And so we're faced with another victim of the BBC's relentless massacre of childhood memories, with helpful Welsh firefighter Fireman Sam being the latest to take the fall from old-fashioned stop motion charm to "modern" CG. We guess change is inevitable, but sometimes things go too far - Dilys no longer looks like Eric Idle in drag, cheerful bus driver Trevor's moved on and poor Sam's face looks like it's been hit by the very vehicle he drives. Even so, these are all things we can deal with, especially as underneath it's animated exterior it's still pretty much the same show – he's still the helpful hero next door we remember – but the least they could have done was leave the theme tune intact. Fireman Sam doesn't need a Busted-alike to play him in.
In an effort to make the game appeal to as wider audience as possible, each game can be played on one of three different difficulties – although, unfortunately, it doesn't go anywhere near far enough, as often the only noticeable difference between easy and hard is the number of mistakes you can make before it's game over (except in the case of jigsaws and sliding tiles, where it dictates the number of pieces you get).
Sadly, what this often results in is a game that's challenging enough for adults, yet alone the younger children the game's undoubtedly targeting. One of the best examples is Spot The Difference, where you need to compare the two pictures shown on the top and bottom screens of the DS, touching anything you think looks a bit suspect. The game itself is pretty decent with a fair few different pictures to play with, each of which has dozens of potential differences, meaning any repetition is kept to a minimum. But the main problem is, the differences you're looking for will be the same no matter what difficulty you're playing on. Playing on Easy, you'll get more "lives", which lets you get a few more choices "wrong", but we were expecting the differences to be a lot more obvious on Easy - like Sam having green hair, Elvis missing an arm, a whole fridge having disappeared; instead Sam's shirt was fractionally shorter, the fridge door was a slightly different shape and a small patch on the sofa had gone. We spent a while struggling to find some of the differences, so god knows how a smaller child would cope...
Not all the games are bad though – for many children, the jigsaws are likely to be the highlight of the package thanks to their simplicity, and the sliding tiles games may well prove popular too, although it would be nice if you could pick which picture you wanted to play for each, rather than being stuck with a random one. The Patrol Sounds memory game, where you need to listen to and memorise a sequence of sounds before repeating them back is also pretty good, and Pontypandy Heroes, a familiar game of pairs will likely get a fair amount of play time too. The Fire Service game has you matching various shadows to a series of pictures, and Norman Calculates is a simple game of sudoku, using just 4 numbers on easy rising to the full 9 digits on hard.
In all, then, Fireman Sam is a bit of a weird one – they've obviously given some thought to their target audience, having three different difficulties to ensure everyone can play, but some of the mini-games don't really adjust themselves enough to work for the youngest of the young. The games themselves aren't that bad, but a few illogical decisions, dodgy translations (we assume) and cheap ways of increasing the difficulty let them down.