August 23, 2004 - Among the great many things lacking in Sega's Amazing Island, the lack of a warning label sticks out the most. While some unfortunate gamers may suffer epileptic seizures while playing, nearly all may require minor thumb surgery promptly after finishing the game. Or at the very least, some will be in the mood for a lengthy thumb massage. As for this editor, well let's just say writing this review turned out to be a tad more painful than originally envisioned. You see, Amazing Island is a game calling for the near exclusive use of the chubbiest of digits. This game wants your thumb. And it wants it bad. So bad, in fact, that a bulk of the game sees you thumbing the controller as if there were no tomorrow.
But we'll get to that a little later. For now, here's a bit of back-story: you play as a young kid (you choose the gender at the beginning of the game) on a quest to save a magical kingdom from a menacing force called the "Black Evil." It's not the most inventive story ever, but the lack of narrative complexity is forgivable. After all, how many times have gamers been sent after "X" amount of artifacts to restore "X" in the magical kingdom of "X" and had a fun time doing it? As long as the game plays well, it'll be easy to overlook Amazing Island's narrative laziness. Herein lies the problem: Amazing Island's gameplay is as uninspired as its story.
Although at first, Amazing Island promises more than an all-out twitch fest. You start the game by creating a character, which includes just two options: gender and name. A mystical book then transports you from your cozy bed on Earth to the Amazing Island. Turns out denizens of the island calling themselves the Maboo Tribe summoned you to help rid their land of the "Black Evil." Within moments of arriving, you're attacked by an "Eveling," -- a denizen of the Maboo Tribe possessed by the "Black Evil." But you can't win the fight alone, and so you're given a magic card with the power to create a monster. Together, you win the first victory against the "Black Evil." Soon afterward, you meet with the chief of the Moboo Tribe who gives you the rundown on what's going on. Apparently, the Moboo lack weapons, balls, or both. Point being, they can't reclaim their land from the evil that has consumed it. That responsibility falls to you.
As in the first encounter, you'll spend the rest of the game fighting the "Black Evil" through monster intermediaries. So, before heading out, you'll need to trade in your first monster (it's weak and generally lame) to create a new one. Monster creation is undoubtedly Amazing Island's strongest feature. Tinkering with the options in the monster creator dishes out hours of entertainment. It's a good thing you'll need to spend hours perfecting monsters anyway, because this game wouldn't have much going for it otherwise. Initially, the process seems overly simplistic, with your options limited to aesthetic upgrades. You can change a monster's coloring, skin pattern and accessories. As you progress through the game, you'll get to choose a monster's frame, which dictates its strengths and weaknesses.
When creating a new monster, the Moboo present two primary options: making one from scratch, or creating one based on a personality questionnaire. The personality quiz presents questions ranging from the bland: "What's your favorite number?" To the bizarre: "You find a funny-looking vegetable. What do you think it tastes like?" The Moboo take your answers and then choose the frame of your monster. Players can then take over and apply the final changes such as coloring and accessories. The process works well and delivers quite a bit of fun. The choices you make affect your performance in the game, so the system even adds a level depth to Amazing Island. For example, thin monsters move faster while short, stocky monsters have greater strength. This leads to the breeding of monsters to compete in specific events the key to success in Amazing Island. Need to win a flying mini-game? Breed a dragon. Need to win a race? Create a skinny monster with stamina.
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