regrets, as players are only given the chance to use some weapons for half a level or so, and it would have been nice to try weapons from later in the game on some of the earlier stages.

The game's tone is about as tongue-in-cheek as you'd expect from a story about talking bugs, with a plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously while it blends sci-fi genetic manipulation, loose-cannon cops, and a film noir mystery. While things start off looking predictable, double crosses are added in to keep players guessing. The characters showing up out of nowhere to advance the plot and the story exposition shoehorned into forced dialogues can get clumsy at times, but are mostly forgivable. Clearly, an effort was put into establishing the characters and their backgrounds, as files full of background information are created in the pause menu for everyone that Chrys talks to, even if they only serve a brief purpose in a single stage.

The graphics are good, managing to convey the grim feel of the corruption and decay present in Insecticide's gritty, futuristic city of bugs. Although some levels are only introduced with text that accompanies still imagery, it's a device that is used sparingly, and the cinematic sequences at the beginning and end of the other stages involve players in the story and use the rendering capabilities of the DS to good effect. Images are cartoonish and some aspects of the bugs (and the city’s remaining humans) are exaggerated for comic effect.

The recurring "splat" noise, used to confirm menu selections and meant to sound like someone stepping on a bug, is the most memorable sound effect in the game, but none of the audio effects seem particularly out of place. The music, like the graphics, does a good job of setting the film noir mood without becoming irritatingly repetitive. None of the tracks will end up stuck in your head for hours after you have turned off the DS.

Unfortunately, there is no in-game save feature. Players save their progress in one of three "profiles" that record which levels have been cleared. If the game is turned off in the middle of a level, all progress for that level is lost, but the game can be resumed at the start of any one of the previously beaten levels. While undesirable, the 19 levels are short enough that having to quit half or even three quarters of the way through won't pose an insurmountable setback. A standard action level takes from one to ten minutes for skilled gamers to beat, and inexperienced plodders shouldn't need more than 40 minutes for a stage. Some of the adventure levels almost feel too short, involving only one or two major puzzles.

Within the action levels, there is little or no penalty for dying, allowing players to resume from fairly close to the spot where they died. It can encourage a blitz through the more challenging parts of a level, rewarding lucky timing or skillful play equally and removing any incentive to avoid getting hurt. At the end of each level, players are shown how many enemies were killed and how many "hidden" items were found in relation to the level totals, but going back for a 100% completion score offers little more than bragging rights.

As a whole, the puzzle sequences aren’t mind-bending, and the action sequences aren’t adrenaline-fueled, but Insecticide has some unexpectedly fun surprises and should be commended for taking some risks.

Insecticide is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, and Use of Tobacco.

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About Peter M. J. Gross