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Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom Package Art
Foundation 9

Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom

Death Jr. was originally a much-publicized PSP game, touted as one of the system's first promising original titles. It didn't end that well. So, it comes as no surprise that Konami has since wised up and moved the Grim Reaper's kid to a slightly more popular handheld system. Cue Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom.


DS has shown itself capable of N64-quality visuals, but Death Jr. barely squeaks by on muddy PS-era polygons. A good deal of the action takes place from a 3/4 perspective, which forces players to keep their eyes full of an ugly, tiled mess of clashing colors that litter the ground DJ walks on. Occasionally the camera shifts to a straightforward 2D sidescroll. While the transitions are smooth, it sometimes clogs up the action, and the 3D objects used as platforms can blend into the background, obscuring the jump-based play.

The design of the world helps the low-fidelity graphics stick, but something still seems amiss. Perhaps it's because everything seems tailor-made for goth kids who frequent Hot Topic for Nightmare Before Christmas accessories. Maybe it's the morbid character design -- from twins conjoined at the brain to an appendage-less boy floating in a tank like Luke Skywalker after a wampa attack -- that could be a bit too much for the E10+ audience Death Jr. is aimed at.


While the cloudy graphics have somewhat of a silver lining, the sound department has no such luck. The generic spooky tunes seem like they're straight from a cheesy commercial for a local haunted house. At the default setting, the music drowns out most of the sound effects, which are generic and forgettable anyhow.


As told by pre-rendered stills, Death Jr. is in another one of his unique situations. Basically, DJ accidentally unleashed demons at the school science fair, and it's up to him (and his recently deceased friend Pandora) to save the day. It's an interesting start, but the wacky premise didn't carry its amusing absurdity to the gameplay.

Boiled down, Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom is a simple beat 'em up with platforming elements -- although, an argument could be made that it's the other way around. There are enemies to trounce, platforms to jumpe, switches to hit and bosses to exploit. The levels take place in different parts of the school, all accessed from a central hub. At any time, players can switch between Death Jr. and Pandora, who visits the spirit world to flip more switches and vanquish more foes. Enemies leave colored orbs behind that only Pandora can collect, which can later be used to heal DJ, destroy more minions or activate still more switches.

The orbs can be aimed by touching them with the stylus and treating them like a slingshot. A crosshair appears over the selected target, but the results are often wildly inaccurate. Even moreso are Death Jr.'s touch controls. Swinging the scythe in the 3/4 perspective sections is simply not effective. It's much easier to use the face buttons to attack, but the stylus will still need to be pulled out to collect colored orbs on the screen.

As a 3D game, Death Jr. doesn't feel like it carries much weight in its world. Attacks never feel like they really connect; waving the scythe through an enemy just triggers an animation. Jumping is troublesome as well, as DJ seems to be fond of jumping straight up and lifting his head while the camera zooms in, like the ending triumph pause of an inspirational TV movie. Clinging to ledges with the scythe often proves difficult, as pressing jump, while hanging, either results in falling straight down or teleporting onto the platform above. If routine gameplay mechanics are going to be used, they should at least be implemented solidly. Death Jr. lacks a solid world, and without that, even preteens will get bored quickly.


Two minigames are offered, oddly. They're both piddly distractions made all the more pointless by mandating that two players own the cartridge to play. If multiplayer was going to be implemented at all, single-cart play should have been included from the get-go. We've seen countless games more complex with this feature; there's not much of an excuse for the lack of its inclusion.


Many parents may not want their children to play this game because of characters like Stigmartha, a girl whose hands bleed when she gets nervous; but parents shouldn't subject their kids to such a mundane, undercooked game anyway. True, the design might appeal to angsty, hormone-riddled, emo teens, but the Science Fair of Doom won't do anything to solve their problems, let alone make them look cool.

final score 4.0/10

Staff Avatar Tristan Cooper
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"Get out the umbrellas..."

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