Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mini-reviews: Movie Edition

I'm currently playing through Dragon Age and Red Faction, but that hasn't stopped me from filling in with some throw-away titles on the side. Here are a few games that share a running theme: crappy movie tie-ins

Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian

Based on the (very) surprisingly popular Ben Stiller films, this game is hard to describe. Much like Hannah Montana, the striking aspect of the title is that there's no "game" here. It's ostensibly a platformer, but there isn't much in the way of actual platforming (thankfully so, given the sloppy camera and controls). Mostly it's just a lot of wandering around mostly empty environments looking for poorly hidden items. Oh, and there are some brutally unfunny cutscenes to waste a little time...kudos to the designers for allowing you to skip these.

There is a flying section with Amelia Earhart that offered moderate amusement, and I will give the game credit that they got Ben Stiller to do the voicework (though the rest of the vocals are terrible). Movie tie-in games are often below average, but this particular title is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Cars: Mater-National

Did you know there are actually THREE Xbox games based on the Pixar film Cars? Strange but true, I assure you. I found Cars to be an odd film. It's essentially Doc Hollywood with anthropomorphic animated cars. Who is this film for? I can't see kids caring about how small western towns decayed after freeways became popular. But the zany antics of the characters probably wouldn't entertain a lot of adults either. I'm not trying to slag the film, as it was well made. I'm just not sure what audience they were trying to reach.

In any case, I'm not here to be a film critic. The nice thing about Cars (as opposed to Night at the Museum) is that there's a style of game that's built into the movie's concept - car racing (duh). The game features races between various characters from the film, all done in environments befitting the dusty American southwest. It's a solid game graphically, and they were able to get some of the original actors to do voicework (including the thoroughly awesome Tony Shaloub).

However, the big fly in the ointment here is that the 360 is JAM-PACKED with quality racing titles. Seriously, people refer to it as the FPS console, but the number of excellent racing games seems to exceed any other genre. And while Cars: Mater-National is okay compared to other kids games, it pales in comparison to Forza, Dirt, Burnout, and a plethora of other titles. Cars tries to set itself apart with mini-games to complement the racing, but unfortunately the mini-games range from tedious to infuriating (the Fuel Frenzy games excepted...that was actually an entertaining diversion). The worst offender by far is the monster car racing, which is like regular racing only with an abysmal control scheme that was equal parts confusing and unresponsive. Children's games should not push me to controller-snapping fury but Cars did its level best at times.

Overall, Cars: Mater-National is only appropriate for young children. Even older kids would almost certainly prefer a more focused racing title.

Surf's Up

I didn't see this movie, but I get the gist from the game. It's penguins that surf. Simple enough, right?

But here's a shocker - I actually enjoyed the game. Seriously. It plays a bit like Tony Hawk - your character surf's along a predetermined course. Your job is to navigate the course while doing tricks off the wave, grabbing power ups and tiki statues, steering through gates, and grinding along ramps and rock formations. The game isn't overly difficult, but the gameplay and control scheme are instantly accessible and there's enough variety of moves and environments to keep it fun over the course of the relatively short career mode.

As you play, you unlock new characters (with their own unique abilities and move-sets) and surfboards. There's also a loose story about dethroning a champion surfing penguin, but it's not fleshed out terribly well. Still, the game definitely includes some laughs (much more so than Night at the Museum)...enough that I didn't skip the cutscenes.

Surf's Up is a pretty short game, and that's probably for the best as it would wear out its welcome quickly. I don't know that it's worth a purchase, but a rental might be worth your time.

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