Dating sims have been a popular genre in Japan for many years, but have yet to find their niche in the U.S. market. If Ubisoft had published Sprung (Nintendo DS) stateside with the intention of breaking new ground, they certainly picked the wrong title to do it with.
Let me get a couple things straight: there is no action in this game, there is no sexual content to speak of (the game has a “T” rating), and while you’d think it would be open-ended or non-linear in some way, it really isn’t. It’s like a “choose your own adventure” book where every choice but one forces you to start all over again (or cheat and just go back to where you messed up and try every possible choice from that point). While at first the game seems charming and fun, as you get toward the end of your week at Snow Bird (a winter resort where everyone seems to have one thing on their mind) you’ll realize that you’ve been doing the same things over and over again the entire time. What Sprung ultimately boils down to is way too much trial and error.
The “gameplay” consists solely of conversing with people. In most cases the game doesn’t even let you choose who you talk to (and when it does let you choose, there’s really only one correct choice that will allow you to proceed). The character you’re talking to will appear on the top screen, and your character will appear on the bottom. As you make certain dialogue choices (using either the stylus or the control pad), both characters will emote to show how they’re feeling (which can be a good way to tell if you’re heading down the right path). If you make one wrong choice, though, it’s game over and you have to either resume from a checkpoint within the mission or start it all over again. Both are very frustrating to say the least.
While the core of the game is very weak, the aesthetics certainly hold their own. The graphics are presented in a cartoon-like, 2D fashion, and they’re quite pleasing to look at. The music is varied and original enough to not grate on your ears after replaying a mission for the twentieth time. It would’ve been nice if there were some voice samples, but the game’s dialogue is certainly strong enough without them. The scenarios are very well-written (though Brett’s is far more enjoyable than Becky’s — but that’s probably because I’m a male), and while some of the characters are like teen movie stereotypes, it’s quite easy to get connected to them after extended play.
Sprung is certainly different than what most gamers are used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good game. If it had been more open-ended (and thus offered some incentive to replay it) it would have been much more enjoyable. It’s good for a rental or quick play, but not much else.