As I child I hated the annual elementary school science fair. There were all of those requirements to follow when carrying out an "experiment" (things such as growing plants under different colored lenses or exploring the concept of lift), plus there was that damn board I had to make every single year that outlined the theory, the hypothesis, the procedure, the results, and whatever fancy charts my parents and I dreamed up to support the whole process. The school said the science fair was supposed to be fun, and wouldn't you know that it took about two decades for that statement to become valid: Konami has launched Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom for the Nintendo DS.
This latest installment of the Death Jr. saga finds our hero DJ (the son of the infamous Grim Reaper, as you'll recall) and his friends showing off their unusual and macabre science projects at the school science fair. Something goes horribly wrong, of course, plunging DJ and friends into a twisted version of the school and killing his would-be girlfriend Pandora. Working together, DJ and Pandora's ghost must explore the dark schoolhouse, rescue their classmates, and set things right again.
I came into Science Fair as a Death Jr. newbie. I was aware of the character from his Sony PlayStation Portable adventures, but this was my first time controlling the Grim Reaper's spawn. I was pleasantly surprised at the result. Part Legend of Zelda with just a dash of Super Mario Bros., Science Fair is a 3D platformer adventure set with an alternating 2D side-scrolling and overhead/perspective viewpoint. For instance, a level may begin with a side-on camera angle, but as the action progresses the camera will shift overhead or to a perspective angle to allow the player to see alternate routes or enemy hordes. Camera control is automatic, fluid, and was never a problem for me.
With the camera out of the way I was able to focus on DJ's movements. He walks and jumps like you'd expect any platformer hero to do, but armed with weapons such as his special scythe he can slash at foes, cling to the edges of platforms, and even perform a helicopter-type spin that allows him to glide gently to the ground. Combat is mostly automatic as well. Consider the scythe, for instance. With a press of the A button or a tap of the touchscreen DJ swings his mighty weapon, and if the swing makes contact with an enemy our hero will swing into a combo attack with repeated button presses or touchscreen taps. When the action gets too intense players can switch to controlling the ghostly Pandora for a limited time, and although she cannot battle enemies, she can jump quite high and float around to perform a little reconnaissance. Enemies defeated by DJ drop energy orbs that Pandora can collect, and these orbs can then be used to unlock new paths and even heal DJ after he takes too many hits. Best of all, she's invincible. She can't be hurt. After all, she's already dead!
Each level has a particular goal, but as a side quest DJ is encouraged to rescue his missing classmates. They're sealed away in crates and things, but they'll call out for help and rattle their cages if one blows on the DS's microphone when the kids are near DJ's position. Each freed classmate arms DJ with a locker combination in the main school hallway, and those lockers are loaded with items, weapons, and other such goodies. It's optional, sure, but why not collect these freebies if given the chance?
Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom is a breath of fresh "new character license" air. Konami has a winner here in this third DJ adventure, and anyone after some light combat and platforming action is advised to check it out. You'll have a deathly good time.