The odds are if you have a young daughter, you'll at least have heard of the Winx Club, a cartoon series that follows the happenings in the magical dimension of Magix. Following the adventures of six school friends as they discover new fairy transformations and powers, battle evil, and help their friend Bloom lean more about her origins, with ten years, 104 episodes, several films and even its own musical under its belt, the Italian animated series has been quite a success - and as with every success, it's even spawned a number of games, with the latest handheld adventure, Winx Club: Saving Alfea, arriving just in time for Christmas.
The story starts with the girls - the titular Winx Club - planning a party for the anniversary of the magical fairy school they all attend, Alfea. Of course, parties require a fair bit of preparation, and they need your help in rounding up the necessary bits and pieces, by completing puzzley 2D platform levels to hunt down balloons, flowers, dresses and other assorted bits and pieces. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when the meddling witch Selina turns up, who uses the power of her new Siphonix Talisman to unleash a whole load of creatures from within the magical Legendarium book. So, as always, it's up to the Winx to take out her hordes, destroy the talisman and save the day, making sure the school's celebration isn't ruined.
A basic, kid-friendly platformer, Winx Club has some 32 levels to play through - an impressive number by any measure, even if they are each only a few minutes long. On the plus side, that makes it perfect pick-up-and-play handheld fare - and given children's propensity to play through the same thing umpteen times, it may not be that much of a problem.
Generally speaking, these levels are split into two different 'types', each with a hidden bonus collectable to be found, increasing replayability a little. First, there's the more puzzley platformer style levels, where the focus is more on finding the relevant items and working your way past spikes, bounce pads and moving platforms rather than engaging in combat - later levels may require you to avoid or distract enemies using the Winx Club's powers, but by and large they're relatively empty. The second type of levels, however, take a much more action-oriented approach, and have a definite combat vibe - transforming into their fairy forms, you'll need to fight your way to the end of each stage instead.
Each of the Winx Club heroines has their own unique set of abilities for both combat and exploration - although some tend to be more useful than others. The ginger-haired Bloom can send out a sparkly burst that makes invisible items, collectables and switches appear, while in combat she can summon a circle of fire balls to injure nearby monsters. Flora meanwhile can make vines grow to create extra platforms - or immobilise enemies for a short time. Aisha can jump higher than the other Winxs, as well as move glowing platforms, while her combat transformation lets you summon a protective wall to block enemy attacks. Blonde-haired Stella can destroy purple Legendarium walls and fire a beam of light to slow down enemies, while rock chick Musa can pull out a disco ball and distract enemies with dance (watching a big burly troll grooving is sure to raise a smile), as well as stunning them temporarily with a ray of musical energy in battle. Last, but by no means least comes Techna, who can whip out a hologram of herself to confuse enemies, and can surround herself in a protective bubble to avoid damage in combat.
As you leap, dodge and blast bad guys, you'll pick up gold spheres in addition to party equipment. Serving as your 'score' for that level, these orbs have a secondary purpose too - each one you collect adds to a bar, which, when filled, 'levels up' your Winx Club fairies, giving them health boosts, reducing spell casting times and the like, making future levels that little bit easier.
Thankfully, while levelling is fun, it's never really necessary, as this is a game that obviously knows it's target audience, and keeps things simple enough that any young Winx fan should be able to cope. Button prompts at crucial points show when you should use a character's special power, or which of the girls you need to change into to get past a specific part. The only real misstep is that the story is told entirely through text, with no voice overs at all - for an audience that likely haven't learnt to read quite yet, it seems a bit of an odd decision. That being said, all the dialogue is non-essential, so those who can't read, or don't have the patience to, should be fine anyway.
Reminding us a little of the great-for-little-girls (or boys - we don't judge!) Disney Princess titles for the DS and Wii, Winx Club: Saving Alfea is a solid addition to a little one's 3DS library. A reliance on reading without voice overs hurts it a little, and it could probably have done with being a little bit longer, but for an age group which has precious little games they're capable of playing, it's well worth the entry fee.