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June 01, 2006

GBA Multi-REVIEW: Franklin’s Great Adventures / The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures / The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond

Until now, I’ve focused the majority of my time reviewing console games, with an occasional detour into PC land. Why? Because, quite simply, I write what we play. While my kids and I have been gaming together on consoles and our computer for about 3 years now, we only just recently added handhelds into the fold.

Between the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advance, my kids immediately gravitated toward the DS, mainly because we started playing Nintendogs right out of the box. Or maybe they took a cue from their dad, who was so excited to get a DS that he was screaming and jumping around like the Nintendo 64 kid on Christmas morning.

But enough about Ritalin. Recently, my kids have begun to discover the Gameboy Advance as well, and to kick off my coverage of handheld games, I’m going to do a 3-for-1 review, taking a look at three games for the GBA, from Danish publisher The Game Factory. The three games are Franklin’s Great Adventures, The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures, & The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond.

Franklin's Great Adventures

Of the three, this game is by far the most ambitious, because it's really three games in one all on its own.

In Story Mode - the main mode of the game, it starts out as an adventure game, as Franklin explores his surroundings, stopping to meet and talk to various characters. A "friend gauge" lets the player know how friendly the new person is.

There is also a significant platforming component to this game, which is where the various playable characters come in. You can play as Franklin, Bear and Beaver, and each one has special abilities that the others don't. And you need to decide which character to control in order to move past an obstacle. For example, Bear can climb and move boulders, Franklin can jump and crawl under things, Beaver can swim, etc. Character switching is as easy as a click of the right shoulder button.

Finally, there are the mini-games, 16 in total. As you move through the game, you need to complete various mini-games, and once you complete them, you can play them any time you want in Mini-Game Mode.

My kids enjoyed this game, though there were a few times where they needed my help, when they were frustrated by some of the platforming. But as long as someone can help them here and there, this is a fun, challenging game for kids, and deeper than most of the licensed kids' games on the market.

The Koala Brothers: Outback Adventures

This was the early favorite for my kids, because it's the easiest to play. This is a mini-game-only game, and is better for short periods, as opposed to a game like Franklin, which can hold their attention for longer. Here are the 10 mini-games, in very rough order of preference...

  • Cold Ice Cream: If you've spent time on any children's websites, you've probably played a game like this before. Match the ice cream order by scooping the right flavor at the right time. Nothing revolutionary here. There must be something about ice cream's inherent deliciousness, 'cuz my kids loved it. Speaking of which, I just wanted to say that Ben & Jerry's Free Cone Day is the best thing since sliced... I don't know... cake? Sliced bread ain't all that.
  • Josie To The Rescue: Classic 2D, side-scrolling platformer. Play as Josie the kangaroo, jumping here and there to collect food & drink, while avoiding obstacles.
  • Fishing: Since my kids liked Gold Miner Special Edition, they enjoyed this game as well.
  • Airmail: My kids didn't love this Super Cobra-esque game at first, but when I showed them that you could do loop-de-loops with the airplane, they changed their mind pretty quickly.
  • Hide 'n Seek: As you move around, you see a flash of movement, and you have to go find the friend hiding behind that rock, bush, etc. My kids didn't play this one much, but I thought it was pretty cute.
  • Help From Above: One of 2 "Sonic's ass" mini-games. In other words, you see the character from behind the entire time. FYI, the term was coined by the guys at Naughty Dog when they were developing Crash Bandicoot for the original PlayStation in the mid-'90s. In this case, you fly an airplane left, right, up & down, to collect wayward balloons. Not bad, but it got old fairly quickly.
  • Postman Alice: Another Sonic's ass game, only this time, you're delivering mail as Alice. Reminiscent of Paperboy, though the point of view is different, and you have fewer antagonizers.
  • Archie's Outback Tennis: Move left, right, up & down to return serve. Much easier to move along the baseline. So-so.
  • A Helping Hand: Side-scrolling, truck-driving game. Nothing special
  • Shopping at Sammy's: Frustrating controls ruined it for my kids.
All in all, not a bad game, but there isn't a whole lot of problem solving going on here, so your kids won't gain much other than a pleasant way to pass the time....

...not that there's anything wrong with that. ;)

The Land Before Time: Into The Mysterious Beyond

On this, my kids and I agree: Of the three games, this was the least favorite and least memorable. Like the Franklin game, you get to play as several different characters with unique abilities, but we missed much of that gameplay element, because my kids didn't have the patience to get very far in this game.

The part they did play was called Across the Gorges - a platforming level where you have to make your dinosaur leap from mesa to mountaintop. Pressing B to knock over dead trees so you can walk across a wide gap was fun...the first couple of times.

They did like stomping on some random prehistoric animals, Mario-on-Goombah style, and timing their cross-gorge leaps to avoid the pterodactyls. Other than that, they weren't too thrilled with this one.


So that's it for my first handheld review. And now that the DS & GBA have squeezed their way into our family gaming rotation, keep an eye out for more to come.


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