Helter-skelter

The World Ends  with a bang, not a whimper
By MITCH KRPATA  |  May 19, 2008
2.5 2.5 Stars

080523_twewy_main
LEARNING CURVE Just when you’ve got the hang of it — here come different playable characters!

The World Ends With You | For Nintendo DS | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Square Enix-Jupiter | Published by Square Enix
The World Ends with You is brimful of ideas — new gameplay quirks erupt from it like popcorn from an industrial-strength popper, and you can feel as if you were trying to catch all those piping-hot kernels before they hit the ground. This level of creativity is always welcome, though the sheer iconoclasm of The World Ends with You can also make you feel as if you were climbing up a greased pole. Imagine having to read a book in which the text is printed vertically.

TWEWY is a product of the same team who brought us Kingdom Hearts, that wholly unexpected cross-breeding of Square’s Final Fantasy series with the Walt Disney universe. This one has a darker tone. The characters awake to find themselves enrolled in a game. Their objective: to survive seven missions across seven days. Fail and you’re erased from existence by the game’s overseers, a class of beings called Reapers.

What’s more, though the objective may be simple, the rules are not. Each mission has a different, often oblique goal; figuring out what to do is as much a part of advancing as actually doing it. You wind up doing some mild puzzle solving — mostly reading the minds of non-player folks. The story line has the characters stuck in a netherworld between life and death: they perceive the world as usual, but they’re invisible to ordinary people. Scanning people’s thoughts isn’t much different from the random conversing that marks most role-playing games, but it adds to this one’s eerie atmosphere.

Nominally an action RPG, TWEWY makes heavy use of the unique attributes of the Nintendo DS. It’s here that the dual-edged nature of the game’s appeal first asserts itself. Your character acquires powers by equipping certain pins, each of which grants him a particular ability. He battles on the touchscreen while you use the stylus to activate this or that power. This sounds better in theory than it works in practice. For one thing, you have to pull him around the screen to keep him out of danger, and that action works as intended only about half the time. The same is true of the different attacks, each of which requires some manner of slashing, tapping, or drawing.

But wait, there’s more! Battles occur on both screens, with more than one character. Although you can choose to ignore the character on the top screen and let an “auto play” feature take over, if you want to excel, you need to swap your attention back and forth. It’s not hard to know which character to focus on: they pass a glowing green disc to each other. Making them do what you want is another story. And just when you’ve got the hang of it — here come different playable characters!

Not only does TWEWY present a steep learning curve, it seems to reward your not playing it for stretches — as if the designers wanted you to replicate the seven-day span of the game within the game. You gain the ability to power up your pins when the Nintendo DS is powered off. You can also set the game to “mingle,” which allows your characters to power up if your DS encounters another one in the wild. And you can improve your characters’ attributes by giving them food that takes a real-life day to digest. All very cool stuff, except that it makes not playing the game an integral part of the game. At what point does a good idea get away?

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