Not Your Father’s Video Game
“Give it to Chris, he’s got kids,” said Duke, at least that’s how I imagine the conversation went [Editor's note: Yep, that's pretty much it.]. So, never mind that my kids are 1 ½ and 3 ½ respectively, have never seen the Shrek movies, and don’t play video games (yet) - still, it falls on me to review Shrek The Third for the Xbox 360. That’s right, kiddies, another big summer franchise movie is upon us in the form of the third Shrek movie, and with it comes the inevitable cynical money grab … I mean, er, licensed video game. The question is: does the guy with kids like it?
The game begins with Shrek and Donkey watching a puppet show, which is also used throughout in the cut scenes, explaining what is basically the plot of the three-quel. Shrek refuses the crown and is charged with the task of finding the only suitable heir, a distant cousin to the throne by the name of Arthur. Of course, there are (evil) forces that stand in the way of you completing your task and they, naturally, stand in your way. You inhabit different characters from the world of Far Far Away and fight your way through these obstacles to your goal. Straight forward and simple, to a fault … which describes this game in a nutshell.
The gameplay is something we’ve all seen before. You jump, punch, power attack, and have special “finishing” moves, all of which are implemented in a simplistic manner. It plays like a thin, kiddy-version of the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games (personal favorites of mine) only instead of the D&D mythos as a backdrop we get (naturally) the Shrek movie. However, rather than a smorgasbord of bloody violence and glorious upgrading of your character you get simplistic brawling and barrels filled with goodies ready to be smashed. (Rather than hack’n’slash, call it smash’n’grab.) And like any hack’n’slash, knee, smash’n’grab game, the issue of redundant gameplay comes up, only really quickly, and without the ancillary stuff (like, say, D&D rules or RPG features) to keep an adult’s attention.
Aside from the redundant gameplay, another issue is that the world itself, while pretty enough (in a simplistic—there’s that word again—way) it seems oddly unfinished. There are short ledges you can’t jump from, boxes you can’t break, and a camera that’ll drive you to distraction. There are also frame rate issues that crop up for seemingly no reason, and your character will start stuttering even without a ton going on the screen.
None of these things are by themselves huge problems (except the camera, which doesn’t grow annoying as much as starts annoying and continues to annoy) but combined they give the game a rushed feeling. Like a big company might have *GASP!* jumped into the market in an attempt to scrape more money out of their franchise. Either that or they made the biggest mistake a company can make: they made a lame video game for kids and figured kids wouldn’t be discriminating, but kids actually know what they like.
Speaking of the franchise, the natural question is: Does the game deliver the Shrek goods? On this front, I can say that the game is successful, though not wildly so. For starters, it looks pretty good. All the characters are identifiable and the 360 delivers—in terms of graphics—a quality rendition of Far Far Away, but not a stunning one. Maybe it’s me, but ever since I got a high def TV it’s occurred to me that every movie I’ve seen will eventually look better on DVD in my house. Not so this game, but I’m guessing they didn’t spend as much to get it on my console as Dreamworks did bringing it to the big screen.
Then there’s the tone of the Shrek movies, which the game does do a good job of delivering. There’s plenty of crude humor, if that appeals to you … which I suppose it would if you like the movies. The main criticism I have that pulls you out of Shrek-world is the voice acting. It is uneven at best, and it’s clear the original actors are NOT on board for the game. This results in an uneven listening experience, one where you’re sometimes convinced Shrek is Mike Myers and other times wonder why Donkey sounds like me, drunk, doing my Eddie Murphy impersonation.
On the other hand, what’s good for the kids isn’t always good for the parents and vice-versa. However, like with the better children’s movies, you hope that there’s some appeal for the adult as well, because we have to play the game (or watch the movie) with the kids. That’s where Shrek falls short. Because my being a father was a factor in Duke giving me this game to review, I did sit my 3 ½ year-old son down to watch me play and he did laugh, but he also likes to run into things, fall over, and crack up too, so take that with a grain of salt.
And that’s the issue here: Maybe it’ll hold a smaller child’s attention but that doesn't mean it's a good game. Barney the dinosaur can also enteratain a child, and that's awful. Shrek the Third quickly becomes a chore for even the mildly experienced gamer. With games like these I always judge them by their value independent of the license. In other words, if you took Shrek out, would you still buy it? And the answer here is a resounding “no.” Maybe a weekend rental for the kid(s) if they whined, but other than that, I don’t see anyone but the most ardent Shrek fans finding this game worth $60.
So, having had to play and review this game doesn’t quite make the top-ten of guilt trips I’ll lay on my kids as they drag my drooling, withered, 70 year-old self into the nursing home (“I changed your diapers … and Duke made me review that Shrek game because of you!”). But it also won’t be the first video game I sit my son in front of to occupy him while I surf the internet for … um, news. For that, I’ll go with a good kids game, one that I can enjoy playing too. Hey, Duke, any suggestions? [Editor's Note: Yeah, Lego Star Wars. Now quit whining or I'll make you review the Nancy Drew game.]