Bury the Shovelware: Best of Tests DS

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the world of gaming it often comes across as a slap in the face. Let us distinguish between inspiration and outright mimicry. It's not at all uncommon for a good game to have strong roots in a previously-released title. Descendants of popular titles are acceptable and standard, as many early popular arcade games including Galaxian and Centipede were heavily based on the groundbreaking Space Invaders. Even the industry-revolutionizing Super Mario Bros can be seen as the prototype for nearly every side-scrolling game since, itself having traces of Pitfall.

But in order to avoid being a cheap imitation, the inspired game must expand upon or branch the formula in a new direction. Before its release, the excellent Banjo-Kazooie was seen by some gaming journalists as nothing more than a Super Mario 64 clone. In hindsight, that's an amazingly foolish indictment. But there's the trick: while they do share similarities, they are very different games. Banjo-Kazooie did what a good game inspired by another should do: use a solid foundation and build upon it. Some titles, like Best of Tests DS, takes the solid Brain Age foundation, but instead cuts it open and squeezes lemon juice inside.

00:00:13 - Title screen character: DO NOT WANT.

00:00:20 - I start with "intelligence tests" on easy and short, because those are the only options available. It's like an AP student being forced to start in a remedial class and then working his or her way up to an appropriate level. Makes sense to me!

00:02:41 - The first test is done. The insultingly easy questions were apparently lifted from a Saturday Night Live parody of Jeopardy. My score is a 10/10, but that's not bragging. This sucks. I really want to quit, but decide against it for the cause of shovelware examination. The things I do for you readers!

00:03:25 - Now I'm doing a memory test. This includes inventive and intriguing tasks such as displaying a 4 digit number and then asking "what number did I just show you?" SERIOUSLY??? To quote Colonel Jessep in A Few Good Men, "What would you like to discuss now? My favorite color?" To be fair, this is the "easy" test. I'd like to try the "medium" or "hard" tests, but in order to do so, I need to complete 3 "easy" tests on each length: "short," "medium," and "hard." I don't see things lasting that long.

00:04:14 - Now I'm attempting "training," in which I'll be learning about Mathematics. It's kind of sad when you long to be playing Homie Rollerz. "13 - A = 8. Solve for A." Perhaps the biggest problem here is that, well, this is no fun. At least Brain Age attempted to keep you interested. The tasks were short but absorbing, with a definite game-like feel. This is organized, as the name suggests, like a test. And who doesn't want to spend their free time taking tests? The answer is EVERYONE.

00:05:46 - If there's one thing that can push a poor game over the edge into the pit of shovelware, it's bad presentation. The game occasionally freezes while it attempts the incredibly CPU-heavy task of presenting the next question. I'm clocking out.

Edutainment is a tough gig. I get the impression that some publishers enlist a small amount of resources to a lame edutainment title mainly to have a "we do good things too!" rebuttal ready when they come under fire after a depressed loner opens fire in school and claims that it was the publishers' game that inspired the malicious act. In other words, edutainment seems to be more of an end with no regard to the means. So when a developer is tasked with making an educational title with meager resources, all signs point to abomination.

To reiterate: there's nothing wrong with being inspired. Art and entertainment are very derivative things and tend to build on previously established ideas and themes. Paul McCartney once said that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely considered the best album of all-time, was heavily influenced by the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. In this case, Best of Tests DS is the equivalent of re-recording Queen's immortal Bohemian Rhapsody as this. No, that's not fair. That hand-squeezing guy is pretty talented.

In gaming, the term shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit. Bury the Shovelware takes a closer look at these titles, typically those that inhabit the lower end of metascores. It attempts to: 1) find out where and how the developer went wrong 2) identify common traits present in most shovelware 3) measure how long the game can be suffered.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.