El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera Review
Children's games are often simple, colorful, and relatively easy. While El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera is certainly simple and colorful, there isn't anything "relatively easy" about it, which is the game's biggest downfall. Considering the target audience, it makes little sense to produce such a challenging platformer, but then again, kids can be fast learners. Besides, the gameplay mechanic is quite solid and the setting is perfect for fans of the television show, so there are plenty of positives, here. Parents are often looking for options that don't involve titles like Grand Theft Auto, and not only might El Tigre fit the bill, it'll also save you some cash. It's priced at the budget MSRP of $19.99 and guaranteed to deliver a significant dexterity challenge, despite becoming too repetitive and far too demanding in certain areas. It's very reminiscent of the old-school side-scrollers, but THQ doesn't do quite enough with this formula to make it an action/platforming success.
These days, the PS2 games continue to flow like water, but the more we play PS3 titles, the more harmful PS2 games become to our eyes. However, El Tigre doesn't look too bad; there's plenty of color and each level boasts good design, which is sometimes rare for a budget game. Still, it's too bad they didn't take full advantage of the vast color palette on display in the TV show, because we're inundated with a flood of orange and brown throughout the game. In fact, the entire experience seems tinged in an orange pallor that permeates every aspect of the visual display, which - while somewhat fitting - is a bit over the top. Character design is straightforward but lacking in a few areas, and there isn't a huge amount of detail. It's exactly what you might expect from a game based on a kid's animated show, and that's the best that can be said for the graphics. The frame rate holds steady, for the most part, and the backdrops remain appealing although there's not a great deal of variety.
The sound isn't as solid, just because we often have to suffer through the same Mexican-themed track over and over again, with very little in the way of new songs in our adventure. And because you'll die so often, and it takes quite a while to get through any one particular level, the constant repeating of that one track becomes intensely annoying. The sound effects are limited as well, which means you'll be desperately hoping for a change after only 15 minutes of play. Depending on your objective and the environment, the effects and tracks may alter just a bit, but the defaults are just plain uninspired and boring. The swipes and power attacks of the main character are clear and the balance between music and effects is good, but there's nothing else to really talk about. El Tigre focuses on portraying one particular setting, and while they do it well, it quickly loses its luster after a short time playing. In fact, we can say the same for the graphics as well, so in some ways, both sets of technical aspects are found lacking in similar artistically evaluated categories.
First and foremost, El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera is a platformer that revolves around side-scrolling action in a three-dimensional environment. You'll do all kinds of interesting things in said environment, but most of it centers on the main character's ability to jump, double jump and attack. He attacks with claws when on the ground, and can land a devastating pile-driver type of attack from the air after a double-jump. As you advance through the levels, they become more challenging (as you might expect), and you have to try collecting as much "Macho" as you can. These come in the form of simple golden coins that you pick up as you move along; most of them are easy to obtain while a few others can be tricky. Once you've picked it up, you don't have to pick it up again if you die, so that's a nice touch. Beyond that, there are other things to do, like head over to the Aztec Village, the Cemetary or the Art Gallery, but a lot of that isn't as robust as the main storyline in the city area.
Sadly, the storyline consists of only a few storyboard drawings that gives you a baseline understanding of the bare-bones plot. Now granted, the TV show isn't exactly Macbeth, but we would've at least liked some cut-scenes. We don't require finely honed CGI or FMV at all times, but simple pictures with words beneath them transports us to back to a time long gone; a time we left behind before the PS2. While some gamers may find this nostalgic and appealing, we just found it to be a lack of effort by THQ. Besides, we once again have to mention the target audience, which probably won't care too much about things like character development and plot twists. It's great that we can jump into the action almost immediately, but it's not so great when we realize just how frustrating the gameplay can be. We fail to see how a game like this will be fun for younger gamers who weren't brought up on the side-scrolling insanity of titles like Contra. In other words, if this were 15 or 20 years ago, we'd say that the difficulty in El Tigre is just about right, but this is 2008. It's tough.
Even though the main character only has a certain number of maneuvers, the obstacles he must overcome can be extremely irritating. Novice gamers will find themselves dying many, many times when they come to a particularly difficult part of the level, and there seems to be a whole lot of cheesiness going on. For example, just as we completed a taxing series of double-jumps through flying enemies, another foe on the last platform smacks us out of mid-air before we can land. ...that's just plain lame, no matter how you slice it. Many of the jumps have to be nigh-on perfect, too, and that's the way it is right from the start. Hence, the difficulty starts high, spikes to ridiculous levels, falls to bizarre ease every once in a great while, and then returns to "standard high." It's kinda all over the place, and it never wants to settle down. Those under the age of 10 are going to have a heck of time progressing through this game, and that's not the best situation for a game that has many fans that haven't yet reached double digits. It's the cardinal sin of gaming: missing your targeted demographic.
Your efforts are rewarded, with more "Macho" to unlock Bonus Levels, and the thrill of satisfaction when getting through a particularly trick part. Well, it feels more like relief than satisfaction, but you get the point. The control is very solid, too. Responsiveness is just right, the mechanic feels tight - with the exception of a few loose parts in those bonus levels - and it's extremely easy to simply pick up and play. You'll be bouncing around in no time, but like we said, it comes with a price. It doesn't help that a lot of the level design allows for zero slips or mistakes; the slightest misstep usually means death. But the checkpoints are sprinkled liberally throughout, which allows the player to learn, and in turn, conquer. This doesn't alleviate the rising frustration most players will experience, though, because accessible control can be hampered by exhausting trial-and-error. Oh, and the levels are obscenely long, especially the early ones...it's like they would never end.
If the child is a big-time gamer and loves the heck out of "El Tigre," he might be willing to give this game a shot, but otherwise, there are easier and more entertaining children's titles out there. The gameplay and control itself is fine, but the difficulty makes it tough to deal with, and despite better-than-average graphics and sound, the presentation isn't all that great. Seriously, storyboards? Didn't we leave that behind on the GameBoy? El Tigre: The Adventures Of Manny Rivera is fun and relatively well-made, but most won't struggle to advance the rudimentary plot and keep playing. Like we said, there are better budget titles out there.
5/5/2008 Ben Dutka