Dora the Explorer: Journey to the Purple Planet is a 2005 game developed by Monkey Bar Games who mainly work on licenced properties. The game itself stars the titular Dora and Boots as they journey with a bunch of aliens across planets to find keys to unlock a space gate to take said aliens home.
The gameplay consists of the player controlling Dora as they move through linear levels collecting green gems, occasionally platforming and playing the odd timing minigame. The game has "set pieces" from the show itself like Dora needing to check her Backpack for an item, solving a basic puzzle that involves looking for stuff, a basic timing challenge etc. Each of the different planets has their own varied aesthetic and some minor gimmick that sometimes factors in. Like the Green planet is covered in Green Slime so instead of jumping, you can slide everywhere. The Blue Planet has less gravity so you can jump slightly higher. Though, these are never required. You have vents that can launch you as high as your big jump on the Blue Planet for example. The camera is controlled by the game.
I feel a little harsh reviewing this game because what can I really say? This game was probably designed for pre-schoolers so offering a full on critique would probably be reductive. It would be the same as critiquing the show itself, saying "I found it kinda boring to play/watch and it's not at all challenging in any way" like yeah, this isn't made for me.
But regardless, I kinda feel this game could have given a little more of an exploratory feel and some optional challenge to give kids a little something to reward them for thinking outside the box from more of a gameplay sense. Like, on the Green Planet, there could be a space gem that's a little out of the way so you would have to use the manual slide to reach it somehow. Little stuff like that that isn't necessary to complete the stage. Levels only need like 5 Power Gems to beat per stage. There are like 6 levels so you only need 30 to beat the game. I collected around 400 when I beat the game and even skipping many so this wouldn't make it difficult for kids. I also wish there was more of a reason to collect gems. I imagine unlocking skins or other such bonuses would make it more enticing to explore more rather than rush past them.
One thing I especially like (and I'm being serious and not backhanded) are the "hidden in the environment" gems. There are some gems hidden in stuff like trees and logs and you need to keep an eye out for them slightly shaking as you move through levels, go them and press A and Boots will jump in and produce a Space Gem from them. I like this because it somewhat does what I was saying earlier. These gems aren't hard to find but they do require paying some attention to the environment and since different planets have equivalents to trees and bushes, it asks the player to change what they are looking for every level. Granted, kids will probably learn the pattern quickly but the idea is solid.
I do feel the Aliens are underused. Despite being the whole reason for the adventure, the aliens themselves are barely present in the game, only being around for a few cutscenes and minigames. They rarely every get a chance to shine. Honestly, you could remove them and very little would change. I'd rather the game either use the aliens more, have 1 alien permanently accompany the crew or just make up an excuse for Dora and Boots to go it alone.
I did look up Speedruns of this game on Youtube, thinking perhaps it would be a "Battle for Bikini Bottom"-type situation where Speedrunners have taken this game to an unseen level, but sadly, the (extremely entertaining) ESA Speedrun was just the same with some minor optimizations. (I don't mean to dismiss their accomplishments, but it seems this game doesn't have a lot to really work with).
In terms of presentation, the game is actually quite good. It seems to use the actual voice actors from the show. The graphical style is a neat 3D Translation of the show and I like it even more than Spongebob BFBB and Simpsons Hit and Run's attempts at turning a 2D show into a 3D one.
So yeah, if you have a pre-schooler and want to give them a video game to play, I guess this Dora game will suffice. It's colourful and simple enough for them. Now for the other game I will be looking at:
Winnie the Pooh's Rumbly Tumbly Adventure was released in 2005 (also re-released as a PS2 Classic on the PS Store in 2013) and it seemingly fixes all of my issues with Dora's game.
A quick summary of the plot: Winnie the Pooh remembers the birthdays of his friends to keep his mind off his rumbly tumbly. And that's it. Said Birthdays involve characters from the show who seem to be voiced by their actual actors. The graphical style is also quite charming and interesting and surprisingly detailed.
As for the gameplay itself, unlike Dora, this one is more of a traditional game. With stuff like Fail States, minimaps and puzzles. You play as Pooh bear for most of the adventure. Levels/Chapters proceed as the player chooses which friend's birthday they wish to remember, the level then introduces the premise of the story (like Eeyore's Birthday requiring Pooh to go and keep Eeyore's present, a new house, safe from a rock. Or Tigger's Birthday requiring Pooh to go find Tigger costumes etc.). You then have to explore levels that consist of major hub like areas, usually some major location like a character's house, with route areas interconnecting these areas. Routes tend to have enemies in the form of Heffalumps and Woozles who will start chasing Pooh when he enters an area requiring him to dodge around them to get to a balloon and that when popped will scare away the enemies. If the enemies catch Pooh, they will scare him away restarting the chase. I like these because it's finally some action gameplay. It even requires a tiny bit of strategy as you may have to bait out the enemies to clear a way to a balloon. For example, suppose the balloon is across a bridge and there are enemies in front of the bridge, you have to lead the enemies away from the bridge first before going for the balloon. It's not much and does start to get repetitive after a while as every other route has enemies but the attempt is still admirable and more than what Dora had.
