Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-20 Nintendo 3DS Adventure E (Everyone) Sanrio Digital / Empire Interactive

Back in September, I had the opportunity to learn about Empire Interactive's Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams via a conference call with P.J. Snavely, Empire's Project Manager. While I've never been a dedicated fan of the Sanrio universe, I was intrigued by Kitty's move to 3D on the Nintendo DS, and actually looked forward to getting into the game.

Hello Kitty: Big City Dreams follows Kitty's move from the country (and the flow of mom and dad's funds) into the Big City, where she is met by familiar friends from Sanrio's line of adorable characters, such as Kerropi, Chococat, Pochacco, and many more. While Kitty's parents were generous enough to purchase a second floor apartment of a decent apartment building, Kitty has her eye on the penthouse suite, located on the fifth floor, and it's up to you to help her get there.

Your journey to the top consists of building friendships with the game's various characters by accomplishing tasks they set out for you. These tasks come in the form of mini-games, and are just as numerous in quantity as they are varied in design. There are the expected mini-games, for instance Kerropi's "Rat-N-Amaze", which plays similarly to Pac-Man and has you controlling a small mouse through a maze of cheese kernels, trying to collect more cheese per round than your two opponents, who occupy the same maze.

Another familiar addition is "Restaurant Dash", which has you waiting tables in Tuxedosam's restaurant a la Flo in Diner Dash. Unfortunately, the game's positive comparisons to Diner Dash stop there, as the game's ?? perspective greatly limits your field of vision, causing you to search aimlessly for customers, thereby wasting enough time for them to become impatient and leave the restaurant altogether.

After completing each game, you are given a certain amount of Friendship Points, which serve as the game's currency, and which can and must be used to move up the ranks in the world, to be able to eventually purchase Kitty's dream penthouse. In the meantime, you can use your Friendship Points to buy Kitty new room layouts (like outer space or other outdoorsy themes), clothing and so on, in order to customize the game more to your liking.

While there are loads more mini-games to take part in, like preparing sushi (using the stylus as a knife to spread rice, add toppings, and cut the seaweed), or jumping rope (tapping on the screen to jump), washing cars, a crane game (like those you see stuffed with toys by supermarket checkout lanes), playing baseball, drawing in a friend's notebook and so on, and while the graphics from a purely visual standpoint are adorable, and filled with every shade of pink and purple imaginable, the vast majority of the game shares one fundamental, extremely annoying, and undoubtedly disappointing flaw, with that flaw being a major technical glitch that causes a noticeable slowdown in gameplay and jerky character movements by all involved.

That is, as you move Kitty throughout the environment in the game's fairly zoomed in view, as you enter new sections of the three parts of the city (Entertainment, Shopping, and Housing districts), the entire screen, including Kitty and all other characters on screen at the time will literally jerk, or spasm for a split second and continue on as if nothing happened. While an occasional hiccup would be understandable for a 3D game that has so much going on onscreen at once, for it to happen consistently, no matter if you are inside a building or running along the sidewalk is inexcusable and makes me wonder just how much quality testing (if any) was performed before the game's release.

Furthermore, if this glitch were simply visual in nature, I might be more forgiving, but it actually hinders your ability to play the game, as in any sort of mission that requires precise timing (like taking pictures of wild animals on a boat ride, or playing batter to Pochacco's pitcher), you are at the game's mercy as to whether or not your actions will be accurately recognized, of if the screen will jerk as you take a swing, picture, etc.

Adding insult to injury, another, more trivial complaint can be had with Kitty's movements throughout the game's environments, aside from her aforementioned spasms, that finds you randomly walking into invisible structures, forcing you to back up and go around whatever imaginary object you just slammed into. This is another consistent error, whether you are using the touch screen to guide Kitty's movements, by dragging the stylus in the direction you wish for Kitty to walk, or whether you are using the directional buttons.

All of this being said, there is one major area of the game that seems to escape this slowdown, with that being Kitty's bedroom (mind you, not the entirety of the apartment building), perceivably because the room is such a small space, and the system isn't as taxed as it is when outside said building. This allows you to enjoy your surroundings in peace, while having the ability to change your clothing, decorate your room and so on.

Back outside, the glitches dominate, and while the game's target audience of younger girls may not be bothered by them or even notice them, they do tend to hinder any fun that an adult may have with the game. They also cause such a distraction that is becomes difficult to notice the game's bubbly, upbeat soundtrack that is one of very few aspects of the game that performs the way it should. All of this I'm sure is set to disappoint Sanrio's many adult fans.

All in all, if you happen to find an area of Hello Kitty Big City Dreams that performs as advertised, there is enough variety and customization to please the most patient or hardcore sections of Hello Kitty's fan base, especially those of a younger generation. However, for those more critically-minded gamers among us, Big City Dreams turns out to be more frustrating than fun.

Special thanks to Kate Hancock and Empire Interactive for providing a copy of this title.