Alex Rider: Stormbreaker
Review posted February 2007 by Edwin Kee
Publisher: THQ www.thq.com
Developer: Altron www.altron.co.jp
Release Date: September 2006
ESRB: E for Everyone
Despite the British film industry picking itself up this year with the amount of Britons being nominated at the Oscars, there have been some duds to go along with the gems. I would lump Alex Rider in the latter, and we are here to see today how it makes the leap from the silver screen to the world of handheld gaming portables. THQ, a publisher who is famous for producing kiddy games, have teamed up with Altron to bring you Alex Rider: Stormbreaker for the Nintendo DS. Despite the film having a rich premise of situations for the game to take advantage of, somehow or rather the developer failed to capitalize on the rich storyline by bungling up nearly every level with different gameplay styles - we will talk about that in more detail below.
Alex Rider is a young man who, upon discovering his uncle Ian Rider's death was actually a murder, was given information by the British Military Intelligence (MI6) that his uncle was an MI6 agent. In hindsight, Alex realized that his uncle was actually training Alex himself to be an agent when he grows up. Unfortunately for Alex, the MI6 capitalized on his curiosity by blackmailing him into investigating a tycoon, Herod Sayle - the very same person his uncle was tracking before his untimely demise. The MI6 is extremely suspicious of Sayle's intention in providing free computers for every school in the U.K. in exchange for a British citizenship. I shall not reveal any more of the plot as you will have to find out for yourself how the story pans out.
Stormbreaker does stick to the movie plot pretty closely in unfolding the game. The game is basically a 3D action adventure, and this is where the story advances while keeping you in its clutches. When it comes to variety in gameplay, you could say that Stormbreaker possesses much more in quantity compared to the majority of other DS titles, but definitely pales in comparison to party titles such as Wario Ware: Touched! and Mario Party. Levels consisted of tracking down a person without being caught, investigating a place, covert operations, and the usual beat-em-up scenarios. Most, if not all levels, end with a boss. These boss fights are unimaginative as there are no weak spots to discover - it is always a slugfest and all you need to do is parry with the correct timing and you'll come up tops.
All the action happens on the top screen while the other display is used to show a map. Another interesting aspect of the game is the inclusion of Alex Rider's very own Nintendo DS (although it beats me why he used a Phat instead of the sleek new lite - I mean, he's a spy, right? Spies deserve the very best toys. Just look at James Bond.) and the in-game DS can be used to add extra functionality depending on the selected cart. Do take note that Alex's DS, very much like yours and mine, comes with an extremely limited amount of battery, so use it only when you really need to. He might not have Brain Age or Cooking Mama, but what his carts do are to tell you where all the helpful items are located on a level or even unleash a smoke bomb to render yourself invisible for a few moments.
There is a fair share of mini-games wedged in between 3D action levels, and these mini-games often offer a refreshing break from the drudgery of beating two bit thugs up. Some of them include kicking down henchmen who can't ride a bike to save their life, playing pool against an enemy AI, and even tracking someone down in the station without being sniffed out. These mini-games can be played later on via the main menu, and thankfully there are no passwords required to unlock them. All you need to do is progress far enough into the game and they'll automatically be available.
Controls are pretty basic - the touch screen is hardly used, and this is to be expected in an action game. You will be spending most of your time with the D-Pad and buttons, with the stylus being sparingly used. Despite the promising premise, I am disappointed to report that the controls in Stormbreaker are extremely frustrating. Altron seemed to have botched up the collision detection algorithm, making you walk into invisible walls, punch thin air when the enemy is right in front of you, doors that open only when you stand precisely in front of them. You can't even sneak up on enemies ala Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, as maneuvering around boxes is virtually impossible.
You engage in hand-to-hand combat most of the time, where throwing a few punches and kicks will best the average henchmen every time. Just look out for the counterattacks, as the collision system might let you take a few licks despite pressing the block all the way.
We all know that the Nintendo DS is no graphical powerhouse, but it must be noted that Altron did do a good job when it comes to the 3D engine (visually, of course). Given the display size and resolution, the surrounding environments have more than enough variety in the textures without making you feel as if you're walking about in one big level throughout the entire game. The characters are also well done, featuring enough facial mapping to let you differentiate one person from another. I personally think that some of the characters have hands that are a wee bit too long. You won't be disappointed by the graphics, but neither will you be blown away.
It is interesting to note that Stormbreaker takes the route of many Nintendo Entertainment System games, allowing you to access the various compositions under the 'Sound Test' option in the main menu. Overall, you could say the background music does set some of the game's pace, but these tunes aren't exactly the most memorable in recent memory. Sound effects are not groundbreaking, featuring the usual repertoire of environmental sounds along with bone crunching punches and kicks. Due to limited space on the DS cart, most voice-over segments have been replaced by on-screen text, so be prepared to read through a bunch of words throughout the game.
It is pretty sad to see the potential of turning this movie license into a truly memorable game flushed down the toilet by what seemed like a rushed job. Despite the many settings in the game which could be improved upon simply by coming up with a better collision detection algorithm, Altron failed to take advantage of this situation and instead released a half-baked game. Younger fans of Stormbreaker might find the game a great title to pick up, but I strongly recommend seasoned veterans to turn their attentions elsewhere unless they are looking for a title just to kill time. Another gripe I have with the game would be the relatively short time taken to complete it. Stormbreaker doesn't take more than a few sittings before the ride is over. Replay value lies only in the mini-games, as I can't foresee anyone going back to the game just to complete it again.