Ever since I first came to the realization that they existed, I've wanted to play a dating sim. Unfortunately, most gamers stateside don't really share that same passion, so my only options were to either import one from Japan or to just wait until the rest of the the western world felt the same way. Seeing that I can't read Japanese and I'm impatient, my heart burst with joy when I found out that one of the launch titles for the Nintendo DS was Ubisoft's Sprung.
...and then I actually played it.
I don't know if I've ever been let down so much as I have been with this game. Everything from the game's script to the visual style just underwhelms me so much, and that's pretty sad when you consider that I've never played a game in this genre before. What I expected was something along the lines of an text-based adventure game, like a romantic version of the Monkey Island series. What was there was more akin to some badly penned stories of "love" that are easily found by opening up a high school yearbook and reading inside the covers.
Basically, at the start of the game you decide whether or not you’ll play as either Becky or Brett. It essentially doesn’t matter, because the girls aren’t any classier than the guys in this charade. Every character is like the monster child of a stereotype and a bad comedic scriptwriter: Kiki’s your backstabbing loose friend, Shana’s your four-eyed wallflower, Danny’s a bumbling buffoon, and Lucas is the jock. There are no alternative lifestyle choices, except one choice where Becky says that she kissed her best friend once, and absolutely no customization options to make your two alter egos more like yourself. It gets even better -- your mission is to get laid.
I realize that the mission of a dating sim is to, well, simulate the dating process. What I guess I'd forgotten in all these years of being in a relationship is that the way towards finding the person of your dreams is littered with bad pick-up lines and soap-opera-style catfights. If the main objective of dating isn't to find someone that you're compatible with but to embarrass yourself as much as possible, I'm happy to say that if I were given the choice, I'd stay single forever.
As far as the control scheme goes, Ubisoft did a fantastic job of ignoring most of the core strengths of the DS. On one hand, you have games like WarioWare: Touched! and Feel the Magic XX/XY that make use of every single aspect of the DS' microphone and dual screen interface; however, Sprung is set up in such a way that it's actually easier to use the D-pad and face buttons rather than the stylus to select your choices, and the only function of the top screen is to show the other half of the conversation. I've had more fun talking to myself in PictoChat than playing this game.
To be fair, though, using the term "playing" is being rather forgiving with the game. Imagine reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but every choice you make ends up killing your character. That’s how Sprung is. Every choice you make is wrong, therefore your social life is shot forever. Then again, making any choice pretty much kills your brain, due to the witless and banal phrases you're given as options. For a game that relies so heavily on conversation, every phrase is stilted and unnatural. Ubisoft really needs to take some composition lessons from Sierra and The Adventure Company next time. I mean, telling your friend that they're going to name the ski resort "Ho Bird Mountain" after her? There's really no excuse for a line that bad to be thrown into any chitchat, much less a video game.
This whole time, I've been trying to find something redeeming about Sprung to say, but everything's coming up blank. If anything, the thought that this game was the States' first real taste of a dating sim makes me even more bitter, for the massive amount of frustration that comes along with playing it makes it even less likely that another game of its nature will make the transcontinental journey here. In one single swoop of a stylus, Sprung marred the thought of dating sims and actual dating at once. Congratulations, you lemon of a game -- it's the only thing you managed to do right.