The Squinkies exist to be collected, but not used.
Format: Nintendo DS
Game Title: Squinkies
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: 2011-04-12
How do I know I'm not a cynic? I held out some hope for Squinkies. Silly me.
While doing some soul-destroying internet searches in the name of "research" for this review, I came upon an odd phenomenon: there does not appear to be a singular form for the word "Squinkies". Or, more specifically, "Squinkies" is the singular form of "Squinkies". Google search doesn't offer any consensus as to whether "Squinkie" or "Squinky" is more appropriate, and the official website of Squinkies offers such confounding linguistic constructs as "THIS SQUINKIES COMES IN THE MARVEL SERIES 1 CAPSULE PACK!". One of the "blogs" on the official site uses the word "Squinkie", so I suppose that could be the official word, but given the patterns elsewhere, I'm not entirely sure that "Squinkie" isn't a mistake. I'm increasingly convinced that when I divided the complimentary Squinkies toys that come with this package amongst my three children (four Squinkies, all exclusive to the DS game, come with all copies), I gave each of them a Squinkies.
Really, most of the official press on Squinkies is remarkably careful about not having to use the singular form of the word, and there's a good reason for that: there is no use for them other than to have many of them.
The actual physical form of a Squinkies makes this pretty obvious, I suppose -- each Squinkies is simply a tiny, non-posable, somewhat squishy figure that fits in a slightly less tiny far-too-difficult-to-close ball. Most of the balls are clear. The balls that house the "rare" squinkies are other colors, like yellow and pink. There are playsets you can buy for them, constructs that you can populate with entire cities' worth of little squishy people and animals, but if you put one in a chair, you won't be able to tell whether it's sipping on a cup of tea or reading the newspaper or dancing on that chair in the first step of a drunken Squinkies free-for-all. It simply is, and that has to be enough.
That the utter non-utility of the Squinkies themselves bleeds into the Squinkies DS game is very likely the game's biggest problem -- the Squinkies exist to be collected, but not used. In the game, your prize for collecting a Squinkies is the ability to look at that Squinkies in the context of a Squinkies gallery. You can pick favorites and organize those favorites into a sub-gallery of sorts, but that's the extent of the player's control over the captured Squinkies. The other use, I suppose, would be the ability to get a look at which ones you particularly like, given that any of the capturable Squinkies in the game are likely available for purchase. The four that you get in the package with the DS game won't seem like nearly enough, after all, if you manage to capture the hundreds within the game.
The game itself, then, is the chase to catch them. The player takes on the persona of one of three princesses (pink, blue, or yellow) and then sets off to find the Squinkies. To do so, the game flashes the symbol on one of the four doors in the hub castle, telling the princess to go there. Follow the flashing symbol and the princess is dropped into one of four distinct maps, on which the Squinkies are located (amongst various bad guy-ish things that get in your way a little if you run into them). The princess then walks to the Squinkies, maybe picking up a coin along the way, and is thrust into a puzzle of some sort. If she solves the puzzle in the time alotted, she wins a Squinkies.
Rinse and repeat, with the occasional break of sticking the coins in the Squinkies machine for, yes, more Squinkies.
The upshot of all of this is that the player amasses Squinkies at an alarmingly fast rate, as a mere hour or so can yield 50 Squinkies easily. Amazingly, it takes much less than that hour for the game to grow tiresome. There are precisely six -- six! -- varieties of puzzle to solve, and while they are admittedly fun for a young player playing the game for the first time, it didn't take all that long until even the kids were wondering whether they did something wrong when they got the exact same picture on a slider puzzle that they had gotten just a few turns ago. In addition to the slider puzzles, there are 12-card memory puzzles, a Bust a Move clone, a "catch the fruit before the bad guys do" puzzle, and a "match the example" coloring puzzle. The puzzles are generally fine (aside from what seemed like some boundary issues on the coloring puzzle), but for the most part, they are over in under 30 seconds. They don't have the depth of a free iPhone app. Their brevity is understandable in that the developers surely wanted the kids playing to feel a sense of progress, but if the puzzles themselves are going to be so shallow, there should at least be a lot of them.
The takeaway from the Squinkies game is that play isn't the point. Consumption is the point. Perhaps this can be considered a success, as consumption appears to be the point of the toy, too. While it is only natural that a toy company would market to children by targeting their natural impulse to collect, it is another thing to utterly limit the appeal of the product to collection. There should be play of some sort inspired by the collection, and while pretend play is certainly possible, it sure does seem like a lot of work when it involves cracking and resealing the eggs of these confounded little things.
To its credit, the Squinkies DS game offers a little bit of play, though any lasting appeal that the game has is still tied to collection. That appeal is not nearly enough to buoy a game so lacking in actual play.