In any area where there aren't enemies, you can then safely explore for collectibles. Some objects have a yellow glow and hitting them releases 5 Honey pots that bounce around the area. Whichever you don't collect fast enough teleport back into the object requiring you to hit it again to release them. This is somewhat interesting at first but gets a little annoying as it's possible for the RNG to send one or two pots so far across the area that you can't get them in time even at your fastest requiring multiple attempts. You typically need to get around 30 per level to appease bee swarms to let you get an item needed to progress. Some areas have objects with a blue glow that can unlock music tracks.
Note that while major hubs remain the same in between levels, the routes in between can change. For example, level 1 requires the player to go south from Kanga's house to get to Piglet's house. Chapter 2 lets you go to Piglet's house from Pooh's while that south route is removed. Chapter 3 lets you use that South Route to help Tigger with a quest (by the way, this game is entirely Fetch Quests) so the world is somewhat open. And since areas are reused, you can get a lot of honey pots easily as locations of the yellow objects are consistent in-between chapters. It also gives a sense of "this is a consistent world" as some areas from earlier levels are explored more in later ones. Like the cave you can see during Tigger's Birthday in Chapter 3 is explored by Pooh in his Birthday in Chapter 5. This creates a far better sense of exploration than Dora's game as well.
So yeah, during chapters, you mostly play as Pooh bear, going from area to area, talking to characters and dealing with enemies, finding items and solving simple puzzles. It's a somewhat boring loop but I imagine small kids will quite enjoy it. For what it's worth, the game doesn't feel like a cash grab but genuinely trying to be a good Winnie the Pooh game.
Occassionally during chapters, you may switch to another character for a couple minutes. Eeyore's sections are the most brief. They are auto-running sections where Pooh riding on Eeyore must capture butterflies, frogs or birds in a time limit. These are really short but a neat change of pace. I do like the gag where something spooks Eeyore every time these segments start. Tigger's sections let him bounce around normally but have to stealth through sections with enemies. Stealth isn't hard as enemies have clear vision cones. I do feel it is a bit of a missed opportunity that Tigger's bouncing is never really incorporated into gameplay. Could have been an option to bounce to cross areas faster and attract enemies. Piglet's sections are the hardest and most fun. His gimmick is that when he enters an area full of enemies, he must stealth to get in front of them so he can start a QTE minigame where he makes scary faces at the enemies to scare them away. This QTE Section actually requires some strict timing and the enemies can mess you up by disabling some of your inputs or flipping the screen to try and obfuscate the controls. For example, suppose you have to press X then Right + Y then B to complete part of a sequence, an enemy can flip the screen upside down so you have to read from the other way and correct for the direction. I can honestly imagine some kids struggling with this. However, you can press A to break off from minigame to allow yourself to reposition farther away to try again with no consequence.
The game also has a "junior mode" which is just a place where you can move around small areas as the playable characters, interact with things in small cutscenes with no risk of enemies. It's a neat little mode for even younger players.
The options menu was also unique. You need to take a minecart to a specific area where all of the options are represented by diegetic machines. The option for mono or stereo audio is represented by a gramophone looking thing that either has one or multiple speakers playing depending on the option. Volume slides have 10 whistles you can pull to set the audio. This is quite nice but I prefer the standard menus since it makes it quick and easy to set up what you want. Also, there are no options for subtitles.
One criticism I do have are the load screens. They pop up whenever you are moving in-between areas and seeing as each individual area is quite small, they pop up a lot and the constant 15-30 seconds does hurt the flow.
So yeah, this game was oddly relaxing for the first couple chapters. But then started to get more boring and repetitive for me near the end as the backtracking and enemy sections started repeating. The varied environments and character switching did add some variety. But regardless, I really do think if you're going to give your kid a game to start playing games with, Pooh's game is a better bet than Dora's. However, these games do feel like relics from a bygone era. Seeing as game development has gotten more expensive, I doubt many studios are making games like these for preschoolers, instead relying more on mobile games. I expect Angry Birds is probably introducing more kids to gaming than console games made for them. I can't say I'm surprised or saddened by this change but it is somewhat melancholic, these games are arguably designed quite well for what they are going for but probably won't get much love or remembrance or even much of a chance to do what they are supposed to. After all, why go out of your way to get these kinds of games for your kids when the App Store is full of free ones they'd like anyway?
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