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Nintendo DS Review: Science Papa

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Based on real elements and chemicals, this hand held science lab simulator lets players earn money, boost a profile reputation and learn a little something about science. This task based simulation game only allows one profile and has some entertaining elements but has enough realistic elements to warrant the following warning: Never try to reproduce anything in this game without professional supervision!

An Einstein-like character called “Science Papa” (a possible counterpart to Cooking Mama?) and other researchers comprise the character team as players amass skills and progress through various tasks eventually entering competition and updating lab equipment.

The practice mode has experiments for gaining reputation points – just keep beating the previous best score. The overall time limit factors directly into your reputation score. The e-mail task list is basically an email box from community members that need items made; which include hair dye, weed eaters and even some edible concoctions. The top screen displays time left, overall progress bar and an updating text box which describes items and elements being used in the bottom screen. The top right of the bottom screen shows base tasks while elements/items used in the task appear on the lower right. This orientation and knowledge of each lab station’s layout can produce the quickest times.

Instant tutorials like the stars and animated arrow visuals provide assistance, but other related elements are not explained. For example, time continues on some tasks until you select the green check button on the right. In this instance, the same arrow motion visuals would be helpful on the top screen pointing at the timer.

Most tasks have a low challenge level and the absence of proper tutorials reduce the appeal. Progression stems from 30 different experiments and many, many variations on them. Tasks that require switching a button off and on are boring though they might provide a little break among the more challenging actions. Some field experiments that occur outside the lab might expand the appeal in any future series installments. These tasks allow enough choice to avoid a totally linear experience, but lack of direction reduces the fun and progress.

Lab tasks include emulsion (a nice learning element), lab equipment repair, liquid combinations and burner/mortar processes. When players use a burner to warm a chemical, the moving arrows reappear, but only after the chemical activated under the burner, which is another unpleasant trial-and-error experience where endless attempts eventually pay off. This one time inconvenience would not normally detract from the game, but, since tasks are often varied or repeated, players can get that same unpleasant feeling each time.

Other tasks include intuitive connect-the-dot actions (mortar) and mixes where players must memorize one of two possible endings to avoid time lost – either stopping in the green middle area on the meter or continuing until the game states the task is completed. Thankfully, players can always put a bad performance in the trash can without losing overall progress.

The five main competitions feature research “battle” for the coveted Helix award. Papa’s previous lab teammate Dr. Kapowee and other characters talk some smack before competitions then react accordingly when you win or lose. Concentration is key here especially when time is tight. Smoke bomb distractions (cycle through bomb choices using the L or R button) show potential appeal, but only represent themselves on the top screen status bar as a time reducer for the victim. A cut screen mini game would have been great and even added a slim opportunity to deflect or avoid bombs. Just take every bomb making opportunity in the lab.

Players can invite their friends into the lab to multiplayer split screen competitions focusing speed and precision. Players can buy multiple items in the shop and basically acquire stuff from a progressive checklist, which expands as you achieve higher competition levels. Rewards like robots can help the multitasking processes, but more money gets the best equipment, which include an ultimate “everything machine”, which makes tasks a snap, yet yields perfect scores not more challenges.

The varied sound effects show appeal, but the singular music theme definitely needs complimentary themes. Challenge, guidance and overall entertainment lack in this science game; the repetitive tasks do not sustain a strong experience though the educational elements and scientific terms make an adequate introduction. Science subjects are intimidating enough, so an uneven, bland game will not win any new fans.

Science Papa is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for comic mischief. This game can also be found on the Nintendo Wii.


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