A gentle giant.
Dreamworks' Shrek 2 is a rare film for a couple reasons: it's a sequel that's arguably better than the original, it's a computer animated film not made by Pixar, and it appeals to children and adults alike. That's a pretty potent formula, as evidenced by the fact that it's the top grossing animated film of all time.
In a similar sense, Luxoflux and Activision's Shrek 2 for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube is a rare game based on a film because of its solid mechanics and snappy pace, not to mention that it's WAY better than the game based on the original Shrek. And although it fails to live up to the movie's broad appeal, it finds limited success as a movie to game translation because at least two age groups will like it: young children and their parents.
The game loosely follows the plot of the film, which was clearly adapted to fit the mini-game/puzzle solving mechanics. Shrek and Fiona live happily in the swamp until they are summoned by Fiona's parents, The King and Queen of Far, Far Away. Upon arriving in the new land, Shrek and his crew receive a less than enthusiastic greeting from the King (who was expecting Prince Charming), and shenanigans involving an Evil Fairy Godmother and Happily Ever After Potions ensue. Unfortunately, most of the storytelling occurs in storybook cut-scenes, giving the game's actual missions and episodes a random, disjointed feel.
Shrek 2 is a team-based action/adventure where a single player and up to three friends can control a fearsome foursome comprised of Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, The Gingerbread Man, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, The Big Bad Wolf, Dragon or Fairy. The controls are nearly identical in all three console versions, with each character having a regular attack, a special move, and a jumping attack. When the game begins, only Shrek, Fiona, Gingerbread Man and Donkey are available, but as the game progresses the player gains access to the other characters and their special abilities.
Each character's special ability matches a specific obstacle type. For example, gates with a horseshoe on them require a Donkey Kick to bust through, while mechanical gates require Shrek to find the missing gear with his face on it and place it in the proper place using his Ogre Lift power. Some gates must be opened by hitting a red and white target usually located over a chasm so that only projectiles can hit it, which requires the ranged attacks of Little Red and Gingerbread. Since the game decides who your four characters will be, you never have to worry about having the wrong people for a given job.
WhereShrek 2 differs from most other licensed adventure games is in its occasional non-linearity. Sure, you'll travel down your fair share of paths collecting beans and coins while dispatching scary/cute monsters, but you'll also encounter open areas filled with quests for your party to complete in no specific order. For instance, when you arrive in the land of Far, Far Away, the King makes your party official deputies and has you wander around town helping those in need. These play out as short mini-games, such as chasing down escaped chickens or gathering up pieces of Humpty-Dumpty while fending off angry peasants.
Occasionally you'll take on a mini-game called Hero Time, which features only one character. One of the first Hero Times is pretty cool: Donkey must ride Dragon and rescue Princess Fiona before her carriage sails off a cliff. However, the other Hero Times are mainly excuses for long, tedious platforming segments, since platforming is somewhat impossible with a full team of four.
Unfortunately, after about an hour or so, everything Shrek 2 throws at you starts to look the same. You do a lot of escorting, timing exercises, simple peasant bashing and item hunting all while opening gate after gate, over and over again. Though the game features 9 playable characters, they basically boil down to their one special ability apiece. Most of the puzzles and mini-games are so simple that only a child will feel a sense of pride in completing them.
But again, as a kid's game, it's pretty solid. The addition of cooperative multi-play gives it some life at parties and gives parents the ability to help out the wee ones caught in a jam
Shrek 2 looks notably better on the Xbox and Gamecube than on the PS2, with lush vibrant colors and textures on the former and relatively limp visuals on the latter. However, all three versions maintain a decent framerate, which is a good thing since Shrek 2 actually has some really impressive animations. The only real problem involves the rigid camera. The damn thing just doesn't move in the directions you want it to, especially if you need to backtrack. Someone should fire the cinematographer.
The voice actors do a respectable job imitating Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, though it's a shame they couldn't get the real talent. The music takes some interesting turns - the fiddle track in Jack and Jill's farm is catchy - but is usually the same upbeat crap you've heard in a thousand adventure games. The same goes for the sound effects. Crack. Splat. Blah.
When all is said and done, Shrek 2 is a better game than it could have been and is at least recommendable for young children. Though the objectives are overly simple and quite repetitive, the game is well programmed with decent graphics and a solid pace, and the cooperative aspect should make for many lively slumber parties. Just don't expect it to keep the grown-up ogres entertained for long.