It's always awkward buying presents for some people. God only knows I must be one of the most awkward, with the amount of make-up sets I find myself buried under now. But we've all been there before, with the days ticking down, and you simply can't decide what to buy - either because you don't know the person well enough to know what they'd like, or you simply have no idea what you should get them - a gap that a box of chocolates, a make-up set, or, that Christmas favourite, a pair of socks tends to fit.
As we all know, the best presents come from those who know you best, and it's here that the new kid friendly Hello Kitty game ties to my Christmas present buying exploits, as Hello Kitty, being the kind little cat that she is, wants to buy presents for each of the other Sanrio characters in the game for their birthdays. As she doesn't want to buy them make-up sets, or a box of chocolates, like everybody else, it's up to the resourceful Kitty to wander around the town, getting to know each of the characters, who'll then give you hints on what they'd most like as a present. Of course, sitting down for a lengthy chat to get to know each other would be rather tedious, especially for the younger demographic the game is aimed at, so instead, you get to know the characters by playing a mini-game with them - and after each game, the character in question will reveal a tit-bit of information about themselves.
You don't need to keep track of all the things the 15+ characters tell you though, as Kitty comes armed with a rather handy 'birthday book', which automatically records people's birthdays and other random facts, along with, once you find it out, what their ideal birthday present would be. You can also get 'stamps' added to your birthday book if you can get a gold medal in the mini-games, with a total of 21 to try and collect. The mini-games themselves are surprisingly varied, too - and are different depending on whether you're speaking to the character during the day, or at night. You could play a Puzzle Bobble-esque balloon-firing match 3 game with the angry-looking penguin Badtz-Maru, play a game of 'pudding aerobics' with the podgy Pom Pom Purin - where you need to copy his moves by manipulating Kitty on the Touch Screen, or try your hand at assembling hot chocolates in Cinnamoroll's restaurant by putting the correct number of the ingredients shown on the little card on the saucer. There's races, football, colouring in and pairs too, as well as a couple of 'quests' to do - fetching some apples for Chococat, delivering cakes for Usahana or searching for Kerroppi's pet snail Den Den. There's certainly plenty to see and do - even before you even take into account that the game's target audience are likely to play the games over and over again. Endlessly. Seemingly, without getting bored - I lost count of the number of times my five year old cousin played the pairs game, or the number of pictures she coloured.
Time passes quite quickly in Hello Kitty land - about 1 minute in real-time equates to 5 hours in the game, although the time is paused when you're in a mini-game or a building. This means the days pass rather fast, so it's never too long until it's someone's birthday (you can also skip to a specific day by using the calender in Hello Kitty's room) - although the disadvantage of the 5-minute-long days is that it turns into a race against time to find out what someone wants as a present, fetch it from the shop, and make your way across to the birthday building (the red house next to Kitty's). I just hope I wasn't too late to the Little Twin Stars' party, turning up at 7:30 in the evening after a mad dash to the mitten shop.
I thought maybe I might be able to save time on the big day if I could find out the person's ideal gift beforehand. Even though I made an effort to go and talk them, and played their mini-game everyday, they still wouldn't tell me anything, bar one of their three random facts, until the actual day of their birthday. The hints the characters' give you about their presents are normally about as subtle as a brick - "I hear the clothing store sells nice, brightly-coloured mittens" and the like - which is probably a good thing, given the short time-frame you have to acquire said mittens. Once you've popped to the correct shop and nabbed yourself a gift, you'll need to make a beeline for the red building next to Hello Kitty's house - guarded by some sort of present forcefield, that refuses you entry unless you have a gift of some description, where you'll be rewarded with a little cutscene of the Sanrio character opening their present and blowing out candles and stuff like that.
All in all, Hello Kitty: Birthday Adventures is a very good game for the little ones, although they will need a decent grasp of reading to fully enjoy the game. And with the wide variety of mini-games, and character's birthdays spread over the course of the in-game year, it's likely to keep them entertained for a while - and with an RRP of £19.99 you can't really argue.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS