- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

A pair of stepbrothers empowers children to show off their building skills and have a ton of fun in Phineas and Ferb (Disney Interactive Studios, for DS, $29.99), a third-person adventure game for Nintendo’s hand-held console.

The premise of the popular, Emmy-nominated Disney Channel cartoon nearly mirrors the game’s on-screen antics. It finds the bored duo of Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher on summer vacation and looking for something to do. Playing in the park is way too mundane, so they hatch a plan to build a roller coaster throughout the city.

Using their parents’ backyard as a hub, the pair ventures into four worlds encompassing their neighborhood and metropolis to find items, talk to friends and set their grand dreams in motion, including finishing the coaster and creating a water slide and monster truck park.

The action involves plenty of exploration, collection, minigames and even racing as the player can control each character individually and combined.

The pint-size Phineas must often rummage through garbage containers (trace a pattern with the stylus on the touch screen) to kick up and collect scraps such as springs, CPU chips and Rust-B-Gone. He also can knock stuff out of bird’s nests as the player blows into the DS microphone.

As the duo walks around, they encounter obstacles that require Ferb to fix something or to carry Phineas. They might climb a ladder together (tap on-screen button to move), walk across a tight rope or get flung over a fence.

Ferb might need to fix a spring-loaded platform to jump to a new level or clean a rusted gate to enter an area. A fix always involves a minigame; for example, players use the stylus as a welding arc to trace an outline in a set amount of time.

The stuff they find is stored in backpacks that act as resource management depots. This storage place also contains accumulated gadgets (slick shoes, a vacuum or a musical instrument), blueprints and instructions for contraptions.

Once all the pieces are found for a contraption or track, returning to the backyard and stopping by the Summer Fun Tent starts the construction process. After a vehicle or pieces of track are completed through more minigames, racing takes over as the boys test the car and course while collecting more items.

The fun occasionally will come to screeching halt thanks to the brothers’ obnoxious older sister, Candace.

This tattletale extraordinaire spends her time on the top DS screen, next to the map, seething about her siblings’ plans.

Once a rage meter fills up, another style of game kicks in. It’s a permutation of Pac-Man where the brothers must outmaneuver Candace in a maze, collecting a series of screws to escape her grasp.

The player can defuse the situation before the rage meter peaks by feeding Candace some shortcake — another item found throughout the game.

Guest appearances by the show’s friends, such as Isabella Garcia-Shapiro, Baljeet, Buford and Jeremy help bring the show to on-screen life. Additionally, Perry the Platypus plays a major role in the game as he not only is the save hub, but also eventually becomes a controllable character.

Disney’s online community, DGamer, is also part of the title. Through a DS Wi-Fi connection, players can create an avatar, safely interact online and use items won in Phineas and Ferb in the 3-D environment.

Learning time: Lessons of teamwork permeate the game as kids see their heroes being creative, taking initiative and striving to do the impossible.

Logic skills are also a constant during the minigames that mix with a hint of the engineering trade. Specifically, rotating pieces to fit them together to build machine components and coaster track are commonplace in 2-D and 3-D puzzles.

On the slightly mathematical side, a challenge has a player hammer in nails with a required number of strokes, offering a bit of a numerical conundrum.

Age range: The 9-year-old suffering from Phineas and Ferb fever will relish the hands-on approach of the game, which verges on the role-playing genre. A decent amount of micromanagement for the youngster combine with colorful visuals that match the show’s designs will keep him entertained and very busy as he plots out how to build the next contraption.

Final advice: Phineas and Ferb is a breath of fresh air compared with the mediocrity usually shoveled out as licensed game fodder. Disney Interactive develops some of the slicker, kid-friendly titles out there, simple enough for the younger fan and complex enough for the difficult-to-please tween in the family.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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