Daniel X: The Ultimate Power
Griptonite's choice to base a game around a James Patterson novel series is eccentric. Using their Web of Shadows 2.5D platforming engine, since employed in the linear beat 'em up X-Men Origins: Wolverine and stealth platformer Assassin's Creed II: Discovery - both on the DS - they return to the non-linear exploration-based gameplay that made their first try such a winner.
Though based on the Daniel X character previously created by Patterson, the story for The Ultimate Power is entirely original, acting as an interquel between Watch the Skies and Demons and Druids. The basic background is given, of course: Daniel's parents were killed when he was 3, he has super-strength and speed, morphing capabilities, and the ability to create things entirely from his mind, and he is currently knocking evil aliens off his hit list as Defender of Earth. While battling Number Four, Elios, the two crash land into a research colony on the planet Silerus V, and with Elios seemingly out of the picture Daniel must now employ the help of Kol, a stranded researcher, and his four best friends - Joe, Willy, Emma, and Dana, all of which he created - to get off the planet and back to alien hunting.
Short of having webbing and spandex, the production-talented protagonist plays and feels fundamentally the same as Spider-Man's presently most recent handheld appearance. 'B' has Daniel jump, 'Y' attack, 'A' perform a dash, and 'X' interact with save points and switches. Since Daniel loses most of his powers at the beginning of the game, he'll have to gain back several moves: Block, by which he can avoid getting hurt and requiring 'R' to execute; Telekinesis, by which he can lift and move objects and enemies and which makes additional use of the 'X' button; Transform: Ball, which upon a press of 'L' turns Daniel into a soccer ball so he can squeeze into tight spaces (Samus Aran's Morph Ball immediately comes to mind); Wall Run, which after dashing toward a wall has him run up the side of the wall; Kinetic Push, charged up with 'Down' and 'X' and executed by releasing these, letting him destroy crystal obstructions to the left or right of him while grounded; Kinetic Blast, which adds to this last ability a downward blast that can destroy crystals below Daniel; Phase Dash, charged up with 'Down' and 'A' and, upon release, letting Daniel pass through special walls and even enemies and objects; Air Dash, which works the same as a regular dash except that it starts in mid-air and can go in any direction; Transform: Eagle, 'Up' and 'L' altering his form into that of an eagle which can fly indefinitely (it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to consider Alucard's and Soma Cruz's bat forms as an influence); Air Dash Smash, which enhances the Air Dash by making it an offensive move capable of destroying any kind of crystal not covered in the previous policies; and Wall Jump, letting Daniel jump off of walls to gain extra altitude or make his way up shafts. At save points, the player can buy combos and powers with XP (experience) that enemies drop - these ranging from adding moves to Daniel's abilities to making him faster, from allowing him to recover from enemy attacks to enabling him to counter them altogether. In addition to these, he'll be able to collect orb upgrades that increase his health, attack, and defense as well as experience orbs which boost his XP - the latter being quite useful, as buying combos isn't easy to do simply by beating the game's enemies casually and leaving it at that. To say that controlling the alien hunter isn't a blast would be a lie; he doesn't have a unifying control scheme like Spider-Man, however, but only an odd collection of miscellaneous skills.
During creation, in which Daniel creates solutions to obstacles in the game, the player will be asked to connect dots in a linear fashion whilst not lifting the stylus or treading over previously-made lines. None of them are mind-bendingly frustrating, but there's some challenge to be had and it certainly beats a similar use of the touch screen in Dawn of Sorrow. Like Web of Shadows, the map is broken up into four connecting areas (the Nexus, Quarters, Core, and Labs) and ends in an isolated, final locale (the Tower). Oftentimes, rooms explored for the first time will lockdown and close all exits until each of its enemies (the aliens of planet Silerus V) are eliminated. There's exploration, there's backtracking, there are objectives: it's all here. For those not accustomed to sidescrolling labyrinths, this might be harder than for others; on the other hand, it's significantly easier than most of its non-linear kin, and - along with Griptonite's other offerings - serves as a good place to start in breaking into the sub-genre.
The graphics are 2.5D, polygonal, and overall pretty. The scenery is much brighter than it was in Web of Shadows, and the layering and scrolling of foreground and background scenery and objects gives a spectacular sense of depth. The music has the same cinematic feel as Griptonite's previous go at it as well, with more tense, serious songs interrupting a level's regular theme whenever Daniel gets involved in a battle. Other than showcasing some brighter colors, this one doesn't offer a whole lot new presentation-wise, but it's not bad by any means.
Alien Scanner mode is quite interesting as well. With systems with a camera (DSi and 3DS), one can take pictures of different faces - friends, animals, artwork, etc. - and the game will give a profile of it, saying whether it's a human or an alien, determining what its Strength, Speed, and Intelligence levels are out of ten, and offering an in-depth description and list of crimes. This mode is sure to amuse, and though not essential to or even integrated into the game, its inclusion is appreciated.
Ultimately, Daniel X is a polished, fun, and effortless play, but an undeniably derivative one. The fact that almost all of the borrowing is from another Griptonite game helps; still, the entire engine and most of the gameplay are re-skinned from Web of Shadows. It is a great alternate take on the engine, and there's a definite cleverness in its simultaneous incorporation of elements from Metroid and Castlevania and the Daniel X series (the character actually can transform into a soccer ball and a bird in the book series). Daniel X: The Ultimate Power is Griptonite seeing if their Web of Shadows recipe is compatible with ingredients from another universe, and it is. As this is only the developers' first recycling of the formula, it can't be called milking quite yet.