Do you remember Dennis the Menace? This completely annoying, artificial character who always made his neighbour see red and got on the nerves of the audience? If not, congratulations – keep it that way. All those unfortunates who have been scarred already will, however, feel a deep pain looking at Enviro Kids for the first time: the same slingshot in the pack pocket, the same haircut, the same hat… this does not bode well! Or does it?
The Dennis lookalike calls himself “Maik” (things are becoming more and more bleak…) and together with his cousin Eva, he is the game's protagonist. Together with a couple of friends, they are the “Enviro Kids” – a group which fights for protection of the environment in their home village. The local newspaper publisher smells money, so he abuses the kids as unpaid slave workers to create a special publication about the topic of garbage. It is supposed to cover the effects of the garbage collectors' strike and shed some light on the shady business of the largest local corporation, a producer of packaging material. Apart from making a profit for the publisher himself, of course.
In the course of the game, the group uncovers a couple of real scandals, learns (standing in for the player) a lot about garbage avoidance and garbage processing, kickstarts structural improvements for the future and performs some hands-on work.
The game is divided into four days, on which you will alternatingly play in the role of the two protagonists. They share a funny relationship with one another, but in interactions with third parties, they are rather bland. Which is maybe for the better, because it decreases the risks of getting Dennis. Each day, there is something to research for the paper, there are people to interview, there is background information to retrieve etc. For example, why do all goods available in the supermarket come in layers and layers of wrappers? Does this make sense for fruit? How does the mayor plan to solve the issue of the garbage taking over the city? Why does the wrapping company's boss refuse to change his production to other (also profitable) fields? And anyway, why is it that when you go fishing, you only catch garbage instead of fish?
Being a latecomer to the promotional adventure genre, the game's technical aspects are excellent. Attractive cartoon graphics, both statically and animated, intuitive controls, a working multiple choice system for conversations – this is what we like to see! The big message is of course based on starry-eyed idealism, but sometimes at least, there are some somewhat reflected thoughts to be found. Of course, there are purely one-dimensional characters, like this industrialist or the protagonists, but on the other hand, structural circumstances which get people to do something “bad” are also covered – like in the case of the supermarket's owner who of course has to look out for what his customers want or the mayor, who cannot just keep his rose-tinted glasses of 1950s kitsch about the cozy little village at the edge of the woods, but also has to take care that people may have the chance to get a job. Really annoying scenes are rare; the worst incarnation of that is the “garbage consultant” – a woman whose job it seems to be to sit around all day doing nothing, showing absolutely no initiative, but if asked act like a smug know-it-all and have a solution for everything already.
That leaves the gameplay elements. The puzzles are rather well done – the tasks are clear and manageable. It's a bit of a pity that the game robs the player of the satisfaction of committing the final steps of a puzzle already solved in her mind herself at times – if you're carrying all the necessary objects, all subsequent steps of a puzzle tend to run automatically after the first one (e.g. the telephone booth). Even though there are many conversations to sit through, each one remains brief. The curse of endless blabbering, which is quite common in games like this unfortunately, has been avoided – things stay in a good balance.
Only on the last day of the game, the game runs out of steam a little. That day, you basically spend picking up garbage, i.e. searching all those screens you already know for more or less hidden objects. Though even that isn't too bad. On the one hand, you could say that this teaches the young target audience that small actions matter. On the other hand, Enviro-Kids is easily twice the size of a regular promotional adventure game anyway. So this is really excusable.
So in spite of the strong reservations I had initially, I can now say: this one is a real highlight of the promotional genre! It has a sympathetic message, doesn't become too preachy and it is a well-balanced game overall – this is how they should have carried on. The only advice to the developers would have been to avoid scaring off players with negative graphical connotations, especially if they don't even become true (fortunately!).