Friday 19 February 2010

Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief - Nintendo DS game

Let's start at the beginning. Percy Jackson originally came to life in a series of books, Percy Jackson & The Olympians, written by Rick Riordan, the first of which is The Lightning Thief. The author's website summarises the plotline of this book : "Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can't seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse - Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy's mom finds out, she knows it's time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place where he'll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demi-gods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon, a mystery unfolds and together with his friends - one a satyr and one the demi-god daughter of Athena - Percy sets out on a quest aross the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods." The book has now been made into a film, which was released last week on February 12th, and a Nintendo DS game, which we were asked to review.

The film has a PG rating, which makes sense as the books are aimed at children. However, the Nintendo DS game, produced by Activision, carries a 12 rating, which Sophie (age 8) was really disappointed about. Having looked at the pictures on the back of the box, I showed her the monsters in the gameshots and asked if she thought they were scary - she said no, and I don't think they look worse than anything in Pokemon type cartoons. I said that we'd have a sneak preview together and I'd tell her if she was allowed to play on it or not. The 12 rating is apparently linked to violence and it's true, you do have to fight and kill people in this game an awful lot, but again, this is the stuff of cartoons and there's not a drop of blood to be seen. I asked Sophie if she thought it was too scary for 8-year-olds and she said "well, it might be a bit scary for people who are less than 8, but for people like me who are older than 8 (she's 8 and a half !), it's not scary at all. It's really good !".

As parents, you'll know your own kids well enough to know if it's suitable for them or not. If they're under twelve but used to the Ben 10/Totally Spies/ Batman/ Spiderman kind of cartoons with goodies and baddies and fights, I'm sure they'll be able to play without being traumatised or having nightmares.

So what do you actually have to do ? Well, you control Percy Jackson (who looks like a clone of Harry Potter minus the glasses to me !) and you have to help him team up with his friends to combat fantastical opponents, find secret objects and explore a world ruled by vengeful Greek gods. It's a kid-friendly role-playing game which really appeals to Sophie, whose experience up to now of role playing games has been limited to being a baby sitter, a horserider or a Pet Shop ! Welcome to the world of more grown-up gaming, Sophie !

If, as a parent, you like your kids' TV and video games time to be educational, you can delve a bit deeper into the Greek mythology aspect. As well as numerous gods and goddesses, Percy will encounter several of the classic mythological monsters, such as the Hydra, Medusa and the Minotaur. I remember doing a project on Greek mythology at school years ago so it's good to see Sophie getting interested in the classic tales too. But if you (or your children) just want a game they can play on auto-pilot veg-out mode, that's not a problem either - you can quite easily play the game with no background knowledge of the book, the film or Greek mythology.

Basic reading skills are necessary to fully appreciate the game, as are a few tactics - you need to rely on teamwork and cooperation to defeat some opponents, using each other's skills at fighting and healing to help each other out and gain experience points and new rewards.

Sophie absolutely loves it, despite having never read the books (although she now wants to) or seen the film. Dad also enjoyed having a quick play, until Sophie pinched it back off him, so it appeals to adults too ! She keeps coming to show me different objects and skills that she has unlocked and asking me what different Greek gods and goddesses represent - who said playing on games consoles couldn't boost your neurones ?!

star rating : 4.5/5

RRP: £29.99

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