Posted June 28th 2007 by Oliver Chen.
Here we go again. Another attempt by a small publishing company to make money off a TV show by shoehorning the license into some utterly generic type of game. Or is it? The Game Factory attempts to buck the cursed trend by stuffing multiple seasons of Code Lyoko into not just one, but four genres of game. And it works! Almost.
The Code Lyoko TV show stars four fellow boarding school students named Ulrich, Yumi, Odd, and Jeremy who get put to the task of saving Earth and the virtual world Lyoko from destruction. Lyoko, contained within a supercomputer in an old factory on the school grounds, has been taken over by a megalomanic virus named X.A.N.A. who now has set its sights on conquering Earth. Deactivating various "towers" located throughout Lyoko is the only way to sever X.A.N.A.'s links to the real world, and the only one who can disable these towers is Aelita, an enigmatic girl bound to Lyoko. By harnessing the power of the supercomputer containing Lyoko, the protagonists are able to virtualize themselves inside Lyoko to directly deal with X.A.N.A.'s threats and clear the path for Aelita to reach every tower. The game loosely follows the events that take place in the TV show, although it skips out on most of the drama and plot which assumedly occurs in the show to take up filler space.
The real world is represented in the game by a 2D point-and-click adventure. You play as one of the five protagonists over the course of the game, dealing with pressing life issues such as vandalizing school property and investigating X.A.N.A.'s schemes to take over the world. All of this takes place on the school grounds and the adjacent property. Unfortunately, accomplishing these goals is mostly restricted to finding some NPC or performing a generic item fetch quest. Thankfully, the exact location the player needs to go is always marked on the overworld map, although getting to that spot is another story. North on the screen does not always correspond to north on the map, and, for some reason or another, the game bars you from entering certain maps at times.
While in Lyoko, the game shifts gears to the third dimension and becomes an action game. This mode takes up the bulk of the game. Each character possesses a small variety of different abilities that consume limited-use "Lyoko Power" and are used to pass physical obstacles in Lyoko ― for example, Yumi can use telekinesis to lift large objects while Aelita can levitate to cross large gaps. These abilities are activated by standing next to markers on the screen and then holding down the context-sensitive icon on the touch screen. Unfortunately, this means that character abilities can only be used in certain locations and serve no real purpose other than to force the player to use a specific character in one part of the level. Lyoko Power can be replenished by collecting yellow "data bits" found throughout Lyoko.
Other features of the 3D world include simple moving platform challenges and character upgrades. Checkpoints are positioned at various intervals to allow the player to respawn, swap party members, revive dead characters (for a price), and buy stat upgrades. Collecting blue data bits scattered throughout Lyoko and dropped by monsters allows characters to purchase these stat upgrades and combo attacks.
X.A.N.A. summons monsters to hinder your progress in certain parts of the virtual world. The method to fight back varies between characters ― Ulrich uses a katana to slice up enemies, Odd focuses completely on ranged attacks, and Aelita is unable to fight using regular attacks at all. The face buttons are used to do battle: the A button is used for your garden-variety attacks, while X shoots off a secondary attack. Holding B causes the character to guard against attacks and holding Y charges up a special effect. Battles are strenuous since most enemies spawn in large waves and will fire the exact same annoying red laser beam at you. Due to this and the relative shortage of life-replenishing green data bits, players will find themselves frequently guarding against enemy attacks. Although this is a refreshing change from the hack-and-slash fest that most action games consist of, battling like this gets monotonous far too quickly ― especially since players are unable to run from or otherwise pass by most monster encounters.
Character balance in Code Lyoko feels really lopsided. I mostly rely on Odd to take care of enemies due to his long-range homing attacks. Ulrich deals out the pain to enemies but receives too much damage from enemies due to his short-range attacks in the process. Yumi seems unable to deal significant damage with her combo attacks, which are difficult to perform effectively and leave you wide open for attack. Aelita's only method of attack is to fire her shield at enemies using a limited charge attack, and not only is that attack pathetically weak and short-ranged, it consumes Lyoko Power! She is also the lynchpin of the entire party ― unlike the rest of the characters, if Aelita dies, you will be forced onto the game over screen without an option to revive her. So if someone happens to accidentally wander into an enemy encounter while controlling her, he will likely have to start the entire level over again.
At the end of every Lyoko level (and at other occasional spots) the player will be forced to solve a tangram puzzle to progress further in the game. The stylus is utilized in this mode to drag the tetris-like pieces into various formations. These puzzles ramp up in difficulty over the course of the game from pathetically easy to somewhat annoying.
Every once in a while players will find themselves in the "race" portion of the game, although these races are for the most part on-rails dodging extravaganzas. The D-pad is used to move the vehicle left or right, while the A and B buttons respectively speed up and slow down the machine at the cost of Lyoko Power. There is never any real reason to use these buttons, though, since obstacles are easy enough to dodge at regular speed, and there are no other racers or even a timer to compete against. Due to this, the race mode is largely a forgettable experience.
Code Lyoko does fairly well in the audio-visual department. The prerendered backgrounds of the real world look extremely well-done and seem like they could have come right out of the TV show. On the other hand, the 3D virtual world consists mostly of nothing but low-textured blocky islands suspended in the middle of nowhere and are not technically impressive. The game also features a large number of FMV sequences that are presumably ripped straight from the TV show, which is no small feat to pack into a handheld game cart. The background music is nice, although frequently recycled ― not to mention the main Code Lyoko theme is probably one of the worst songs to ever be created.
The game is pretty short, clocking in at around five to ten hours on a standard play-through. A couple of minigames unlocked by beating the main game helps to extend the overall lifespan of the game, but not by much.
Another big complaint I have is that the action mode takes up so much more of the game than the rest of the modes. The puzzle mode makes no sense given its usual placement in the game ― completing one is necessary to deactivate each tower, but the resulting cutscene just shows Aelita entering a passcode on a monitor. Even more ridiculous is when the game just randomly throws a puzzles at you. You would think that solving a puzzle after the game shows Aelita on the brink of capture would cause her to escape, right? Nope, the next cutscene shows her getting captured, forcing the gang to save her from X.A.N.A.'s clutches. The only time a puzzle challenge contextually could make sense is when solving the puzzle unlocks a "firewalled" door in the area. Additionally, the racing segments are totally useless since the only thing that could cause you to "lose" the race would be to run out of life from crashing into too many obstacles, and the miniscule life lost from each crash is not enough to actually pay attention to. I would have been totally fine if Code Lyoko just dropped the puzzle and racing modes altogether and focused more on adding variety to the adventure and action modes.
The main beef I have with this game, however, is the controls. Nearly everything in the game is controlled by the D-pad, with the stylus being optional in most cases. This setup works well in the 2D world, but in Lyoko it becomes an extreme pain to move about with precision. Couple this with odd hit detection and a static camera, and most players will find traversing floating platforms and narrow bridges extremely frustrating. Furthermore, combo attacks are annoying to pull off. Pressing the required buttons too quickly or in some other way that the game does not like will result in the combo not activating at all. These control issues are really just the icing on a lackluster cake.
Slight Pulse - Fans of the TV show will definitely appreciate this more than the average gamer.
Code Lyoko sports the makings of an enjoyable gameplay engine. The big problem is that this gameplay is never really refined past the "average" level ― the adventure mode has no variety, the action mode suffers from uninspired level design and is tedious to play through, and the other modes are just plain lacking. With a bit more fleshing-out, The Game Factory could have actually had a sleeper hit on its hands.
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Learn to love (and hate) the Beam.
This is about as good as the 3D graphics ever get.
Adventure mode, on the other hand, looks pretty decent.
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