Hello Kitty's been having a busy month or so, with not one, not two, but three new titles under her belt. First she was cooking to music, then she went racing round in her take on Mario Kart - and now she's jetting off on a world tour of a different kind. Backed up by a stable of familiar Sanrio faces, the multi-instrumentalist feline is taking her band on tour, with a spot of musical rhythm action aimed at her younger fans.Essentially a game of two halves, Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour blends match three puzzle games with musical beat matching in one cutesy 3DS title - and while it may sound like a bit of an odd combination, it actually works surprisingly well.
First off is the 'puzzle' portion, a solid match three game in which players swap like coloured blocks around to match them in lines of three or more and make them disappear. The more you make disappear, the higher your score, and if you can manage to trigger a combo that gets rid of multiple groups of blocks at once, all the better. Special blocks jazz things up a bit, with hearts that get rid of all blocks of one colour, music notes that erase whole lines and bombs that blow up an area. Split into stages, each level has two or three different objectives to complete before you can move on, which usually involve getting a certain score, completing a level in a set number of moves or getting a certain size of combo - generally they're all fairly straight forward, adding a subtle challenge to the game, but not so much of one it turns off the young players Rockin' World Tour is aimed at. There is one issue though, in that the objectives all too often refer to the special blocks as A, B or C, rather than heart, music note or star, leaving you largely to guess which one you need.
Given the game is called 'Rockin' World Tour' you might be forgiven for thinking the music portion is the main attraction, but the puzzle mode is actually central to your progression. As you complete puzzles, you'll unlock new characters for your band, new venues to play at and themes for your room, along with earning a chunk of points to be spent at the in game store on new outfits and accessories for Kitty. These points can only be earned through the puzzle mode too, as the music game portion has it's own separate currency, making puzzles the only way to expand Kitty's wardrobe. Co-ordinating Kitty's clothes will earn you bonus points during your band performances too, making the difference between a hum drum everyday playthrough and a new high score, and more monetary medal rewards.
Moving on to the musical portion of the game, this one takes Hello Kitty and her pals on a whistle-stop tour of the world, taking to the stage everywhere from Tokyo to New York to Rio and more. Spread across twelve different locales, with a new song for each, you can choose to tackle each song on one of four different instruments - Lead Guitar, 'Side' Guitar (essentially, rhythm guitar), Bass and Drums. Generally speaking, they all play fairly similarly, in that circles move across the screen and you need to tap the Touch Screen when they line up with the indicator, matching the rhythm of the song as best as you can, earning more points the closer you are, but each instrument has it's own specific quirks too. Lead Guitar has sections where you need to scribble on the Touch Screen during a held note, Side Guitar has left/right arrows you need to swipe over, while Bass replaces this with up and down strums instead, and drums has you tapping on the left and right sections of the Touch Screen for a drum roll or two - making each feel subtly different, and encouraging you to try each song on a new instrument.
Depending on how well you do on the song, you'll be awarded a number of medals - the concert portion's own unique currency. These can then be exchanged for spins on a capsule machine, where, if you're lucky, you'll nab yourself a new instrument to use, each with a different design. When you first begin the Concert tour game, you have but a single Side Guitar, so visiting the capsule machine in Kitty's room is paramount when it comes to unlocking the other instruments for use during songs. Speaking of unlockables, it's a little disappointing that, even though you've unlocked enough characters to create a full band via the Puzzle mode, you can only pick one companion to join you on stage, and the remaining instruments are picked up by pink Hello Kitty statues instead. We also found that the game doesn't always register when you've completed a song - we had to play the Los Angeles set four times, once on each instrument, before it decided to unlock the next venue, and on the select stage screen, it claims to have been only completed on Side Guitar, despite us having set high scores for everything.
Still, despite the occasional hiccup, Hello Kitty & Friends: Rockin' World Tour is another pretty solid entry to the 3DS line up - aimed squarely at little kids, it may not appease everyone, but for it's target audience it's mix of simple rhythm action and basic match three is likely to be a winner. As a budget-priced title, the two modes are surprisingly fully-fledged, with twelve different songs, plenty of puzzles and a fair few unlockable outfits, accessories and instruments, which should keep you playing for a while.