Sprung: The Dating Game Review

Sprung front cover

A dating adventure game that promises more than it delivers.

Story

A group of friends is spending their free time on a mountain ski resort. Most, if not all of these individuals are singles, so naturally new sparks of attraction will be lit here and there. Brett has a secret love interest in Becky, who tries to get over her ex-boyfriend. Erica has a crush on Brett but is too shy to tell him, while Becky’s friend Kiki is often referred to as a skank. This resort is set up to be a very eventful one…

The Game

Sprung is a type of story game, or dating simulator rather, where you get to socialize and hang out with friends. You play as either Brett or Becky in two separate story driven campaigns. The game is entirely based on selecting your next line in a conversation from a few given choices. The goal is obviously to hook up with either Becky if you play as Brett or Brett if you play as Becky. You are given some choices through the game though and those choices do play a part in how your relationships develop. The story and events are heavily scripted and linear though.

Content

From the main menu you can select whether you want to play as Brett or Becky. The game supports saving progress in both campaigns at the same time, so you can play them both alternatively if you want. Saving is typically done between chapters but you are also treated with a temporary saving feature in longer chapters – this doesn’t allow you to turn off the game though, but instead is entirely for the sake of not having to replay the whole chapter when things go wrong.

The two campaigns aren’t story canon even though they are about the same persons. That is to say that the events that take place in Brett’s campaign doesn’t necessarily hold true in Becky’s campaign and vice versa. So this game is kind of like two separate episodic dramas where you are free to choose which of the two main characters to focus on.

The game features around 60 chapters of varying length and twelve characters that you can interact with. You’ll be introduced to new characters at a steady pace and you’ll get plenty of chances to get to know them all. In fact, each character is very stereotypical in some way, so their personalities aren’t exactly very original – you’ll recognize the type the moment you see it. However, you will be able to discover some secrets about each person in the game, which certainly adds some character to them.

The game also has items that you can collect such as jokes, chocolate and perfume to name a few – these items can be used (or at least you can try to use them) at any time, but they seldom help you in any way. There are also certain items that you need to use in the right moment to get through the situation, so you can’t exactly rule any items out because you’ll never know when it comes in handy.

The game does use body language as a main way to express emotions and moods. You’ll be able to see the person you talk to on the upper screen of the DS and you’ll see yourself on the lower screen. These figures do use a somewhat elaborate body language and you must take that into consideration as well as what they actually say. Also your own lines are delivered with a gesture, which reflects the tone in which you deliver the message. For what it is, this works quite well, but the same few gestures will be reused over and over again – and sometimes they can be out right misleading.sprung_2

Sprung feels like an open-ended game in the beginning but as you go further into the game you’ll notice that it is indeed very strict in what you can and what you can’t do. You must follow a set script and if you pick the wrong line in a conversation, you’ll often fail the entire chapter and be taken back to the last check point with a short epilogue about your failure. There are moments when this feels extremely unnatural and uncalled for, which entirely ruins the illusion that the game builds up so well in the first few chapters. There are also stupid memorizing mini puzzles that appear to be optional but in fact are not. It just seems very poorly implemented and forced.

The game has a tone sometimes that makes you think that it tries to teach you how to pick up girls. There are numerous hints and tips and even pick up lines that you can learn from the game. This is amusing and all, but it’s obviously nothing to be taken seriously.

As you play the game you’ll be able to reach certain secret goals – improving your relationship with a specific character, or completing a specific chapter for example. These achievements will be rewarded with various unlockable items in the gallery mode of the game. You can unlock items to be viewed in the museum mode, art or music. Because the game does not tell you what you need to do in order to unlock these items it’s not very engaging to pursue them. In any event the items themselves aren’t that exciting – save for perhaps the music, which is quite nice.

The worst thing about the game is obviously the fact that the Game Over screen is never far away, and it makes you replay the same discussions over and over before you’ll find the right thing to say in the right moment. That right line can be very illogical and far-fetched at times – sometimes you must act like a total jerk to make progress and sometimes the least probable line is what it takes.

During the whole game you’ll obviously try to foresee how the person you are talking to will react to each of the lines that you can choose from. Needless to say, their responses aren’t always what you’d expect. Some of this can be explained by how the various personalities prefer various attitudes. For example there’s a girl who likes to be neglected, ridiculed and ignored… Enough said.

Also there are numerous occasions when the lines you can choose from all point to one direction, which feels very restraining.

Controls

As noted above, the game is entirely based on responding with a select line in a conversation – this can be done with either the stylus or the D-Pad and buttons. You must scroll the list of possible responses up and down sometimes and this is best done with the D-Pad as it minimizes the risk that you’ll unintentionally pick the wrong line.

You can take your time when choosing what line to pick, so time generally isn’t an aspect in the game even if the person you are talking to looks like he or she is waiting for your response.

Graphics

The graphics are simple. It looks like a modern cartoon for youths. You’ll see a static background image that reveals what location you are at along with the person you are talking to. The animation of the characters are smooth and well done but as mentioned, it is a little repetitive. There are numerous facial expressions in there as well which can be funny and/or cute but after a while you’ve seen it all. Obviously the game tries to make you focus on the discussion and not disturb you with overly flashy and eventful visuals.

Sound

The music in Sprung is surprisingly good. It consists of pop-ish tunes and some fake electric guitar rock-ish songs. There are some more mellow songs to set the atmosphere for the more romantic moments as well. Generally it’s suits the game very nicely. The only drawback is that the same song can loop over and over again for extended periods of time which obviously grows bothersome.

The game does have sound effects as well, but they do not have a big role.

Summary

Sprung isn’t a very good dating simulator simply because it does not simulate romantic dates all too well. As an adventure game it does have its fun moments if you can accept the idea that the entire game is based on text-based conversations. As long as you don’t expect too much from it, it can make for some amusing game sessions. The game fails in that it forces the player to resort to awkward trial and error tactics and that the game has some annoying, poor, unbearable and misplaced puzzle events in the mix.

Developed By: Guillemot, Inc.
Published By: Ubisoft
Version Reviewed: Nintendo DS
Genre: Simulation / Dating
Players: 1
Alternate Title: Sprung: A Game Where Everyone Scores
Released: 2004-03-11

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