I've always liked fish, especially steamed with ginger, green onions and a light coating of soy sauce. Chinese people believe that eating fish will make you smart. I have yet to understand why. [Maybe you need to eat more fish, dummy. - Ed.]
Fish have tiny brains and swim in polluted waters. Dolphins, on the other hand, have huge brains. Eating dolphins would make much more sense, but then Greenpeace would have me arrested. Drats.
Since I'll never have seared dolphin over a bed of greens, I'll have to take part in Finding Nemo-mania. First, I'll watch the movie. Then I'll play and review the game. Afterwards, I'll wait patiently for Nemo the Microwave Fish Dinner.
Finding Nemo, the PS2 game, opts out of the standard movie tie-in 3D platformer, instead offering a mix of 2D stages, Crash Bandicoot-inspired towards-the-camera swim races and old-school throwback challenges.
While the movie is intended for a broad audience, the marketing and feel of the game points towards the younger tykes. But after getting their feet wet, the difficulty will start to push the patience of the wee ones.
The game begins with you playing as Nemo, a clownfish looking forward to going to school. Throughout the game, you switch between Nemo, Marlin (Nemo's constantly worried dad) and Dory, a fish with woefully poor memory. Nemo gets fish-napped, and it's up to Marlin and Dory to rescue him. The three fish play identically, but in some areas Marlin and Dory must switch back and forth, using their different sizes to navigate through a system of pipes and switches.
Most of the stages are simple 2D left to right scrolling affairs that involve swimming through and around obstacles, occasionally stopping to attack an insolent sea crab. Instead of normal attacks, the fish must push a floating bubble towards their enemies, encapsulating them in bubbly submission. Once trapped, a simple pop is all it will take to obliterate your enemies. Now if only it were so simple in real life.
There are also some sections that have you racing towards the camera while swimming through rings for speed boosts and items. Each stage in the game has various optional challenges as well, such as collecting all of the items or swimming through all of the hoops.
Sections of Finding Nemo recall the classic pyramid arcade hopper, Q-bert. Instead of hopping on a giant mound of cubes, you must bounce from jellyfish to jellyfish. The diagonal controls aren't adjusted very well, especially when you are trying to bounce on every jellyfish. Thankfully, the game does offer unlimited lives, so if at first you don't succeed...
Yet where Finding Nemo does fail is in its difficulty for its intended audience. The game seems geared towards the under 12 crowd, but despite the simplistic controls and goals, Finding Nemo can be a touch hard too quickly in specific areas, such as navigating through the pipe currents or the sliding block puzzles. Plus, there's an instance in the game where a wildly counter-intuitive arrow tells you to push an object. If you are a parent, prepare to offer some help.
Then again, really young kids probably aren't out to beat the game. Some can just be entertained by swimming about, which each of these fish does masterfully.
I don't know exactly how Pixar shares its movie production resources with their video game developers, but the animation and textures of the main characters in Monsters Inc. and now Finding Nemo on PS2 really capture the look and feel of the characters. The three main fish, especially Dory, swim and move with beautiful fishy finesse. The supporting characters don't look quite as good; the sea turtles look great, but the shark looks poor next to the detailed, wide-mouthed original. The watery environments engender the murky depths of the sea to a tee. Interspersed in between levels are FMVs from the movie, edited suitably to create a proper narrative throughout the course of the game. The game also features all of the voice talent from the movie plus some generic if unobtrusive music.
I completed Finding Nemo in one evening, but the target crowd should be able to stretch that out longer. The difficulty fluctuations are notably aggravating, kind of like going to McDonalds, finding a little kid playing with his Finding Nemo toy, and then eating a fish sandwich in front of him while saying, "Mmmmm...Nemo-licious!" Still, the game does manage to be Nemo-licious thanks to its ability to accurately capture the narrative and feel of the movie. Now who wants to go to Sea World?