Disney Friends
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-04-02 Nintendo DS E (Everyone) Disney Interactive Studios / Amaze

I've always been a nut for anything Disney. Call it childish if you'd like, but there's something about wholesome animated characters that just makes my heart warm. So, needless to say, when I learned Disney Interactive was releasing a game that allowed players to directly interact with some of their favorite characters from past films, I jumped at the chance.

Disney Friends places players in the role of an aspiring Guardian, given the task of taking care of different characters from the Disney universe. With Tinkerbell as your guide, you are dropped in a training session with one of the squishy green aliens of Toy Story fame, and are shown your main goals and missions. Through a first person perspective, you learn how to feed, pet, and play with your new friends; afterwards, you jump into your first real set of duties, taking care of everyone's favorite misfit alien, Stitch.

After you meet Stitch, you'll quickly realize that the gameplay here is a lot more complex than it might outwardly appear. Being a Character Guardian is about much more than simply providing the right types of food and shelter for your characters. Similar to games like the Sims, Disney Friends equips each character with a set of bars that must be filled regularly. There are basic bars for food and energy, as well as ones for overall satisfaction and happiness/loneliness.

Relying both on the touch screen and on the ABXY buttons, you will need to frequently open the menu to access your backpack?‚…s items, games, special activities, etc. As you begin building a friendship with Stitch, you will unlock new locations to explore, like the fairgrounds and Lilo's house. But don?‚…t think that once you unlock everything you have completed the game. Since Disney Friends relies heavily on a real-time day and night cycle, each new day in the real world reveals a brand new day in the game as well, a new day that is filled with more feeding, playing, and traveling for you and your friends.

After you reach a certain level of comfort with Stitch, you will unlock other characters, until you have access to all sorts of Disney stars like Dori, Winnie the Pooh, and Simba.

Each character has his or her own themed world, accessible from your Guardian HQ, a circular room with doors leading to each character, which also contains alcoves for Tinkerbell's store and your trophy case. As you progress through the game, you will need to restock your backpack with food items, and new toys with which your characters can play. Each friend has unique items that are specific to them, such as a ukulele for Stitch, and honey pots for Pooh. Items range in price from cheap to downright expensive, depending on the complexity and size. One positive aspect in terms of shopping is that money is very easy to come by.

Every time you enter a character's world, and decide to take a trip with them to one of their specific locations, such as the mine field with Dori, you will encounter mounds of earth, tree trunks, etc. that reveal money when tapped on. You can leave and return to each screen as many times as you?‚…d like only to find that the coins regenerate each time.

The lack of any real struggle in terms of finding money is great for the young players that the game actually targets. It also allows you to stock up on items so that you can spend more time playing with each character rather than taking extra time to shop. Speaking of playing with your friends, you have many ways in which you can do so. Players can take turns with their friends in painting a wonderful masterpiece with the stylus or can help create wonderful music using customizable scales. Each friend has an activity that is particular to them, such as Pooh's honey pot game, but my absolute favorite belongs to Stitch.

When choosing his specialty activity, you are allowed to set up a miniature village with toy cars, books and milk cartons and then set Stitch loose on a destructive rampage through the city, a la Godzilla. It's instances like these when the addictive cuteness of the game really shines through, as Stitch picks up each car and acts like he is the person trapped inside - "Beep Beep! Save me!" - only to destroy the car in the next second.

By playing with your friends and completing specific requests, you earn trophies and guardian points. These points add to your level of respect within the game, while the trophies are just a bit of fun that can be viewed in the trophy room back at your headquarters. Another extra found here is the access to Wi-Fi, which lets players trade items, compete in mini-games and "dance" with friends.

Since the game is so heavily focused on direct interaction between players and easily recognizable Disney stars, the graphics had to be just right, and I am happy to say that they are. Disney Friends contains arguably the best graphics I?‚…ve seen in a DS game to date, with every detail accounted for, down to the varying shapes and colors of leaves in the jungle that Simba calls home.

Likewise, the sound department is also spot on. Unfortunately, most of the voice work is original to the game, but it's still pretty convincing, especially to younger children like my niece and nephew who didn?‚…t notice a change. The background music is also enjoyable, with each song fitting the theme of the world in which you are currently playing. It is in the voice acting, however, that another layer of cuteness becomes apparent, as you are allowed to speak to each character using the DS's microphone, and will actually hear a response such as "I love you", or "Don't go away again, ok?"

Throughout the entirety of the game, which may seem to focus only on particular tasks and missions, there is an underlying message perfect for young children today ?‚™ that in order to have friends and to be liked, you simply have to be yourself and treat people with kindness. Since you are never given a character to design, it furthers this idea that it really doesn't matter what you look like; real friends will stand by you either way.

In the end, it would be pretty hard to find a cuter game than this on the DS today. While other games like the Sims allow you to interact with characters from above, Disney Friends instead places you directly in the action. Without you there is no gameplay, which allows players, specifically children, to have almost total control over their gameplay experience. All in all, if you are looking for a way to get your kids into gaming, or just want to experience a really cute game for yourself, this is a great place to start.

Special thanks to Kathryn Green and Disney Interactive for providing a copy of this title.