Monster House Review
Nearly every scene from the movie is represented, beginning with the kids driving Officer Lander's car into the house's "mouth," and ending with the final confrontation between bulldozer and Mama house. Shoehorned between those scenes are nine other levels where the player has to explore every nook and cranny inside the house, controlling the kids individually and hunting for a way out, which generally involves unlocking doors and shooting anything that movies.
Unfortunately, when I actually grabbed the controller to play, I was soon reduced to sadness by the realization that this is one of the most boring and repetitive third-person shoot-'em-ups ever made.
Strike 1: Shoot that chair, again and again
Gunplay is the game's main focus. That's fine. The kids have to use their water guns to shoot the objects in the house that come alive and try to eat them. Each kid has a different type of watergun; Chowder's is a shotgun, for example; and the game constantly shakes things up by alternating between the characters. Good, good.
What isn't so good is that all of the enemies and locations in the house look and act the same. It's cool the first couple times you blow away a pack of galloping chairs, but it's not so much fun the umpteen-hundredth time. One problem is that there are like eight enemies total in the game. You can only see the same chair or TV come to life so many times before it stops being scary. Another problem is that the hallways and rooms tend to look the same, and there's never anything moving in them aside from the possessed furniture and perhaps a drape or two. The shooting mechanics are also rather simplistic. Each kid has his or her own water gun and alternative weapon, and a unique melee attack--that's it.
Strike 2: Graphics - The good, the bad, and the ugly
I've got no complaints regarding the game's artistic style. They nailed the look and feel of the movie in the cinema scenes and in the design of the house's architecture. The Monster House is an ugly, old place. The animation in the non-interactive cinemas is on par with what was shown on the big screen, and these scenes are packed with genuinely funny moments. They absolutely nailed those aspects.
My beef is that they didn't put the same amount of effort into the actual in-game graphics. The textures are murky, the polygon count is low, and the animations are paltry. Hardly anything in the house besides the furniture ever moves, and each furniture creature only has a couple unique actions. If I see the same chair chomp animation one more time, I'm going to scream!
Some "genius" on the development team also decided it'd be smart idea to make the game look goofy by enabling a permanent fish-eye lens effect. All this effect does is make it easy for you to lose your sense of direction and develop one hell of a feeling of motion-sickness. Rotate the character in a circle a couple times and I guarantee you you'll need to take a break or risk hurling.
Ironically, the audio is masterful. Between the frightful sound effects, the actual voice-actors chattering away, and the haunting surround-sound score, you'll be driven to fits of stunned fugue trying to reconcile how the auditory atmosphere is so delicious when the gameplay and graphics are such garbage.
Strike 3: Poor design choices
A bunch if poor design choices take the game from bad to worse.
The house isn't very big. In order to make the house seem larger, the developers thought it would be a good idea to make players to go through each area three times (using each of the three characters). The scenery isn't interesting. The combat is dull. Going through an area for the second time is tedious. By the third time, it's downright torturous.
They tried to spice things up with puzzles and surprise button-press events, which would've been fine, except the puzzles never involve more than pushing a box someplace and the penalty for failing a button-press sequence is instant death. If you don't know the PS2's button layout by heart, you will die. And even if you do know the button layout, sometimes the game will forget to tell you which button to press.
Save spots, in the form of bathrooms, are plentiful in the first few chapters, but become a rarity around about the fifth chapter, or roughly halfway through the game. When you "die," you restart from one of these save points. The absence of save spots is never an issue with regards to the game's normal shooting situations, because health-regenerating food items tend to be strewn all over the place. It is a problem thanks to those dadgum button-press events, however. I was nearly to the end of chapter five, which took about 15 minutes to reach, when a tree popped out of the wall and smashed me because I didn't press L1 fast enough. I had to do those 15 minutes over again.
You're Out!: In conclusion...
I could mention other issues; like the fact that the whole game barely takes 3 hours to complete, the inclusion of a lame 2-D bonus game, or the lack of any sort of multiplayer features; but to complain any further would just be beating a very dead horse.
If you loved the Monster House movie, avoid this game at all costs. It'll lull you in like a Trojan horse with its slick cinemas, and then emasculate you with its suckitude. I hear the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance Monster House games are rather decent, so perhaps you should pick up one of those instead.
7/25/2006 Lance Kwok