Reviewed: January 17, 2005
Released: December 7, 2004
Sprung is one of those games you are either going to “get” or totally dismiss as a silly throwaway title. Admittedly, if I had to actually buy this game I probably wouldn’t. Just looking at it on the store shelf next to the other dozen choices currently available for the DS, it just doesn’t scream, “PLAY ME!” but after a couple of weeks of hardcore dating at the Snow Bird resort, I might just have to rethink my position on Sprung and dating sims in general.
Dating games are hugely popular in Japan, but with the exception of The Sims and the recently released Singles game, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to practice your dating skills on virtual members of the opposite sex in the U.S. Sprung is hoping to change all that or at least sneak into your DS library while your choices are limited.
Sprung is more of an experience than a game. You really don’t “play” Sprung; it’s more about taking a multiple-choice dating test, using common sense to guess the proper path through complicated conversation trees. Unlike the SAT’s however, the game saves and checkpoints quite frequently, so if you do reach an undesirable conclusion you can always retrace your steps and try a different approach to the puzzle.
The first order of business is to pick your character. You can play as either Brett, the hunky ladies man, or Becky, the super-hot blonde just rebounding off a bad breakup with a cheating ex and trying to start a modeling career. Both characters offer lengthy stories consisting of multiple chapters and encounters.
Sprung is a clever mix of story and subtle animation that depicts various moods and tones of conversation. Sometimes you might have the option to say the same phrase but only your posture or facial expression changes, and in this game it’s just not what you say but how you say it.
The story is fairly involved and I have to admit I was drawn in almost immediately. Naturally I played the hot blonde first because I’ve already exhausted all my male dating skills, plus what other game can spark this conversation between two guys: “You know…I’m on this date with Connor and he’s so hot, but when I try to kiss him he says I’m moving too fast and if I ask him to go on a walk he just wants to be FRIENDS.”
Of course the inverse is just as true and you can actually use Sprung as an icebreaker with the ladies. One game situation required me to get out of a blind date that wasn’t going well. This prompted me to approach a nearby female and ask, “So what would you say or do to get out of a bad blind date?” A lengthy conversation ensued and not only did she provide me with the correct answer, she actually started playing MY game.
The strongest element in Sprung is definitely the story, written by TV screenwriter, Colleen McGuiness (North Shore, Miss Match). It does a great job of capturing that teen dating flavor, something you might see on an upcoming MTV reality show like The Real Word: Aspen.
Regardless of which character you play the game consists of one conversation after another where you are either required to obtain an item or just get through the conversation tree with a successful conclusion. Sometimes this is as boring as it sounds and other times, like trying to trick the guys into saying “yes” so you can kiss them, is humorous and even challenging.
You’ll also collect a large inventory of items and phone numbers for your cell phone. Knowing who to call and when to use a certain item with a certain character is often trial and error, but there are occasional clues lurking in the conversation if you dig deep enough.
Considering the limited nature of this game the graphics are quite stunning. The backgrounds are colorful and very detailed and some are nearly photo-realistic. The character animation is excellent and rather subtle, conveying a complex range of emotions. The font is very nice and easy to read, which is a huge plus in a game that is 95% text.
The menus are simple enough and the inventory screen shows all your stuff as icons that are easily recognizable. There is also a bonus gallery where you can view additional artwork as well as the splash screens you unlock after completing each chapter. These screens are also very high quality.
The dual screen is put to excellent use by showing each character, one in each window, so you can see both sides of the conversations and read facial expressions. While you can choose conversation topics with the stylus and the touch screen it’s just as easy (and probably safer) to use the D-pad and the A button.
Nothing is spoken, which is a shame because this game would have been so much better with live voice talent delivering this wonderful dialogue. I’m sure the scope of the game and the sheer amount of dialogue would have blown the DS cartridge wide open.
The music slips into the background but you will notice that it changes with each scene whether it’s dance music at the club or classical music at the fancy restaurant. There is a love theme of sorts during your date and some upbeat tunes when you chat with your friends. It’s all really good while not forcing itself on you.
Each character can take up to 3-4 hours to win and possibly longer if you are going for the best conversation path and trying to earn those “Golden Lines” to unlock bonus dating scenarios. At the most, you can get about 10 hours of enjoyment from this game, but unless you can actually use Sprung as a tool to score a real date it might not live up to it’s $29 price tag.
Sprung seems to be getting a bad rap from the press, but from the look of the forums there are a lot of people playing and enjoying this game and really getting caught up in all the drama. Sure, the whole thing comes off more as an interactive romance novel than a game and I wouldn’t argue the point. The story and the dating concept in whole is likely to appeal to female gamers more than guys, so if your girlfriend or wife is feeling neglected, get her this game.
There isn’t much of a game here, merely a set of choices, where by trial and error you eventually reach the end and win. The same concept has survived for nearly 20 years in a little game called Dragon’s Lair, and it works just as well with the text-only Sprung. As long as you know what to expect you shouldn’t be disappointed.