For: Nintendo DS
Genre: Action, Adventure, Caper
ESRB Rating: Everyone (10+)
In a futuristic world where insects have scaled up their bodies & brains to become intelligent beings, Gamecock Media Group's Insecticide offers a nice genre-bending hybrid of the classic action-shooter and the not-quite-dead-yet adventure game.
Staring apprentice Detective Chrys Liszt and her mentor Roachy Caruthers, Insecticide heaps delicious and generous measures of engaging characters and terrific storytelling and blends them together in a tasty murder mystery at Nectarola, the most famous soft drink company on the planet.
Controlling Chrys, you're alternately challenged with 3rd-person action/shooter chases and systematic puzzle-solving detective missions lasting some 15 to 60 minutes (dependent on your reflexes and braininess). The investigation bits are diverse but woven tightly with the overarching story. Frustratingly, they're also completely devoid of a "hint system," so if you're stuck, tough luck. Makes for genuinely challenging gameplay, sure, but also might make you shut the thing right the heck off and go play something else; a dangerously nagging maybe-issue that might have been fixed with simple rollover highlights on "clickable" objects, but no. Oh well.
Still, if you can get past that or even relish the tenaciously cryptic, Insecticide does have its saving graces. Countless, heaven-sent checkpoints pepper the action based missions, for example, so you're resurrected very nearby after dying from one too many miscalculated jumps.
Also, developer Crackpot Entertainment was kind enough to include an old school "Button Mode" that forgoes the typical, stylus activated DS gimmickry in favor of a conventional D-pad and button-only interface. Good thing, too, as the optional "Stylus Mode" is, as you might surmise, gimmicky as all get out, poorly emulating a keyboard & mouse-type interface with d-pad controls for movement (like keys) and the touch-screen for mousing. Problem is, double-clicks for jumping are double-taps on DS, which is about as effective as calligraphy with a crayon. Stylus Mode completely disregards lefties, too, with no right-hand directional-button control options (though most other games include such a simple, mirrored interface). Again, good thing there's Button Mode.
Visually, Insecticide is an awkward mix of good looking characters and environments (by middling-powered DS standards, anyway) offset by occasionally gauche menus and garish text. Note to developers: Bright fluorescent green fonts on taupe-gray backgrounds are not interesting, fun, or pretty, even if your game is set on an apocalyptic Earth, dominated by genetically modified super insects. Green blood is cool, expected even, but glaring green text = bad. The stark white on plain black is serviceable, when it occurs, but generally, at least have the decency to include a disclaimer, something along the lines of "WARNING: If you are reading this text you are going to go blind."
In the end, Insecticide is definitely a niche player's game with lovingly created worlds and characters playing out a tasty mix of platform-hopping action and cerebral, puzzle-intensive adventure. Non-niche players, however, probably won't see past the gruesome menus and glaring text because, you know, they went blind.