Alvin and the Chipmunks
is a running joke that's lasted fifty years. It began as a novelty record featuring witch doctors in the 1950s (speeding up vocals to chipmunk squeakiness) and branched out from there. The song spawned more songs, and then a 1960s cartoon, and then a 1980s cartoon, and then a 1990s cartoon. It's a kid's favorite but a parent's nightmare. After all, we've been hearing those squeaky voices for decades, but to kids, the helium-tainted voice tracks are new and hilarious. So clearly Alvin and the Chipmunks for the Nintendo DS, a rhythm-based game set in the universe created for this year's theatrical release, is aimed at the younger crowd that still digs those whiny lyrics set to contemporary music. But that still doesn't excuse some of the shoddy development íV the DS version's a better rhythm game than the console editions of the design, but it's definitely no Elite Beat Agents and the soundtrack will drive the parental units bonkers.
We'll leave the movie commentary to the film critics and simply stick to the game, since as of this writing all I have to go by is a really embarrassing set of movie trailers and a couple of equally embarrassing television spots currently airing morning, noon, night, and every moment in between. Alvin and the Chipmunks for the Nintendo DS is yet another attempt at the "tap to the beat of the music" style of gameplay. Many games have tried their own style, their own controls, their own mechanics, but there's really only one game íV Elite Beat Agents íV that really nailed it on the touch screen. The Elite Beat Agents have nothing to worry about íV the Chipmunks way of playing might offer something different, but it's not balanced or programmed very well, and it's certainly not challenging.
Alvin and the Chipmunks is essentially a touch screen version of Guitar Hero: icons drop from the top of the touch screen to the bottom in five different locations, and when the icon makes it to the bottom that's when you tap it to the rhythm. In between songs are silly little challenges for bonuses: shouting "Alvin" into the microphone registers a 3000 point extra (though blowing into it is a much less The icons do a good job representing the beat of the song, but because only one needs to be tapped at any moment, there's really no challenge to nailing the timing. On several occasions don't be surprised if you miss a beat due to wonky touch screen recognition; for the most part, it works, but there's no obvious in-game visual or tactile feedback when tapping the icons, so you'll never be sure if you missed because of poor timing or simply because the touch screen failed to register the tap.
Elite Beat Agents this ain't.
And how you do in the song really has no effect on what's going on. Just like the console versions, the chipmunks are simply moving through generic animations as the 3D camera swoops in just as generically. Really screw up a song and you'll still see Theodore jamming on the drums, Alvin rocking out, or Simon pogo-hopping with his guitar. Luckily your eyes are simply focused on the lower screen, so you'll never have any opportunity to watch those chipmunks jam up on the top display anyway.
But god, the soundtrack. Look, I'm all for some of the song selections, and yes, I think it's somewhat charming to hear Alvin's high pitched whine replace Michael Stipe's in "Shiny Happy People," or all three step in to sing in place of the B-52s for "Love Shack." The variety is in the song selection...it covers all sorts of musical genres. But you're not going to get away from the earpiercing shrills of the chipmunks, and you're just going to have to give your ears a break after three or four tracks. Maybe that's good for the lasting play score of the game, I don't know. But parents, for your sanity do yourself a favor and include a set of headphones if you do rush out for a copy of this game.
These songs are unlocked through a Story progression, and here's where the Nintendo DS version really blows it. You have a choice of playing on an easy, medium, or hard difficulty level to work your way through the story mode, and if you decide to back out and up the difficulty because the game's ridiculously easy, you'll have to start the story mode all over again from the start. No problem hereíKbut then when you plow through Hard difficulty and get to the endíKnothing happens. No fanfare, no credits, no summary of what just happened. It just ends. Backing out to the save file, you'll see that you've only finished a third of the game. In other words, beating the game on hard doesn't prove that you can actually complete Easy or MediumíKyou actually have to play through the game two more times on an embarrassingly easy level just to officially complete the game. No thanks.
You obviously know what you're getting into when you get a game branded with Alvin and the Chipmunks: popular songs with high-pitched soundtracks. Fine, I've come to terms with that and sucked it upíKand I don't want to kill myself after hearing screechy vocals to "It's Tricky," "Video Killed the Radio Star," and "Walking on the Sun." But this Sensory Sweep-developed rhythm game doesn't offer a challenge to anyone but the youngest of the young crowd, and the payoff for withstanding the nearly dozen songs in the game isn't worth the effort. Unless your kid has a fixation for the furry, save his and your sanity and simply pick up the infinitely more enjoyable and satisfying Elite Beat Agents.