My Street, the new party game from Idol Minds, attempts to up the ante for party games by taking the whole affair online. This one step forward, however, is negated by a meager selection of games and some fundamentally poor design choices.
At the core of any party game lies a collection of minigames, and My Street is no different. All told, the game contains seven different four-player games. The game of marbles puts four players on a circular table, each player using a big "shooter" marble to corral smaller marbles into a goal, though other players can steal away marbles you're carrying by bumping into you, or they can just knock you off the board entirely. The controls in marbles are fairly responsive, though the gameplay is simplistic.
The volleyball game is much more straightforward, playing not entirely unlike DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball or Beach Spikers, though with significantly less finesse involved. The volleyball game can become mighty frustrating, due to the unresponsive controls, which make it exceedingly difficult to gauge when you can actually hit the ball. Dodgeball is similarly cut-and-dried, and it too suffers from control issues.
The RC racing game fares better and is reminiscent of the classic arcade racing game Ironman Ivan Stewart's Super Off-Road, both in terms of presentation and controls. Lawnmowers is a kissing cousin to RC racing, though the lawnmowers move slower, and instead of earning points based purely on lap placement, you'll earn points for completing laps and driving over shaggy spots on the lawn. Inversely, you'll lose points for driving your lawnmower through the strategically placed flowerbeds. You might not expect it, but this is probably the best of My Street's seven minigames, as it requires you to balance the racing with scoring points, a slightly more complex challenge than what the other games offer.
Chemistry is a puzzle game that plays like a weird Puyo Pop variant, presenting each player with a vertical playfield, with pairs of randomly colored dots falling from the top. Once the dots touch down, they'll fuse with other like-colored dots they make direct contact with. The clusters don't automatically disappear after a certain number of dots are connected; instead, every few turns the game will switch controls and give you a targeting reticule and three shots to eliminate the biggest clusters of dots on your field. The dots will start falling faster and faster, and the player who can keep from filling up his or her playfield the longest, wins. Finally, Pigs and Chickens is an unflinching rip-off of Sonic Team's Dreamcast action puzzle game ChuChu Rocket--you place directional arrows on the playfield to herd the chickens into your coop and the pigs into your opponents' coops.
Party games are all about their pick-up-and-play appeal. The inherent problem with many of the minigames in My Street is that the controls aren't always terribly self-explanatory, and the instructions are flashed onscreen before the game for only a couple of seconds. Even these instructions sometimes fail to sufficiently explain the nuances of the gameplay, leaving it up to you to figure it out on your own through lots of trial and error. Also, considering that most competing party games feature several times the number of games contained within My Street, it inherently doesn't have a lot to offer.
When SCEA first revealed My Street at E3 2002, the focus was put squarely on the game's online capabilities, which probably explains the weakness of the single-player story mode. The setup revolves around a cartoony suburban neighborhood, populated by seven caricatured, slang-spitting kids. As the new kid on the block, you'll interact with your neighbors in an attempt to make friends and play games, but you'll have to perform some sort of task before you can actually play any of My Street's seven minigames. It starts off easy--to play a game of marbles with the neighborhood hippy kid, you'll run up the block to the toy store and buy a bag of marbles.
However, these pregame tasks quickly become more involved, and significantly more tedious, like having to perform a week's worth of chores for the neighborhood farm girl to raise enough money to buy an RC car. Another snag in My Street's story mode is the accelerated day/night cycle. Your character won't wake up before 10:00am, and all the other neighborhood kids will go back inside at 6:00pm sharp, which gives you enough time to play three games at most before you have to go back to your house, choose the "sleep" option, and begin the day anew. My Street also sports an offline mode free of any of these unnecessary trappings, making the story mode seem, well, pointless.
The online mode plays much like the story-free offline mode, allowing up to four players to compete in any of the seven minigames as they see fit. Even though the online mode is the most highly touted feature in My Street, it seems a little rough around the edges. Even over a fast, clean broadband connection, we experienced some pretty significant lag in several of the games. Also, the game doesn't support a USB keyboard for chatting, though there is a unique virtual keyboard system that outstrips the usual virtual QWERTY keyboard system in both intuitiveness and functionality.
My Street has a sort of halfhearted cartoony look to it, with a minimum amount of straight lines and right angles. Each kid's house reflects his or her persona, with the country girl living in a farm house, the beach bum living in a palm-frond-roofed shack, the nerdy kid living in a high-tech, nuclear-powered home of the future, and so on. The kids are modeled reasonably well, but they lack any real personality, which is accentuated by the sort of dead, empty look that's always in their eyes. One of the more annoying quirks in My Street is the camera, which usually just trails behind you as you walk around the neighborhood, but it will snap to a fixed angle once you get near a structure, changing the directional control as well.
But problems with the camera are petty in comparison to My Street's supremely irritating voice acting. The voice acting isn't very good, with none of the kids sounding like actual kids, or even like cartoon kids, but what really makes the speech in My Street unbearable is the dialogue itself. Apparently on My Street, no one can utter a single sentence that isn't riddled with a random assortment of slang words culled from the past 50 years of American pop culture. Listening to the characters talk, you can almost see a boardroom full of middle-aged businessmen frantically writing down any slang word they can think up and putting them all in a hat.
My Street is a party game that desperately wants to be all things to all people. Younger kids might like its edgy-cute wrapper but will likely be turned off by the tedious story mode and somewhat confusing game mechanics. Older players may take a shine to some of the games that are reminiscent of old-school classics, like Pigs and Chickens or RC Racing, but the characters' incessant use of mismatched slang will probably drive them mad. My Street wants to appeal to everyone, but ultimately, it's not well suited for anyone.