Reviewed: September 4, 2005
Released: May 18, 2005
Poor Garfield. The lasagna-eating, coffee-slurping, wisecracking feline has definitely seen better days. The tiger-striped icon of the strips (comic strips, that is) was once the nation’s most popular print character – and now he is simply an antiquated memory of times past.
I first found Garfield at the young age of 10, way back in 1982 – my best pal, Brian, loaned me a half-sized book that chronicled a series of absolutely hilarious comic strips featuring a dry-witted puss, his dim-witted doggie pal Odie, and his clueless owner Jon. Brian and I were hooked on the books, and ran to the store for each successive release thereafter.
Garfield was all the rage back in those early days of Regan. But the feline’s popularity receded almost as quickly as it came. Why?
Well, my personal belief has always been that people began to lose their personal connection with Garfield as a result the release of the Garfield Saturday morning cartoon – in which the artists decided to give Garfield a dry monotonic voice, along the lines of comedian Steven Wright. For many readers, the vocal choice was a huge disappointment, as it didn’t exactly match the voice they had imagined for their feline friend.
It wasn’t long after that another feline-friendly comic, Calvin and Hobbes, came to the forefront and grabbed the hearts of readers with its intelligent reflections on the coming-of-age of a young boy and his stuffed animal pal. Garfield nearly faded out as a result.
But the feline never entirely left the Sunday strips, and some have even tried to revive his popularity with a couple of recent (and sad) live action films, as well as a number of video games – including the subject of this review Garfield and His Nine Lives for the Game Boy Advanced.
Garfield and His Nine Lives features nine themed stages (hence his nine lives) that find our pretentious kitty hopping and kicking his way through a small menagerie of enemies while collecting the precious items required to clear each stage. Most of the game plays out from a 2D side-to-side perspective, with a few areas venturing up or down or into secret areas cubbyholes and underground areas.
Garfield’s main mode of attack is his giant kick, which is quite successful in eliminating baddies if timed correctly. And really, the only difficulty that Garfield and His Nine Lives poses to the gamer – and I mean the only difficulty in the entire game – is in timing the lengthy kicking attack animation to effectively make contact with in-motion enemies.
More often than not, the gamer will find himself kicking a moment too soon or too late, and getting nailed by the enemy while Garfield is lost somewhere in the animation. Thankfully, the game has a liberal health meter (shown as a pan of lasagna, no less) that takes four or five hits to deplete, and can be filled by randomly placed servings of the tasty pasta pie.
Garfield also has a ground-smashing belly-flop attack, done by combining the down direction with the kick after the apex of a jump. While this attack is convenient for smashing static objects and/or opening below-ground secret areas – trying to use this move for any real enemy deterrence is difficult to time correctly. The movement is handled quite well overall, and the game features some nice little touches – like being able to spring up and onto ladders or objects.
The game is relatively short – with each of the nine levels topping out at about 5-10 minutes. Given the frequent cheap deaths (caused by the laggy attack time), a seasoned gamer can easily finish the game in just over an hour.
One weird thing is that the game in missing pretty much any menu screens at all. A series of static pictures opens the game and from there it’s a simple click-click and the game is running. While this is a bit shocking at first, it does minimize the annoyance of kids say “Dad, what to I pick?” and the accidental game deletions.
Graphically speaking, Garfield and His Nine Lives is a fairly run of the mill GBA 2D side-scrolling platformer. The Garfield character does not stray (pun) too far from the pudgy look of the old-school comics, and the sprite-based animation frames meld together well enough to give an air of fluidity to the movement.
The enemy characters are a bit less detailed, especially in terms of their animation frames – where they jerkily hop around in set patterns. The backgrounds are somewhat bland and unimpressive – but they do get the job done.
And trying to comment on the menu system is a joke, since its minimalist – nearly nonexistent – state leaves little to be judged. What is there seems to work just fine, but trying to find specific options and screens can be a bit of a task.
Aside from the whacks and twacks overlying the looping background theme music, there is little-to-no sound to be found in Garfield and His Nine Lives. Knowing the monotone voice that the artists gave Garfield way back in the 80’s, and given that the recent movies starred Bill Murray doing the voice work (who I enjoy as an actor, but not as a Garfield) – having not even a pinch of voice work is probably a blessing in disguise.
I will say that the background themes are well done, and are comfortable enough to listen for the hour and a half it takes to complete the game.
I played through the entirety of Garfield and His Nine Lives in a single evening. And believe me, I do not mean in a single long stretch – it was honestly an hour an a half, maximum. For an adult like me, Garfield and His Nine Lives is just too simple, and too short.
But for young kids – the target audience, whether they know the Garfield character or not – Garfield and His Nine Lives is a fairly solid introduction to the platforming genre. That’s not to say that there is not a number of better games out there to introduce kids to gaming (i.e. every Nintendo-branded Mario remake for the GBA), but a solid kids game nonetheless.
Adults are not going to find much of a challenge in Garfield and His Nine Lives - but kids just might dig it as long as they have some inkling as to who this fat cat really is.
I really have to wonder if they will.