Insecticide intrigued me, however. The first point in its favor was that it's an original videogame -- no movie to promote. Second, Insecticide's lead designers were responsible for games such as Full Throttle and The Curse of Monkey Island. Those are classics of the click-and-investigate adventure genre, and all of them made me laugh out loud. Insecticide was also published by the indie Gamecock Media Group, and in an era of big-budget games, I crave examples of creative independence. Finally, Insecticide promised to combine a story-driven detective adventure with shooting and jumping action, all on a DS. It was enough to make me overcome my bug-phobia.
Insecticide immediately threw me into the action. I found myself firing a "pollinator" at a fleeing criminal bug in a dark alley where I quickly became frustrated. The murky atmosphere made everything too dark, even on an ultra-bright DS Lite, and my shooting was reduced to clicking on the "lock on" button and firing blindly. When I jumped, there was no easy way to judge distances, and even half a dozen levels into the game, I found myself repeatedly falling to squashed deaths. When I was asked to investigate crime scenes or do police work, I simply wandered through a room, clicking on everything until I used it all. The game never let me fail.
Much of Insecticide feels half-pupated, as though a beautiful design was going to emerge but the cocoon got ripped off too early, revealing a mushy mess. The characters have rough-hewn contours, and they talk (in text) while swaying back and forth with less animation than some games bring to blades of grass. I now know that the only thing worse than a computer-animated bug is a badly-computer-animated bug. Despite Insecticide's insistence on telling a story, this whodunit plot is populated with generic characters, guns that feel identical (though they have different names) and a sense of momentum that's like running into a windshield.
THE GOOD: The pre-rendered cinematic sequences of Insecticide suggest a witty storyline with amusingly designed characters and gritty environments. When the action starts, these subtleties are lost. The environments become hollow halls in which to blindly chase enemies, the story crumbles under lifeless humor and the characters get reduced to masses of cumbersome polygons. The game has good designs behind it, but Insecticide swats the life out of them as soon as they try to take off.
THE BAD: I don't expect anything more than generic schlock from games like Bee Movie, but I expect to be transported, entertained and challenged by my own limitations when the team that made Insecticide creates a game. Instead, I was alienated, bored and reminded that even good game designers have their limits.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Insecticide exterminates a decent idea.