Pinobee: Wings of Adventure
Like Pinocchio of old, Pinobee is separated from his Grandpa and must go on a mission to find him. Unlike Pinocchio, however, Pinobee has a six million dollar warranty -- it seems Grandpa Bee was into building robots. Somewhere in the maze-like forest, Grandpa Bee is held captive by an even bigger bee who is hell-bent on turning the denizens of the forest into his robotic minions. Good thing Pinobee has friends to help him along the way. If only Pinobee cared... You see, he has no heart.
Take the foundation of Pinnochio and build upon it with the platforming game design of former members of Sonic Team, and you have a fantasy world that feels so very much like Sonic the Hedgehog, complete with a Doctor Robotnik plot, that you'd almost expect the blue little hedgehog to make a guest appearance. This isn't a bad thing. If anybody can make an engaging platformer for the Game Boy Advance, former members of Sonic Team can. However, Pinobee isn't Sonic. He may cling to walls like Knuckles, another Sonic character, but he zips around on those wings of his like nobody's business. Just don't get him wet.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Artoon is a new gaming company, but it comes with a good pedigree and it shows in this game's construction. When several ex-Sega employees, a main programmer from Panzer Dragoon, and Naoto Oshima (former Sonic Team member who worked on the original Sonic game as well as characters for Sonic and Nights Into Dreams) work on a platformer, one shouldn't be surprised that the result bears many of the platforming sensibilities of the Sonic series. Pinobee bounds about collecting flowers to fill his meter much as Sonic collected rings. Pinobee can climb walls much like Knuckles could, and hover as Tails could. He also has a dash ability that can race him faster around the screen than running ever could, much like Sonic's dash. However, Pinobee does succeed in being an original character. Flowers must constantly be collected because being a robot is hard work. Take too many hits by the enemy bugs in the forest and he will slump around like a slug on a hot day in July. Be nice to the Fairy who tries to help you out and you could earn extra dashes. The dashing helps set Pinobee apart from other platformers. Once a large number of dashes have been accumulated, he can zip about in the eight compass directions, including getting great distance in any one direction, thus giving him access to the games many secret areas. This dash ability has been taken into account in the level design, and dashing is a breeze to pull off, making the game fun to play. Pinobee can also auto-target items or enemies if close enough to them. This, combined with dashing, can make or break your gaming experience. There are many items hidden throughout the game that let Pinobee play Bingo for power-ups -- get enough cards in a row and Pinobee unlocks new abilities that make the game easier as he gets more powerful. Otherwise, you'll be stuck bouncing on enemy heads like Mario instead of rocketing your way through them.
Also similar to the Sonic series is the layout of the game levels. There are eight different endings to the game, and there are many different ways to get to the end of every level. It can get confusing, much as later Sonic efforts became. The game is made more difficult with the ever depleting flower supply and bruised life meter from bumping into all those platforming standards like flame-throwers and spikes. But working your way through the level is necessary if you want to hit the switches, pop the seed bubbles, and discover the power-ups that unlock the best ending of the game. Pinobee is one cold kid. He's more snotty than grumpy, so do the insect world a favor and get a heart for him.
The game levels are navigated via a diary interface. Once one level is completed, it can be selected and played again -- even improved on. Diary entries give hints as to what secrets or events you may have missed. You don't need to replay the level to complete the game unless you covet the good ending. My first time through the game I left a few stones unturned. I found and rescued Grandpa, but he had lost the heart somewhere. D'oh! Artoon has put a lot of effort into this game, even the lesser endings. There is a great sense of humor in the game. For instance, I mentioned before you can find friends along the way to help you, like Cricket or the Fairy. You don't necessarily need to be nice to them. When Cricket is stung instead of chatted to in level 2, you get this entry:
'I wanted to take a walk, but Cricket told me, "You have to wait for Grandpa to come back.'?
I didn't like being bossed around like that, so I stung him.
Ha ha ha!'?
Be careful, though. Fairy doesn't like getting stung. Sting her enough and she'll start to attack you whenever you come across her.
If finding those playing cards for bingo is getting too difficult, fire up the gamelink with a friend who also has Pinobee and start trading away. You'll only be able to focus on a few rows at a time and will need to discard extra cards. Trading is a good way of managing all those unfinished bingo slots. I focused on the pink collection of cards mostly because those seemed to get tossed my way more than blue or orange. If you're lucky enough to have a friend who also has this game, then you can power up Pinobee much quicker than on your own.
As far as graphics are concerned, Pinobee is exemplary. I wouldn't expect less from people who worked on the Sonic titles. The backgrounds are painterly in their excellence. The character sprites are well shaded 3D models that work wonderfully in their environment. This is 2D platforming at its best, and Pinobee should get noticed if only for its beautiful in-game artwork. You'll find yourself wishing the GBA was backlit like the Nomad just so you could better appreciate everything you're seeing. With bright colors and well designed backgrounds, you'll not often find it difficult to make out where Pinobee is while you dart him around the screen. The game moves smoothly and the transitions from scene to scene are done well. Overall, a very impressive job.
I wish the same could be said for the soundtrack. There seemed to be only three tunes that the game cycled through, and they weren't very memorable. I'd expect that more from American companies, who don't seem to put much effort in game soundtracks, than a Japanese company. Artoon only announced their formation last Fall, so perhaps this is one aspect of the game that simply didn't get enough time. Perhaps future efforts by them will improve on this aspect.
In the end, Pinobee is a fun platform game that will challenge platformer veterans like myself and new kids on the block, like my daughters who are nine and six. If you're looking for a game to show off your GBA's power, this is one to add to your collection. It's truly next generation when compared to the best the GBC has to offer. If I had any complaint about the game it would be that the level design was not equal to the game's easy play. I finished the game in three to four hours of playing, and I even took time to hunt down the secrets. It's the secret hunting that adds replayability to the game, but the level design can be so complex at times that the player will find himself confused, especially when replaying several levels in the same chapter. With 27 levels to explore, the game felt lengthy enough for a platformer, but once enough power-ups are collected, playing against the enemies is a walk in the park, especially the final boss, who was laughably easy. With the level design being so difficult, I would have expected the bosses to be a bit more challenging. As it was, the game felt a little uneven.
Pinobee is filled with enough charm to make replaying the game desirable, however. The cold little cuss even gets a warm fuzzy at the end, unless you tried for the other 'bad? endings, which are so humorous that you'll play bad just to get them. Pinobee is a colorful romp with enough original personality and gameplay to stand apart from its Sonic heritage.