Games made specifically for children often seem to follow a very specific pattern. Either they mimic more popular “core” gaming titles and do this successfully, or they fail miserably. iCarly 2: iJoin the Click for the Wii and DS falls into the latter category. While, surprisingly, the first iCarly videogame outing was a decent offering of quick and easy minigames, the sequel’s attempt at parroting concepts popularized in MySims and Animal Crossing nosedives about as fast as some of the live action show’s jokes. It’s really a shame, especially when the show’s relatively talented cast and techno-ready world would have made for a pretty interesting variation on these themes.
You’re the “New Kid” (yes, that’s what they actually call you), male or female, who just happens to be in the same class as Carly and Sam. They recognize you as a massive iCarly fan who seems much, much cooler than the rest, and thus they invite you to take part in the mega-popular web series on a regular basis. It’s a very convenient and tidy plot setup, thus I didn’t expect much by way of story from this contrived adventure.
With all that settled, you’re free to roam the town before completing objectives. Environments, characters, and even menus are reminiscent of the very kid-centric MySims games, with a dash of Animal Crossing tossed in for good measure. You have your own living space to decorate as you please, and much of your time is spent gathering ornamental items such as furniture and decor to be used to spruce up your place or the iCarly set. To do this, you need only perform simple fetch quests, give advice, talk to people around the town, or impress your cast-mates. Along the way you’ll also pick up different costumes, which can range from the ridiculous (hula girl, disco guy) to practical and make walking around town dressed as though it’s Halloween kind of interesting.
Aside from making rounds in the town digging up new items to add to your inventory, every “week” you’ll receive an alert via the game’s smartphone to return to the iCarly set and film the latest show. This involves completing one of several minigames, which usually give vague directions and make little sense until you actually get some time to get used to them. I found the one I had the most fun with was actually a Peggle knock-off in which the directions made it out to be a completely different-sounding game. Of course it didn’t run as smoothly as Peggle, but the idea, setup, and even some of the sound effects were the same.
Once you’ve gotten through a minigame, you’re ranked on your performance. Then comes mixing the show to produce it. I found this to be a bit confusing, unlocking segments and pieces to be used in the latest episode. These will be played in the order you set them and involve the iCarly staff performing various silly stunts, like Sam swinging from a jungle vine across the set. From there, you’ll get a ratings report on how many viewers that episode had. There wasn’t much to this part, but II found it frustrating to have to fiddle around with things and guess rather than be given more clear cut instructions. I can only imagine how children will feel, or parents of said children. Still, the minigames and prospect of creating your own iCarly episode will likely excite them and alleviate some of the monotony of collecting items and interacting with townfolk.
Interaction is slow and boring, with a short animation accompanying the acquisition of each new item, represented by a circle with a star in the middle rather than the actual item. Searching lockers and other set-pieces for salvageable decor proved boring as well, and failed to keep my attention for very long. It didn’t much help that aside from the game’s stars like Carly and her brethren, in-game dialogue is akin to Simlish in bland, mechanical voices. This seemed very, very lazy to me and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t have at the very least given incidental characters some cheap voice actors or removed “voices” at all if they were just going to be gibberish. In addition, speaking to Carly and her friends proved very awkward at times.
Repeat interaction prompted several strange, out-of-context phrases that made little sense to me, which I can only assume were lines of dialogue yanked from the show: “Keep your soup in the toilet!” I imagine children will find this amusing, but it only served to annoy me when I wanted a repeat of my next objective, such as locating Freddy or what kinds of items I was looking for. It’s too bad using the smartphone menu proved slow and cumbersome, disappearing when you are in motion and reappearing if you hover the Wii remote onscreen for a bit. At the very least, traveling on foot is quick and efficient, though you must refer to a map that you can’t keep on-screen and continue traveling with. This is a mechanic I thought they did away with already, but for whatever reason the developers chose not to allow players to quick travel or set waypoints. “iSuppose” that would be asking too much.
Luckily, the town is neatly arranged into a small, workable area and finding where you need to go isn’t too much of an issue…it’s just painfully boring. And that’s not going to keep kids or adults playing. While we’re at it, neither are the bland visuals or blocky bodies of your avatar and fellow iCarly characters on-screen.
Fortunately, where the Wii version fails, as seems to be the case with most titles ported straight to the little handheld that could, the DS iCarly 2 is somewhat more decent. Since everything is scaled down to a much more manageable and intimate format, it’s not as much of a hassle to try and navigate a “big” overworld or spend so much time waiting for items to load. The smaller screens are a much more appropriate home for this type of outing, but the same pacing problems still plague the portable version, and that’s just nothing changing systems can fix.
iCarly 2: iJoin the Click is an attempt at marketing the more successful gaming mechanics of games like MySims or even Animal Crossing to a younger set, only it muddles what makes those titles work in the first place: accessibility, variety, and fun. I found none of these within the worlds in either game, and it’s a shame because the first title was a decent collection of minigames and silliness based on the popular TV show that I thought children and fans would absolutely love. I’m not sure why they dropped the ball here, but I’m hoping that any other further attempts made go back to basics and touch back on what made the tie-in a decent buy for your kids in the first place.