I'm a Kingdom Hearts mark. I fully admit it. The magical blend of Disney and Square Enix (particularly Tetsuya Nomura's art) totally works for me, no matter what platform it's on. With that in mind, you can understand why I was totally happy to play Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for Nintendo DS. Telling the tale of Roxas -- the Nobody that was created when Sora became a Heartless -- this game will appeal to KH fans that enjoy the series' simple gameplay, numerous cameos, and complex story. For my preview, I was able to spend some time with the game running on a DSi.
The first singleplayer level I played was set in Twilight Town. The level started off with Roxas and Axel (a member of Organization XIII) chatting. I got to control Roxas, with Axel providing support. The object was to get through a maze-like building and defeat a guardian (generic boss character). Navigating through levels in 358/2 Days is pretty easy, as a nifty corner map guides your way. As expected, numerous baddies pop up as you're making your way to your goal. This required the typical KH technique of bashing the hell out of everything in sight and sidestepping anything that might harm you (it's an advanced technique). I imagine this was one of the early levels, as it was a snap.
After the level ended, Axel shared some salt ice cream (which totally sounds gross) with Roxas, as they chatted about the latter's spotty memory. From what I understand, the two spend a lot of time on top of a clock in Twilight Town after a long day of killing Heartless. As the dialogue scrolled through the DSi , I could see the bond forming between the two characters. While all the Disney cameos in the game are awesome, I really enjoy the Kingdom Hearts mythos that Square Enix has built up over the years. I fully expect to enjoy this plot, which fills in a lot of gaps between KH1 and KH2.
Getting back to my gameplay time, my next stop was a trip to Agrabah. Jasmine and Aladdin were having another lovers' quarrel about leaving the toilet seat up. Okay, that's not true; the real deal was that sandstorms were plaguing the city and Aladdin must find a way to stop them. The action kicked off with Roxas, who was solo this time. The goal of this level was to kill all the fire plants. This level was more difficult and complex than the Twilight Town level I played; the monsters were tougher and the level design was more interesting, with its use of verticality. However, it was still easy to conquer through that magical combination of beating the crap out of everything and not being stupid enough to get hit by obvious attacks.
That was it for the singleplayer portion of my session. It was pretty much what I've come to expect from Kingdom Hearts. The gameplay is simple, the characters are charming, and the story is intriguing. Next up was some multiplayer action...which was tarnished by a disastrous partner. Up to four players can participate in cooperative multiplayer games. From what I could see, the wireless games are a combination of monster bashing and puzzle solving. The select menu showed the various members of Organization XIII as playable characters. I chose Marluxia, because scythes are cool. So let's get to the disaster!
My playing partner ended up being this older woman that looked like she was at E3 to play casual games. Yes, I shouldn't make those kinds of assumptions, but I was totally right. We went through two rooms of beating up monsters. I think I killed like 15, while she killed one. Next, we entered a room with a simple puzzle: place four large rocks over four panels. This didn't seem to register with the old lady, so it was up to me to run across this large room, place the four rocks, and fend off any monsters while she upped her kill total to two. It took a bit longer than I thought it would, but I was finally ready to tackle the fourth rock when the old broad aborted the game. I just glared at her as she said, "Sorry. I'm really bad at this."
The first lesson I learned was to never play multiplayer Kingdom Hearts with old ladies that can't figure out that they have to put a rock on a panel. The second lesson was 358/2 Days will be a fun little game that should deliver everything fans expect from the series. The gameplay is simple (perhaps too much so for some gamers) and the plot is deep (though confusing if you're not familiar with the world). If you're looking for a Nintendo DS mash-a-thon with soul, then keep your eyes on this game.