They say it’s one of the best animated movies ever made, and the movie-going audience should reward that effort with big box office results. It’s not surprising in the least to see a video game adaptation, and it’s even less surprising to find that it falls well short of the quality level on display in the film. Coraline tries to be atmospheric and charming but only succeeds in being bland, drab, repetitive, and for the most part, extraordinarily boring. There isn’t anything crucially flawed with this production – despite a few obvious technical drawbacks – but the game simply fails to engage and capture the player. We don’t even see fans of the movie and novella getting great entertainment out of this title; there’s simply too much in the way of drudgery. We don’t expect something like Coraline to hold any resemblance to slam-bang, big-budget action experiences, but we still think video games should be fun. You know, like last year’s Kung Fu Panda, for example. But this is just…bleh.
The graphics are standard PS2 fare. It’s as if all the recent low-budget PS2 titles over the past year have used the exact same graphical presentation, which is always passable but never impressive. The biggest issue with Coraline are the visual miscues, like when Coraline runs too close to solid objects and a series of black lines suddenly assault her face or the background. Beyond that, there’s some nice artistry and animation in the cut-scenes, decent overall character design, and a fitting color palette for the mysterious environment. Even so, we would’ve liked to have seen more detail and general effort throughout. This brings us back to the days when the cut-scenes were that much more advanced in comparison to the gameplay graphics, and while that is still evident now, it was far more distinct in the past. It’s just that Papaya could’ve done so much more with the interesting backdrops, and while we realize they may not have the resources to produce a brilliant presentation, we remain convinced they could’ve stepped it up another notch.
The sound is a bit better, thanks mostly to excellent voice acting. The voiceovers are by far the biggest highlight of Coraline, as it was clear that professionals handled the work. The soundtrack will certainly remind you of the movie, but it got far too repetitive after only a few hours of play; shouldn’t there have been more in the way of diversity? We have two separate worlds, and while one of them would match the subtle and downplayed tracks, the other should be a little more invigorating, right? The sound effects aren’t too great, either, as you really won’t hear much in the way of…well, anything. There’s the light tap of a slingshot pellet smacking an apple or something, the shift of a box as Coraline moves it, and the clear, satisfying chime that accompanies a completed mini-game or quest. The effects are okay, but they just don’t play enough of a role in the overall production. In this way, there’s a definite lack of balance between music, effects, and voices; the latter is almost always great while the other two continually vie for obscurity.
We wish we could tell you that Coraline’s adventure in the game was full of fun, intrigue and discovery, much like the likeable blue-haired girl experienced in the movie. Instead, a lot of the game acts like a sleeping pill. We certainly understand starting slow in order to provide the player with a tutorial of sorts, but it’s as if they expanded the learning section to encompass the entire game. It was somewhat amusing to move boxes around, clamber up on objects with the X button, and find 7 blue objects in the house, but that amusement lasted for about 15 minutes. Then, we waited and waited and waited for things to pick up, but…they never did. We went from the real world to the Other World, learned more about the ghoulish contrast, and played mini-game after mini-game as we advanced through the story. We went on the classic “fetch quests,” collected Buttons that act as currency, and met some very interesting characters, but the pace – and thus, our interest – remained unacceptably low.
Coraline’s movements are straightforward but sometimes, they just seem either painfully slow or insensible. For instance, Coraline can’t jump while moving forward; if you press the X button to jump while she’s running, she’ll stop, stand in place, and jump. That’s a head-scratcher, isn’t it? There’s also a terrible collision detection problem when she is atop an object and goes to disembark, as she often just floats downward. She can also kick, which doesn’t become a major aspect of the gameplay, but it at least allows you to run upstairs to her room and kick some soccer balls around. For a brief second, we were transported back to the days of Cloud kicking that soccer ball around Costa del Sol…but trust us, it was a very brief second. Even in an RPG like that, the kick mechanic was sharper. Coraline will get a slingshot that she will use for a variety of different things, but it’s basically just about holding the R1 button to load it, aiming with the left analog, and firing with the Circle button.
The latter mechanic is indicative of the entire game: it’s somewhat functional, but it feels slow, uninspired and boring. Yeah, that’s the second time we’ve used that word in this review, but we checked Thesaurus.com, and there really isn’t a better descriptive term for Coraline. There’s only so many times we can go off on a find-and-collect quest, and only so many times we can play another simple mini-game that just seems tacked on for the sake of existing. The one saving grace lies in the story (which admittedly takes a while to get going) and the colorful and interesting characters involved. But it’s never a good sign when we’re sprinting through the gameplay in order to get to the next cut-scene, or interact with a new zany character. It’s not difficult so it won’t turn away younger audiences, but we can’t imagine anyone wanting to continue through to the end. Sure, the story and characters are good but if you want those, why not just stick with the movie?
If you’re a packrat in video games and have to collect absolutely everything, you might like the Button collecting. Many different actions will yield you a certain number of buttons – from turning on a lamp (1 Button) to watering the plants (5 Buttons) – and you can use your loot to purchase some treasure for the fans. There are new Outfits, Pictures, Movie Reels, and even Cheats to unlock, but you’re going to have to scour your environment on a routine basis. This may appeal to some, though, so it could be a bonus. Besides this, there isn’t much left to talk about. We’re always looking to see if a game based on a movie hits its target audience (the fans, obviously), and Coraline misses the mark. There just isn’t enough to do, and when the best parts of the game aren’t interactive, the entire thing just feels superfluous.
2/19/2009 Ben Dutka