All the teen drama of the hit TV show, distilling into a tiny, minigame-filled mobile game...
Playing Gameloft's mobile adaptation of the explosively popular TV teen drama The O.C. amused me greatly, but for largely the wrong reasons. Most of my play time with the game was spent at a coffee shop with my girlfriend, who is addicted to the show. Since the meat of the game revolves around relationship building, I got way, way too much mileage out of giving her constant updates:
"I've got to raise my maturity points enough to convince Sandy to get me off the hook with the DA, but I haven't hung out with Ryan in so long that he's mad at me, now!"
"I'm working at the diner to earn enough money to buy gifts for Summer - I need her back on my good side before Prom night!"
Thanks to the bite-sized nature of mobile gaming, it's a new teen drama every five minutes. Serious social issues can be solved through a couple minigames, and some quick stop-offs at some of Newport's most recognizable landmarks from the show including the Cohen household, popular club The Bait Shop, the student lounge, and Marissa's bedroom (where Ryan is generally hanging out late at night... ooooh!).
As I mentioned earlier, after choosing one of the four main teens as your playable character, the meat of the gameplay revolves around building and maintaining relationships with the rest of the cast members. Forming a better friendship with whomever is invariably just the thing needed to drive the narrative forward. Your character has four stats to keep track of - maturity, style, attitude, and intelligence. If your level in a particular stat isn't high enough, your "friendship meter" with a particular character might stall. You have to be mature to impress Sandy, have a lot of style to get on Marissa's good side, etc.
Stats are raised by performing any of the various tasks around town. Some tasks are completed automatically, while selecting others (karaoke, cooking, punching bag, etc.) initiate a minigame. Once you've been playing a little while, the game boils down to numbers management. Reading a fashion magazine gives you seven style points, but takes away two intelligence points, for example. Ultimately it's a bit mindless though, because it seems like every activity gives a bigger boost in one stat than it takes away from another. So after a little while nearly all your stats are close to being maxed out.
The minigames themselves are all fairly basic, but they're still enjoyable, and fairly varied. Driving has you dodging cars, while Talking has you dodging angry scrolling emoticons, and picking up happy ones. Punching Bag is a simple game of memory that uses the key pad effectively. The most robust (and most challenging) minigame is a videogame within the game - an Asteroids take-off dubbed Comet Command.
Aesthetically, I'm extremely pleased that Gameloft opted to give the game a genuine personality by using 2D pixel art to represent the town and the characters, instead of trying to shoehorn in static or animated digital images of the actors themselves. Pixel-art Seth just works so much better in a videogame setting than real digital Seth. The music & sound effects weren't handled quite so elegantly. There's a MIDI rendition of the theme song California that's decent enough, but why couldn't the real track have been included, as in some other Gameloft titles? The sound effects themselves are minimalistic and inoffensive enough.
Ultimately I'm not quite sure what to make of The O.C. As a big gamer I bought into the RPG-style stat raising, and appreciated the minigames that break up the action. But the plot points literally often made me laugh at the game. My girlfriend, on the other hand, always responded with "that's stupid" when I tried to explain to her that you had to earn more maturity points to progress. There are many, many games that play worse and have lower production values than The O.C. currently clogging carrier decks, but there are also plenty that are easier to recommend.
What's Hot: That dreamy Seth and all his witty one-liners
What's Not: The evil water polo players framing Ryan for stealing a car!