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Alex Rider: Stormbreaker

For: DS   Also on: GameBoy

More like a storm in a teacup

Product: Alex Rider: Stormbreaker | Developer: Altron | Publisher: THQ | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Film/ TV tie- in, Party/ mini- games | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Alex Rider: Stormbreaker DS, thumbnail 1
Who among Pocket Gamer's older readers didn't spend their schooldays daydreaming about being a spy for MI6 and saving the world? Equally, who among our younger readers would want to be one now, when a job with MI6 means being criticised for deadly failings in intelligence?

Perhaps that shift is one reason for the success of the Alex Rider series of books. Described as Harry Potter meets James Bond, they chronicle the actions of orphaned teenager Alex Rider, who just happens to work for MI6 and hence regularly saves the world without having his intelligence besmirched in any way. His glamorous life also makes him a prime candidate to be a successful movie character and, as the film of first book Stormbreaker arrives in the UK, it comes complete with its own movie tie-in game.

Like the other big tie-in games of the summer, Pirates of the Caribbean and Cars, Alex Rider: Stormbreaker attempts to offer something a little bit different, interspersing eight mini-games within a generic thirdperson action game that loosely follows the movie's plot.

These mini-games offer everything from motorcyling and horse riding to avoiding obstacles while going down a rope slide and hiding from comedian Jimmy Carr as you trail him through Liverpool Street Station. (Carr is a character in the film, so it's not that strange, although we doubt a yellow searchlight emanates from his feet in the film as it does in the mini-game.) You'll even blow into the microphone to lift up a parachuting Alex through various loops over London.

The idea behind these is replayability. The main part of the game can be completed within a couple of hours, so the touchscreen-friendly mini-games offer a place to come back and improve your high scores, or in the case of the excellent snooker simulation, just play snooker. The problem is that with the exception of the snooker you won't really want to play any of them again.

As for the main action game – beat-'em-up adventuring as Alex Rider – too many of the basic elements contrive to make playing an uncomfortable experience. The wooden animation of Alex and the way he judders uncontrollably whenever he approaches a wall is frankly criminal. The gamemakers have also choosen to represent Alex's shadow as a fat dot, which does nothing to give the impression he's running on the floor, as a good shadow should. Instead it seems to have a life of its own, shifting around all over the place.

It almost seems a blessing in disguise that it's all over so quickly. But it's a shame, as there are some good aspects.

Each of the five levels is broken down into various sub-levels, and you'll wander through several lovely environments – a big, open waterfall-filled area is particularly stunning. Scattered throughout are guards, who you have to dispatch with a combination of kicks, punches and blocks. It's easiest if you sneak up behind them and launch a surprise attack, as they won't have time to react. Otherwise, you just have to stand tall, block occasionally, and duke it out. Functional, but not particularly fun.

The only difficult foes are the end-of-level bosses, who have more powerful attacks. They also boast some of the wackiest kicking animations you'll ever see in a game that doesn't involve can-can dancers.

One final neat twist worth mentioning sees Alex, who uses a DS in the movie, kitted out with his own in-game dual-screen console, which you can use to see where all the guards or items in a level are, as well as get hints from the foxy Mrs. Tulip Jones when you're stuck.

There's also a toy shop where you can unlock and buy new gadgets, outfit changes and a gallery of movie imagery. Everything, in fact, except for the improvements you'll crave for the main game.

Even factoring in all the middling mini-games, the package just isn't good enough – and we're taking into account that the game costs £10 less than the normal price of newly-released DS titles.

Ultimately, Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, like Cars before it, is something of a missed opportunity. Yes, we'd all like to pretend we're secret agents saving the world, but we'd also like to walk around it without looking like a member of The Thunderbirds. In the end, we're left neither youthfully shaken nor stirred.
Alex Rider: Stormbreaker
Reviewer photo
Jon Jordan | 29 July 2006
There are a lot of good ideas in Alex Rider: Stormbreaker, but the main game is too clumsy for us to recommend it
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