Beware of the Ogre!
It's long been known that making a video game based on a movie license is tantamount to a Kiss of Death. From The Crow
to The Fifth Element
to The Mummy Returns
, the stinkers have been piling up for ages. If I were a game developer, I'd rather be saddled with making a game based on breakfast cereal than a movie. But they keep on making them, because people keep buying them.
Let's see what we can do about putting an end to that trend, because Shrek, while a bit better than those other crappy games, still just isn't worth your hard-earned money.
For those of you wondering who this "Shrek" guy is (come on, there might be a few of you), he's a big green ogre from the film of the same name. The computer-animated flick is actually pretty good and worth a rental if you haven't seen it. It stars the voices of Mike Meyers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (a talking donkey), and Cameron Diaz (a princess), among a few others.
Of course, you wont actually find any of those voices in the game version, which is only the first sign that it doesn't quite live up to it's movie counterpart. It's not that Shrek is actively bad, it's just that it's so totally bland and uninspired.
The makers of Shrek did what all developers seem to do when faced with the question of what type of game to make: they made yet another platformer. You move your little Shrek through a series of worlds, like Mother Goose world and the Sweetland Factory. Each one has a series of missions for you to complete. "Find the six Golden Eggs" is a popular recurring mission, as is "Find the six Bad Fairies." For a change, you can collect Little Bo Peep's six lost sheep, or bring six baby spiders back to the mother spider. Sense a theme here? At least you do occasionally get a break with (much) weirder missions like "Expel gas on the singing cow." Don't blame me, I just work here.
By doing these "good deeds" you eventually open up more of the map, reach new worlds in which to perform more good deeds, and expose the castle of the evil wizard Merlin. Why does Shrek want to defeat Merlin? No idea. The ogre from the movie would never have done any such thing and would have stayed in his swamp, threatening anyone who got near.
It's really Shrek's ogre-ness that is lost in this video game. The movie did a great job of portraying him as a friendly-way-down-deep-but-otherwise-huge-and-menacing ogre. In the game, he looks tiny running around, only slightly larger than Little Bo Peep. His movement isn't very well done. Shrek looks positively bizarre darting around like Sonic the Hedgehog instead of lumbering like an ogre.
Shrek also spends too much of his time awkwardly jumping from platform to platform trying to reach that last irritating golden egg. His strange backwards double jump and the fact that he can't grab onto ledges doesn't make it any easier. There's nothing like trying to make the same jump over and over for ten minutes solid to make you give up in frustration and try to do a different "good deed" instead.
Things improve, however, when you move the somewhat reluctant camera in close, because Shrek looks terrific. I don't know how much credit to give to the developers and how much to the Xbox, but the graphics are fantastically detailed. Shrek's face looks just like the movie and is almost as well animated. Other game textures are just as impressive, and the lighting effects are simply flawless. Too bad the camera always stays so far out.
The sound, however, isn't as good. The music is fairly innocuous, but Shrek's grunts and groans as he jumps or punches will get old really fast. The only voice from the movie is that of the magic mirror who does the introduction like a classic game show host. From an entertainment perspective, this is one of the highlights of the game. At least the game doesn't have that stupid Smashmouth song that they seem to be selling to any movie, TV show, or commercial willing to pony up some dough.
So in the end, it's not the wizard Merlin who is Shrek's enemy, it's the curse of the movie license. A few lucky games have escaped the curse (probably through the use of sacrificial animals) like the mysteriously terrific Goldeneye and several of the solid Star Wars titles. Alas, poor Shrek was not so lucky.