The people over at UFO are becoming better developers. With each new game they’ve put out in this Johnny series, I’ve noticed a better presentation, smoother animation, and more involved and complicated gameplay. In a sense, it’s a lot of fun watching them try new genres and add new layers to their systems. Where Johnny Kung-Fu was a ridiculously simple beat-em-up, Johnny Impossible is almost like a sort of Metroid-style adventure game, with weapons that you have to find to open new areas. Upgrades! Stealth! Enemies! It’s like watching their abilities evolve before your very eyes!
In a sense, then, the nicest thing I can say about Johnny Impossible is that it’s ALMOST a good game. In fact, it’s more “almost good” than the previous games in the entry, and as you run through dark areas and avoid enemy surveillance, you see what they were going for. There are rare moments where it all works together, and you feel yourself going along with how the developers had planned on your way to shutting down a giant space laser. The fact that it comes so close to being a good game, then, winds up being the saddest part.
So let’s run down the bad parts and start out with a question: if you were developing a video game, and you didn’t want to annoy everyone who came within ten feet of it, what are some important things you wouldn’t do?
I’m betting you wouldn’t set almost the entire game in the dark. And I don’t mean just “oh it’s shadowy over there.” I mean outside of a small area around you, the game is pitch black (which actually works really well with the 3D), and you have to use your night-vision goggles to see anywhere. But those run out of juice really quickly, so you’re often left sitting there, waiting for your vision to return, so you can keep going. Even still, it’s so dark that it’s easy to miss whatever it is you need to progress a sometimes.
Which sucks, because I’m also betting you wouldn’t have set your entire game on a timer. Every level gives you 30 minutes to complete it and you can’t earn more time. If spotted by an enemy, you'll lose two minutes from the timer. This is made worse by the game's poor guidance, where I often found myself either going the wrong way, or even just straight up breaking rooms, and wasting a ton of time in trying to figure out where to go. I wound up finishing the game the first time without one of the upgrades because I just managed to skip the area somehow, and areas I might have needed it in were easily cheesed.
Now I’m also betting that the number one thing you wouldn’t do, especially with these first two points in mind, is make your entire game a stealth game. Johnny Impossible is the kind of stealth game with a ton of lights, robots and laser trip wires that are impossible to see because the game is dark. Recharging your goggles results in some lost time but if you just trudge on ahead, you’re bound to lose time from being spotted by the enemy again and again. If you don't get yourself out of detection by leaving the room, a robot appear and kill Johnny after five seconds. Then it’s time for a reload. I hope you saved recently, because there is no auto saving at all. There was a lot of slamming my 3DS closed and putting it aside for later as I played this game because, well, it’s pretty bad. I mean, there’s a spot where you’re swimming and you have to go through a narrow passage. You try to go through it but the character sprite is too big. You can’t fit and it’s the only way through. Seriously.
When you get to the end of each level, you'll hack a computer terminal for a code, and these were probably some of my favorite parts of the game. The hacking minigame is more involved than just “match colors” or “rotate sticks,” and it’s split into two parts. The first is like a runner, where you jump crates and whatnot while a fiery wall chases after you. Then it’s a Game and Watch game. At least in spirit—it’s got the same “screen lighting up obvious sections” look, and these were surprisingly fun. If there was a menu option to just play those, that would have been a lot of fun! But there isn’t and, well, here we are.
UFO were just so close. The controls and in-game gadgets are actually OK. Those hacking sections were fine, too! It’s really sad, then, to see them come up so short. With more polish and more work, this game could have been fun. Instead, it’s a grossly frustrating game, too focused on dated mechanics and a misguided stealth element for it to be entertaining. And a timer on every little thing? I get the idea that it might help create tension, but it just winds up being frustrating when it’s ever-present like it is in Johnny Impossible.
Maybe next time, UFO, maybe next time.