A Surprisingly Fun Movie Cash-in.
I'm happy to say, this game was a pleasant surprise. It had a lot of the expected rough edges of a movie cash-in, but it's also very fun to play. If I had to sum up At World's End DS in a sentence, I'd say it's very much like having a pocket God of War. Well, it's not going to compare to Chains of Olympus, but you get my meaning.
The game begins with a simple level, offering instruction the whole way through. At the end of the level, you duel some guy…. Like I said, I didn't see the movie…some guy. And that's pretty much how the entire game flows. You'll do a few levels, and then, rather than a boss battle, you'll have a duel, which is done using a combination of the touch-screen and face-buttons. It's rather simple, but entertaining nonetheless. The levels (and this is why I made reference to God of War) are comprised of a mixture of clever navigation – ala scaling walls, grappling across pits, hand-climbing your way over large divides, etc. – and a bit of combat and platforming. The levels are very well designed and, though you'll be doing many of the same things throughout the game, they remain fresh the whole way through. In addition to taking obvious cues from God of War, At World's End also takes inspiration from the Zelda series (and, of course, God of War takes inspiration from that, as well). As you progress through the game, you'll find new tools that you'll use to get through levels. One of the first tools is a long bamboo pole, which you'll use to pole-vault across long gaps in a given level. The animation of the character looks great when you're vaulting, and it's just a lot of fun. It's the same for most of the other tools you'll acquire, as well. By the end of the game, you'll be required to utilize all the various tools and techniques you've received in order to make your way to the final goal.
As mentioned, there is a bit of combat and it's one of the game's weak points, to be sure. There is actually a decent variety of enemies and they each have unique attacks, but, unless they're in groups, they offer little to no resistance. It's not a huge drawback, because the real fun comes from the adventure elements. The puzzles might be easy in the extreme, but just making your way through a level is a lot of fun. On the production end, this is no Nintendo-published title. This is, indeed, still very much a movie cash-in and, as such, it's got the bare bones for looking good without any polish. The graphics are a mix of very pretty and very sparse. Sunsets are actually quite gorgeous, but the water and waves are pixilated. Character clothing is detailed, with great shading, but faces are blocky and lack much detail. The cutscenes, for the most part, show the game at its worst, and At World's End's best pose is when you're actually going through a level. Perhaps the game's creators would have fared better with a less realistic approach to the character models. That said, everything still looks good where it should, so no major complaints.
Sound, too, is quite good. I recognize many of the actors' voices, though voice-overs, too, are sparse throughout the game. The music is entertaining, and the sound effects work nicely. What doesn't work so well is the game's hub, which happens to be whatever ship you are supposed to be currently traveling on. You'll find your way around eventually, but there's too much and too little at the same time. In that, I mean there's all these different people and items on a ship that you can interact with, but each offers only one or two minor things that you might need. It's kind of like a messy desk. As for replay, I actually see myself playing through this adventure again. Perhaps not right away, but it's got an arcade feel to it that I enjoy. There's a multiplayer thing, but it's merely more dueling; not sure if that's going to inspire anyone to pick the game back up or not. But the main game is not terribly long, which I'm sure most folks would expect. I'd say, overall, if you're an adventure fan looking for something to play on your DS, this is a decent choice, if you can find it at a discount price. I would certainly not recommend buying it at the full retail price, if for no other reason but simply to slow down Disney's march toward world domination. But for $20 or less, it'll probably satisfy you until Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword comes out or you're ready to replay Phantom Hourglass again for the third or fourth time.
Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!