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The Munchables


Pac-Man becomes a button-masher
What's It All About:
One look at the cover of this game and you'll think it's a kids game, which makes sense, with the bright, candy colors and goofy animated characters, and after playing it, it's certainly not the most sophisticated gaming experience ever, but it's selling the game short to dismiss it as simply for children. Choosing to play as either the hard-edged Chomper or the adorable Munchy, two hungry members of a race known as the Munchables, you are responsible for saving the planet Star Ving (get it?) by getting rid of villainous space pirates that have invaded. And as befits hungry creatures, the way they take care of their enemies is by eating them. You'll have to clear several levels of bad guys, including bosses for each level, in order to save the world. The game sports some really nice art-design, built around a very analog papercraft/drawing look, and a cute sense of humor, which results in a bizarrely aggressive, yet adorable protagonist and villains that are odd plays on food, like Brocco-Lee and Great Grapey.

Gameplay:
Lead with mostly nonsensical guidance from the Great Elder, your Munchable starts out low in level, and as you eat the space pirates you run into on each level, your level increases (along with your size.) The trick is, you can only eat enemies who are at a level equal or lower than your own, otherwise you can get hit and risk getting killed (a hard thing to do, as you can recover quickly by shaking your controller.) However, if faced with a more powerful foe, you can use an attack to break an enemy down into multiple smaller, less powerful versions, which you can then eat. Chain together multiple snacks and you can reach higher and higher levels, and enhance your character, while collecting somewhat-hidden acorns and completing tasks set in front of you (like capturing items or reaching landmarks.) There's something oddly satisfying about barreling through a crowd of creatures and gobbling them down, especially when you use the lock-on feature to eat one after another after another. There are also a few power-ups you can obtain, adding extra speed or the ability to vacuum up enemies, but their effectiveness doesn't add a lot to your game. Though the game is mainly a one-player affair, a second-player can assist by using an on-screen reticule to pick off enemies.

Each level consists of three parts, with one run-through, one mini-boss, and then a face-off with the big boss. Some of the sections are much more difficult than the others, especially a cannon-based section where you're fired all over a massive stage of islands floating in the sky, in an excellent display of level design, blending platforming, puzzle-solving and the core eating mechanism. The bad guys you face at the end of the second and third parts of each level aren't all that difficult to beat, relying mainly on your ability to follow patterns and instructions (from the Great Elder) but the true measure of success is the amount of pirates you eat and the amount of acorns you eat (though even the value of that isn't really all that clear.) You'll get a grade for each section from the Great Elder, but what it's based on isn't explained, as you can eat everything you see and complete your tasks quickly, and your grade seems arbitrary. More obtuse yet, you can get A's frequently, and then, for some reason, get an "S." Whether this is better than an A, or worse, isn't quite clear and isn't explained in the manual. (Also not explained are the versions of your character, which don't seem to involve any gameplay enhancements.) The most unusual part of this game is the scatological stuff going on in the judging screens, as you seem to crap "orbs" all over the Great Elder, based on how many "meals" you eat, and at the end of the level, you crap a "legendary orb" which is in the shape of a nicely coiled pile of dog poo. It's utterly strange.

Do well in an area, including collecting all the acorns, and you can get special customization items for your character, including some impressive elements, like the mohawk or the native headdress, which are nice to see in-game (you can use the parts on either character, but it's hard to find a reason to not choose the cuter Munchy, who seems to be a better eater and looks funnier with a mohawk.) There are only so many areas to clear in the game, which keeps it short, but when you get to the end, it feels excruciatingly long, as, for some odd reason, you'll end up having to face all the bosses again before a relatively insane final battle (though with time, you'll realize it's not that bad.)

If you make your way through the game (and most players should) you're rewarded with a nice piece of animation, along with a new character and a new way to play the game. It will add some replay value to the game, and enhance your enjoyment of the concept (just like the options in the Great Elder's house (available from the level-select menu) which let you watch the game's video segments and listen to the soundtrack, accessorize your character and learn more about the monsters you consume.)

Online Play
There are no online elements in this game.

Controls
The greatest strength of the Wii to date has been the adaptable nature of the controls, and The Munchables is no exception, as you can use the standard Wiimote/Nunchuk combo, the Wii Classic Controller or the GameCube controller. While the game plays fine with the two non-Wiimote options, thanks to the control sticks on both, the Wiimote works very well, with the comfortable split-control feel, and a scheme that doesn't rely too much on motion control, which could have been painful considering how often you have to eat your enemies. Attacks are mapped to the two main Wiimote buttons, while locking onto a foe is a button-push on the nunchuk. The only time you'll need to waggle your Wiimote is to jump or to recover after taking damage. Your button-pressing fingers will get a workout, but everything responds without issue. If you introduce a second player, they'll use the Wiimote as a pointing weapon, with a button press to shoot, a simple, but effective system for a helper role.

Graphics
The world of The Munchables is a bright, shiny place (for the most part) with huge expansive levels, and the Wii handles it well, presenting the pretty textures and smooth animation well. Though there are limitations to the graphics, seen in the aliasing along edges and closely positioned thin lines, the only real issues are seen in later levels, where you're facing down tons of enemies on the screen, and the frame rate drops to a near crawl, while the level indicators above enemies can get obscured. But in a nice touch, as you get larger from eating bad guys, the levels scale to your hugeness, so the camera pulls back and your foes get smaller, which can make it hard to see the enemy, but it makes it easier to play than if your increasingly large character filled more and more of the screen.

Sound
The game offers an impressive soundtrack to play by, with a mix of bouncy, fun "kiddie" tunes that wouldn't be out of place on Barney and hipper, more energetic dance music, while the final level features some rather hard-rocking music to break your fingers to. The sound effects utilized are also quite nice, coming off bold and enjoyable, and are spread into the sides to fill out your aural experience. Unfortunately, the usual Wii handling of dialogue results in plenty of gibberish sound when characters talk, though in the main cut scenes that precede and follow major moments, there's some rather impressive voice acting. The only con as far as the sound goes are the annoying snippets of music that accompany the special modes, which don't live up to the quality of the rest of the score.

And in the End...
Looks can be deceiving, and the looks of The Munchables suggest something for younger players, but it's tougher than that, and is certainly enjoyable enough for just about anyone to play (at least until the end, when the game becomes a tad too repetitive (though the pay-off is decent enough.)) The customization offerings are a bit limited, and the repetition in the game hurts the replay value, but it's definitely good enough for several hours of mindless gobbling and the video-game equivalent of stomping on ant-hills.