The DS has received a bit of a kicking in the past year for failing to offer up meaty experiences for the so-called hardcore gamer. Many bemoan the drying up of innovative, fully-featured games in favour of wafer-thin casual titles and less-than-thrilling kiddy games.
While we at Pocket Gamer wouldn't quite go that far (just look at the marvelous Ninja Town or Call of Duty: World At War for recent examples of the platform's clout), it can't be denied that there's been a general shift towards the casual end of the market. Which is why when a classically styled point-and-click adventure such as Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle turns up, we pay a little more attention than we might have done a couple of years ago.
Especially when that classically styled point-and-click adventure has such pedigree, based as it is on a critically acclaimed PC series. In it you control Brian Basco, a science whiz from New York, as he searches for his friend Gina after their plane crashes on a Hawaiian island (isn't that always just the way.)
You search out your friend in time-honoured fashion, by exploring various locations, chatting to the locals and solving numerous convoluted puzzles. We should warn you now that if you find the sort of puzzle where you have to combine a stick with the strap from a set of goggles (cut by using the shard of glass) to form a slingshot to shoot down a bag stuck in a tree as tiresome as this sentence, you might want to look elsewhere.
Even those of you who usually find such tangential solutions exciting might want to reconsider a purchase, as Runaway suffers from a string of flaws and frustrating niggles in virtually every area.
The problems start with the control system. Using the DS's stylus and touchscreen to replace an originally mouse-driven control system is not a new trick, but it appears to be totally new to developer Pendulo. Touching on the too-small menu icons and ill-distinguished points of interest is a constant struggle, and selecting the correct dialogue options when required is erratic thanks to their close proximity and awkward size. What's more, the game's tendency to zoom your view in when you touch the screen often makes the navigation something of a lurching ordeal.
Very much tied in with the control issues is the presentation. The developer has done an impressive job of condensing the lush environments of the PC original onto the portable system's tiny screens, having used apparently pioneering techniques to squeeze in some well animated cut-scenes. However, there's a distinctly low-res fuzziness which, in conjunction with the clunky controls, makes navigating the environments a real chore. You can touch a map icon to highlight points of interest, but this just adds an unwelcome further layer of sticky controls to wade through.
We haven't been too kind about Runaway so far, but it's worth noting that there is a decent adventure lurking behind the borked mechanics. It's a light-hearted and reasonably told romp through a pleasant tropical environment, which almost made us forget the depressing greyness of the English winter. The characters are quite well written, if lacking any real depth - at least to the point where we didn't end up hating the lead character after a number of hours of play. Considering he sports a fluffy bottom-lip beard, designer-tussled hair, a vest top and three-quarter length trousers, that's quite a feat.
Unfortunately though, Runaway falls into the age old trap for point-and-click adventure games when it comes to the core puzzle solving. It expects you to carry tasks out in a rigidly precise order, to the extent that failing to perform a seemingly minor link in the chain prevents things from progressing. For example, one of your first tasks involves scaling a slippery rock, but you won't find the necessary anti-slip spray until you've attempted to climb said obstacle. Once you have, the item miraculously appears. The game is full of such lapses in logic, which only serve to frustrate with their excessive pickiness.
It may seem like we've being overly harsh on Runaway: The Dream of the Turtle. After all, the developer has managed to squeeze a whole PC game into Nintendo's modestly powered unit. But Secret Files: Tunguska did something very similar in the same genre and with far superior results. If you're yet to sample either game, and you fancy a spot of lateral thinking to accompany your portable adventuring, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out which one to go for.