Everyone wants a sure thing, to get all of the reward without taking any of the risk. In the gaming world that means one of two things: a sequel or a movie license. Just look at a short list of this year's crop of top games: Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, The Sims 2, GTA: San Andreas, Doom 3, Metroid Prime 2. It's not that these aren't high-quality games; it's just that original, creative, innovative titles are scarce. Few publishers are willing to risk millions in development costs just to make Katamari Damacy.
It works the same way in Hollywood, which constantly floods us with useless sequels and Stephen King movies.
And that's why I love Pixar. With the exception of Toy Story 2, Pixar deliberately and relentlessly creates original characters, new stories, and creative settings time and again. Their list of successes is unrivaled, and made all the more impressive when you consider that they have never licensed anyone else's work. The team at Pixar simply oozes talent like they have no control over it.
Of course, not everyone wants to take such risks. THQ scooped up the license to The Incredibles quite a ways back in order to make a polished, risk-free, unoriginal game that is sure to sell a certain number of copies based on the success of the movie and make them a nice tidy profit.
For the three of you who haven't seen the movie yet, the game follows the same plot with only a few liberties taken to flesh out the gaming content. You follow the lives of retired superheroes Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, and their two children, Violet and Dash. Originally public figures, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are sued for the damage caused during their heroic exploits, so they choose instead to live a life of secret mediocrity. However, when evil fiend Syndrome rears his ugly head, it falls on The Incredibles to return and save the world. While the game uses cutscenes from the film to advance the identical plot, they are disjointed enough so that much of the game's story might actually remain a confusing mystery to anyone who hasn't seen the movie.
You will play as all four Incredibles over the course of the game. Mr. Incredible has super-strength and can beat up hordes of enemies with little difficulty. Elastigirl stretches out to perform more interesting fighting moves and often must find distant objects to swing from in order to progress. Dash can run like the wind; his levels play like racing game Time Trials as he darts to his goal while dodging traffic or evil robots. Finally, Violet can turn invisible for short periods in order to sneak past her enemies.
Add a few shooting levels and you have the best part of The Incredibles game: the varied gameplay. While some characters are definitely more fun to play than others (Violet's stealth level is particularly weak), mixing up the styles keeps you more entertained than bored.
Still, the gameplay suffers from some aggravating issues. Sometimes the controls feel tight and responsive, but at other times your Incredible will stand there like an idiot for a second or two while you hammer on the buttons. I swapped out controllers several times before I figured out it was actually the game. You have an infinite number of "lives" in The Incredibles, so each level is just a matter of making it to the next checkpoint by trial and error. This can be frustrating on a few of the levels where small missteps can kill you instantly, forcing you to replay whole sections repeatedly.
The graphics are smooth and sharp, and capture the Pixar characters nicely. Environments range from city rooftops to island jungles and volcano interiors, and all are done well with plenty of objects to interact with. The occasionally uncooperative camera can be irritating, but I've suffered through much worse and it's actually about average for a platformer. The Xbox version is rock solid and the Gamecube version is decent enough, though the Playstation 2 version should feel a bit embarrassed standing in front of the Pixar artists. Lacking the horsepower to keep up, the PS2 is prone to stuttering when the action gets heavy.
The sound is also very well done with plenty of voice quips from the characters. Too bad they're incessantly repeated as usual. The soundtrack and sound effects are absolutely top notch, though, especially on the Xbox and PS2 where you can take advantage of the full 5.1 surround sound. It's much more satisfying when you dodge a missile and actually hear it roar by your head, pounding into the ground behind you.
Unfortunately, because it sticks so closely to the movie, The Incredibles is a pretty short ride. An average gamer can probably beat it in about 8 hours, and without any sort of on or offline multiplayer, there's no reason to play it again. Unlocking some extra concept art just isn't enough of a reward anymore. The Xbox version has a bonus level you can download from Xbox Live, but that's not much of a perk, either.
The safe road may have no risks, but also no excitement. As a standard third-person action-platformer, there's nothing substantially wrong with THQ's take on The Incredibles, but neither is there anything original. Want something truly incredible? Go with the talented folks who actually made the movie and buy the DVD instead.