This is definitely not the same Heracles as the one in the JRPG I recently finished playing.
It's a platformer! And it's wonky in terms of the controls and general feel. And I was ready to dismiss it entirely - when I took a look at the credits and saw that the game was made by a really small team! It might have been one programmer!
The more I think about it, the more I realize that these "B" quality DS games are great examples of what students can do NOW with existing tools and in small teams. This is mostly a testament to how much improvement we've seen in the tools available for game development. In other words, a bunch of students (and here I mean people with little experience and a limited amount of time). My guess is that the team that made this game probably had some experience, but worse tools and a similarly limited time frame in which to deliver the game.
All that being said, the game does have a litle twist in its mechanics as a platforming game. Heracles can jump and shoot stuff - but, he can also build a little arch he can walk up (allowing a bit of extra height needed to reach platforms). He can even build an arch on top of an existing arch for even more height! It took me a while to wrap my head around this, how it worked, how to best use it, and what button to press...but I got there and made my way through a few of the areas (there's a boss fight at the end of each one - the first one was laughably easy - it's a giant flying centaur that drops spears you must dodge until he drops to the ground at which time you can hit it once before it flies away)
The game makes nice use of the DS dual screens - the levels are vertical across both screens which is nice (also a bit unusual) and it was interesting to navigate the levels (once I was used to the controls and general feel for the jumps and such).
This game is not what I was expecting. I didn't even look at the back of the box before putting it in (because I do often enjoy the surprise of going into a game completely blind).
I wish the game had a tutorial - it's essentially a "large" scale economic simulation game where you own and run multiple train lines that travel between cities on rail lines you must build. You must also pay attention to the demand for goods at each city and what the supply is such that you can pay the costs of running that train and make some money along the way.
It's not quite a game that's all that easy to play on the DS - there's a map you need to scroll around on and the lack of tutorial meant that I spent way too long trying to understand how to lay down rails and what all the many, many icons meant. To be fair, I still don't. I was able to make a right mess of the second mission in the campaign. So. Big fail on my part.
I thought I'd check the manual - but it was not helpful (also in French, I don't know why - English one got lost probably?).
All that to say that this was a real surprise - a hardcore economic train sim camouflaged as what I assumed was a kid's train game (I used to have a Lionel trains set when I was much younger).
I played a bit more of Chapter 1 - trying to get to Chapter 2. I met the requirements but then I had to go search for food on the ice, and kept falling through. I failed at this a few times and I tried to pay attention to see what it was I was doing wrong or misunderstanding about the game. No luck.
So, I guess I have to admit that this NatGeo kids game was simply too challenging for me! (or, that I lacked the patience to keep on trying or desire to look at a guide for an answer or solution)
Another NatGeo game - the other one I played was March of the Penguins.
I'm going to guess that this game is also based/inspired by a documentary film (this time about polar bears, going by the game's cover). The March of the Penguins game was really a mess - if memory serves - in terms of it just not being interesting to play and having wonky controls that made things harder. So, I was not expecting much from this one and I assumed I'd play 30 minutes and go "yup, also a mess" and be done with it.
So far, that's not been the case.
The game is divided into chapters and I've only on the first one - and, it's an "open area" where you run around as a little polar bear, you have to explore the environment finding food and stuff (basically collecting things), but there are also some mini-games to complete (to get more of the things you're collecting) and you can also turn into a Fox or a Walrus (giving you access to a few more mini-games that are available around the level). It's not an "oh wow this is amazing" kind of experience - for me at least (I'm not the target audience), but it is a surprisingly more open and interesting experience than I was expecting. Yes, it's simple - not realistic and all that, but I can see kids having fun with it and being drawn into the simple gameplay and the setting. Technically it's "ok" (even considering the time) with controls being a little fiddly, animations that are a bit tricky at times, BUT - it does work and is reasonably intuitive. So far.
I'm genuinely curious to see what the next chapters have to show, which is already a major step up from what I expected. I guess so far it's a nice examples of throwing in little amounts of variety to keep things fresher and more interesting while not having to develop an insane amount of content.