Disney’s first major extension of Club Penguin since buying the hugely successful kids virtual world for up to $700 million last year turns out to be a satisfying, kid-friendly point-and-click mystery for Nintendo’s handheld DS. Though it’s short on content and marred by a few notable glitches, the loyal replication of the virtual world’s look and feel along with innovative online features that tie the two together should draw a healthy flock from the millions of “Club Penguin” players.
The online “Club Penguin” is a browser-based world that has conquered younger gamers as ferociously as “World of Warcraft” has addicted their older siblings and parents. “Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force” takes the same setting in which kids are used to simple minigames and basic socialization and, using the DS’ touchscreen, introduces a point-and-click mystery.
The Elite Penguin Force is a secret team that mixes civic-mindedness with a dash of intrigue. When agents aren’t searching for the owner of a lost scarf or helping to deliver pizza, they’re unraveling a deeper mystery that leads to a secret (but not too scary) villain. As they rise through the ranks, players assemble a spy kit full of useful gadgets and a stable of specially trained puffles, the limbless furballs that are popular pets in the online game. Players use these tools to solve puzzles and ultimately, save the island.
“Club Penguin’s” simple cartoony style loses little in the move to the smallscreen. The island’s layout remains essentially the same, but players now explore it from a first-person perspective — which makes it easier to comb each space for hidden coins and clues.
The missions challenge players with object-manipulation puzzles, simple decoding tasks and plain old hunting and rummaging for clues. Any kid who reads well, follows directions and doesn’t mind scouring the island once in a while for new leads should have no trouble. Unfortunately, the gameplay will occasionally frustrate their best efforts: A lack of negative feedback can make it difficult to figure out why penguins don’t always move where the player points, for instance, and some design mistakes in the final action sequence makes it difficult to trigger the right action and complete the game.
It’s rare for a virtual world to connect to a handheld device, which makes “Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Force” stand out — even though the online features are fairly thin. Players can’t bring their penguin avatars to the DS, but they can apply the coins they earn in this game to their online accounts. Other features include a brief newsletter that’s meant to lure players back online after their few hours of handheld fun run out.