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Bury the Shovelware: Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom

Kaes Delgrego


Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom was published by Konami, one of the most well-known companies in gaming. As a developer, they are known for creating products of the highest quality. Additionally, they don't have too many publishing blemishes on the DS. Developer Backbone Entertainment isn't quite as well-known, but they have been handed the keys to many high-profile franchises: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bomberman, Age of Empires, MechAssault and 1942. Most of the iterations based on these IPs were received relatively fairly.

The Critics Said ...

While the critics didn't despise the title, not many appeared to enjoy it. Issues varied from critic to critic, but a common thread appeared to be the lack of polish, which is a common symptom of shovelware. GameSpot noted that "imprecise controls, shoddy level design, and bland characters spell doom for Death Jr.'s latest adventure." 1UP found that "a whole host of small problems also add up to make each room an absolutely unfun experience." Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom has a Metascore of 47/100.

Rap Sheet

  • The game gives you a lot of information in the first 10 minutes. Obviously, this is standard practice. Yet it seems to be something like a sensory overload. I'm particularly confused by the idea that after killing an enemy, I must switch to a different character in order to move the item that I acquired back to the primary character. It's a bit distracting to have the action broken up by mini-fetch quests.
  • Anyone can appreciate decent cut scenes, and I personally enjoy when a developer creates a comedic and/or entertaining backstory. It's not a requirement, but appreciated nonetheless. These cutscenes are a bit lengthy and unexciting, however. This is especially harmful for a game which aims to succeed based largely on atmosphere. Thankfully, the cutscenes are skippable.
  • The 2D-to-3D switches is nice (think Super Mario Galaxy), but the controls are a bit sluggish in the 3D sections. Maneuvering in 3D is difficult enough with only a d-pad, so it might have been better if they had made the 3D areas more of a top-down experience (think 2D Zelda).
  • I'm up in the air about the graphics. 3D on the DS is very tricky. As we saw with The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, the DS is capable of beautiful 3D. But let us not forget that every development team doesn't have the deep pockets and decades of experience that the Big N does. Often, the prudent judgement is based on the capabilities of a developer / publisher. Particularly when discussing publishers, such is a keystone of this series: negligence and apathy. One can reasonably argue that the fault belongs to Konami for not assuring that the graphics of this title were top-notch, but I personally have difficulty assigning similar blame to developer Backbone Entertainment. But very few people know the details of the relationship between these two parties, so we must simplify and simply label the graphics as admirable but sub-par.

Silver Lining

  • The music is pretty enjoyable. I get the impression that the creators tried to create a Tim Burton-esque atmosphere. If this is the case, then they at least succeeded in the audio department.
  • I like the opening image creation. It's a small touch, but sometimes such attention to detail can make or break a game.
  • The ability to choose between using either the "d-pad and stylus" or "d-pad and buttons" is nice. I appreciate an intuitive touch screen control method, but some may prefer to stick with buttons.

Our Deduction

Some games are easier to label as shovelware than others. I don't take joy in cutting other people's efforts down, but some titles are deserving of the criticism they receive. As you play such titles, you can almost channel their development process: a stereotypical CEO decides he needs more money. Fat, clueless, and chomping on a cigar, he barks at his subordinates to "make more money, and quick!" In a frenzied rush, they slash budgets, approve sub-par projects, and churn out crap with no purpose but to try and finagle their way into an unsuspecting grandmother's wallet. Such games are neither art nor entertainment: they are sophisticated pick pocketers.

Yet other shovelware titles are simply products of a failed development cycle. Whether time was crunched, faults were made, or resources were improperly allocated, they just never stood a chance. I equate these types of games to abused pitbulls who lash at their owners. Yes, they're dangerous animals, but such is the result of neglect. Due to its clear and honest vision coupled with a fairly decent presentation, I wouldn't consider Death, Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom to be shovelware. Yet it comes dangerously close to being put down.

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.

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