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Written by  :  SomeRandomHEFan (84)
Written on  :  Jun 14, 2020
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars
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Equal parts excellent and terrible

The Good

Though this game was developed and released at almost the same time as Freddi's other Junior Arcade, it is a very different game in almost every regard.

Compared to other Junior Arcades, this one's genre is harder to classify. Its main source of inspiration was probably Pac-Man, seeing how it takes place in mazes full of tight corridors, and the gameplay primarily revolves around collecting all of a level's kelp seeds while dodging various enemies.

But there's a lot more to the game than just that. It also has a number of puzzle elements such as keys, slippery tiles and boulders that can stun enemies or smash through obstacles. It gradually introduces those alongside new enemies as it goes on. And the level design tries its best to utilize each element to its full potential. Thanks to this, the game has a lot more depth and variety than the average Junior Arcade.

It also helps that in a very surprising move for a non-adventure game from Humongous Entertainment, the game actually has a reasonable length. 50 levels is about right to explore everything it has to offer without outstaying its welcome.

Furthermore, this is one of the only Humongous games to offer keyboard controls. And it really needs them, too. This just isn't the kind of game that can be played properly with a mouse.

Just about the only thing the game has in common with Water Worries is that they both have outstanding soundtracks by Jeremy Soule. This is the fourth game in a row to feature him as a composer, and his inspiration still hasn't run dry in the slightest.

The Bad

You'd think a game that's a near-complete antithesis to Water Worries would be flawless, but unfortunately, this game shows that being the opposite of boring, repetitive and effortless is not an inherently good thing either.

You see, it's actually pretty hard and unforgiving once the training wheels are off. Though it may have plenty of puzzle elements, you're still going to spend most of the game dodging enemies. In fact, you'll often have to deal with them even during the puzzle-solving process, since there are few places you can hide from them. The idea behind them is that you're supposed to predict their movement and react accordingly. The problem with that is that there is remarkably little logic to it. The movement patterns of most enemies are largely random. You can only expect them to move in your direction when they notice you, but I never managed to figure out precisely what it is that gets their attention, other than that it requires you to be somewhere nearby. Because of this, you'll often have to spend extended periods of time waiting for enemies to stop hanging around where you need to go. Ironically, I actually found the dogfish to be one of the less annoying enemies. A fast enemy that always tries to chase after you sounds like he should be a real threat, but his consistent aggression makes him much easier to predict and control.

The developers realized that they can't expect players to successfully evade enemies all the time, which is why they gave you the ability to briefly immobilize enemies by shooting bubbles at them. But your ammunition is limited and can't be refilled very often. It's a decent idea in theory, but there are plenty of locations where even that is actually pretty difficult. Enemies that hang out around teleporters in particular are a nightmare to deal with even if you're willing to shoot them. What's more, the game has no visible ammunition counter. It often made me really hesitant to shoot enemies because I had no idea how carefully I needed to preserve my bubbles. What's more, even though they're clearly designed to be a last resort for when you get cornered, there are some enemies that just don't seem to be possible to evade without either using bubbles or getting lucky (and even rare cases of enemies that seem to outright require bubbles no matter what).

Because the game offers you no truly reliable way to deal with its enemies, you're probably going to lose lives pretty frequently. Which means you're going to need plenty of extra lives if you want to make it through the game without seeing the game over screen. But that's not so easy either. Though there is an item that directly gives you an extra life, it's pretty uncommon, so you'll want to obtain additional lives by scoring points. However, that's quite a challenge as well.

While many levels are filled to the brim with optional sources of points, many of these goodies are hidden behind puzzles that can easily be broken if you make a mistake. And when you do, there's no way to reset them. And you're going to need quite a lot of them to get any lives, so you better be very good at flawlessly solving puzzles while also dodging enemies at the same time. You'll also need the patience to backtrack through already cleared rooms over and over again, because some of their goodies spawn at random and won't be available at first. And have to be very careful to always leave one kelp seed alone until you're done with everything else. The interface doesn't tell you how many are left, so you can easily end up clearing a level by accident before you're done scavenging it for additional ways to score points.

And we can't forget about the periodic bonus rooms either. Thankfully, accessing them is a piece of cake. You just need to find an invisible button that makes a scepter spawn that you need to collect. But it despawns automatically after a short period of time, so you better hurry. And make sure not to accidentally press the button a second time. Oh, and of course you also need to look out for the second invisible button that can only despawn the scepter. Once it's collected, the bonus room's entrance will then appear somewhere on the map. But it also has a time limit, and you won't get any second chances with this one, so you better make sure every spot on the level has already been rendered easily accessible. See? It's all perfectly straightforward.

It's actually rather impressive just how much more complicated the game becomes when you're hunting for points, but trying to deal with all of this can be rather daunting. Because of how much extra time you'll have to spend to farm points effectively, chances are that doing so is just going to cost you more lives than you'll gain. And if you don't have what it takes to gain lives quicker than you lose them, then points are almost meaningless, seeing how you'll be getting a game over all the time, and thus won't ever get a good score.

The game also has a really bizarre approach to movement. For some reason, you cannot simply come to a halt by letting go of the arrow keys. Freddi will always keep on moving in her last direction until there's something in her way. So you often have to steer her against a wall on purpose just to stop her. But even that isn't always easy. You see, you can't simply have Freddi turn towards a wall that's already next to her. She still needs some room to bump into it first. Which means that if you're in the middle of a straight corridor, you actually can't come to a halt at all. If the need arises to wait here, you have to keep endlessly moving back and forth. If this sounds difficult to understand, I can assure you that it took me a while to grasp as well. Perhaps the developers were trying to make the controls more child-friendly? If so, they failed spectacularly. They took what could have been a simple control scheme and turned it into something far more more confusing and inelegant. To be fair, there are some obstacle-pushing puzzles that rely on these movement restrictions in order to work, but they also make such puzzles a lot more frustrating at the same time, especially when they rely on sponges that you can easily destroy by accident just because you kept moving in their direction a bit too long.

There's also a level editor, but it's been stripped down to an almost pitiful extent. It only allows you to build tiny levels with an equally tiny fraction of the gameplay elements.

The Bottom Line

I have extremely mixed thoughts about this game. It's a much deeper experience than previous Junior Arcades, but you'd have to be a pretty hardcore player to get the hang of all the quirks that make it so difficult to master. Personally, I often found it hard to even complete individual levels without a game over. And that was without paying much attention to optional content. Eventually, I just couldn't handle the frustration anymore and dropped my playthrough. I did another run with both of the Junior Helpers turned on, giving me infinite ammunition and lives. That way, I was at least able to experience more of the game's content without having to constantly fear running out of lives. But of course, this pretty much broke a lot of the game's challenges. Although even then, there were still plenty of parts I found unfair.

It may sound like I'm simply not a good player, but I have yet to see any video playthrough of this game that actually makes it through the whole game without game overs and without either of the Junior Helpers. The kinds of people who can do such a playthrough may very well get plenty of enjoyment out of this game, for they are the only ones who can really experience everything it has to offer properly. But for anyone else, I can only recommend it with plenty of reservations.