In addition to being a popular comic-strip character, Garfield is a merchandising powerhouse. He has been featured in scads of successful books and DVDs, and, of course, his likeness has been used in suction-cupped plush toys that you can attach to your car window. Now, we have Garfield's Fun Fest, a Nintendo DS game released in association with a DVD of the same name, and like the animated film on which it's based, this game is aimed squarely at the younger set. Although it has colorful, cartoony visuals, there's not nearly enough substance to Garfield's Fun Fest to make it worth anyone's time, regardless of their age or level of interest in Garfield.
The story is so strange that you expect Garfield to wake up at the end of it. Garfield and his pals head off to the annual Grin City Fun Fest, a performance competition for comic-strip characters. But when they arrive, Garfield's girlfriend, Arlene, is swept off her feet by a grotesquely anthropomorphic cat named Ramone. Suffering from heartbreak, Garfield loses his sense of humor, so he sets out to find Freddy, the famous funny frog, to drink some of his magical funny water before returning to Grin City to win back Arlene and claim the title of Fun Fest champion. Unfortunately, this surreal story isn't told in a compelling way. There's just a series of still images accompanied by lines of text that dryly explain the events of the plot. It's also totally unfocused--characters sometimes show up for one or two panels, serve no real purpose, and then disappear from the story. Worse, there's no humor to it, no jokes or punch lines--nothing funny whatsoever. A few video clips or voice samples from the cartoon on which the game is based would have helped bring Garfield and the other characters to life. Children deserve better storytelling than this from their games.
Garfield loves to eat, and Garfield loves to sleep. The game's platforming levels are designed around these two characteristics, so at least it demonstrates a solid understanding of its license. In the platforming levels, you walk, jump, and climb your way around an area, find a few scattered items, and then seek out your goal. In most cases, Odie, Garfield's canine patsy, tags along behind you automatically, and you can hop on Odie's back for a quick dash that lets you reach otherwise inaccessible areas. As you wander around, Garfield's energy plummets rapidly. To help counter this, there are pieces of food all over the levels, and each food item you scarf up restores some energy. You'll need to munch on something or other frequently, or Garfield will run out of energy altogether. Should that happen, he'll immediately start napping, and you'll take control of Odie, who must then track down one of the alarm clocks in the level and bring it back to Garfield before he himself runs out of energy.
Patrolling the areas are enemies large and small, from spiders to dogs to mail carriers, but a quick swipe or two of Garfield's paw is all it takes to make them disappear in a puff of smoke. The biggest challenge in these areas comes from finding the items you need before you run out of energy, but after you play them a few times, you'll have them memorized, and then there's no challenge at all. The game controls just fine, but there's nothing the least bit interesting about the level design or gameplay. It's all straightforward, serviceable, and thoroughly ordinary. You get the sense that the makers of the game wanted to keep things simple so it would be accessible to children, but they erred too far on the side of caution.
Even more basic than the platforming stages are the other types of levels you encounter in the game. There are a few scrolling levels in which you either ride Odie along the ground or fly through the air on a hang glider. In the hang-gliding stages, you simply press up or down to fly in that direction, collecting food and balloons and avoiding enemies and obstacles, while in the Odie-riding stages, you can jump to collect food items and baubles called dingle balls. There's not much to these stages, but they work as a change of pace from the platforming levels. Lastly, there are a few performance levels, in which you must help Garfield perform a routine by tapping cue cards on the touch screen as stars pass over them. These levels don't have enough rhythm for them to work as a rhythm game. They're just a simple, dull test of how well you respond to visual cues.
It's shocking how little there is to Garfield's Fun Fest. You'll hit the game's conclusion so quickly you may be left staring at your DS in disbelief, thinking that can't possibly be all there is to the game. But it is. There's less than an hour's worth of gameplay here, spread out across the game's 15 levels. Once you've finished the game, you can replay the levels in an effort to earn the game's award trophies, which you win for doing things like eating every piece of food in every level or finding Garfield's teddy bear, Pooky, in every platforming stage. But the gameplay just isn't interesting enough to make playing through the levels again worthwhile. Even at 20 bucks this game is a terrible value.
The game looks nice. The character sprites are large and colorful and look just like their comic-strip counterparts. Odie in particular looks hilariously stupid. And the backgrounds have multiple layers, giving each area a sense of depth. Unfortunately there are so few areas in the game that the visuals lose their luster quickly. The music is upbeat but unremarkable. The sound effects are underwhelming, and hearing Garfield meow like an actual cat whenever he's hit seems odd, since he's typically voiced by sullen-sounding men. People expect Garfield to speak, so the lack of any voice acting doesn't make sense.
Children may be captivated by the game's graphics for a short time, and the gameplay, while mediocre, is easy and accessible enough for young kids, but they'll be done with the game faster than you can say "I hate Mondays." Parents looking for a good game for their children would be better served by any number of other, more substantial options. Those looking for an authentic Garfield experience would be much better off eating some lasagna and taking a nap than playing this game.