Monsters vs. Aliens Review
Those 3D movies just keep hitting theaters at a frequent rate and the kids and families just keep buying those tickets. In fact, these animated films are often huge box office successes, and for good reason: they’re often fairly entertaining. We wish we could say the same thing about the video games based on these movies, and although we’ve seen glimpses of greatness from the likes of Kung Fu Panda and The Bourne Conspiracy in the past, the widely accepted stereotype amongst gaming journalists remains solidly intact. The bottom line is that when a game releases that’s inspired by a big-screen adventure, we immediately get all suspicious and skeptical. However, with the right team who actually decides to put some effort into the experience, we always have a chance at ending up with a fun, worthwhile adventure that appeals to its target audience (fans of the film, of course). So the question is: does the PS2 version of Monsters vs. Aliens represent a good budget option for parents? Well, it does, provided your kids don’t mind doing the same thing, over and over and over.
The graphics aren’t quite up to snuff, even for a PS2 game, and it’s primarily due to a lack of clarity and detail in the environments and backdrops. The characters are okay and the animations are mostly fluid with only a small hint of slowdown here and there, but there just isn’t enough flash and refinement to keep the fan satisfied; likely, they will be expecting something similar to what they saw in the movie theater. You could always opt for a next-gen version (either for the PS3 or 360), but if you’re still stuck with the PS2, you won’t be impressed by what you see in Monsters vs. Aliens. On the plus side, there’s a decent amount of variety and diversity amongst the available scenes, and although we could also complain that too many of the levels seem a bit too dark, at the very least, we were interested to see where we’d go next. Furthermore, you won’t spend a great deal of time in any one level, so as the pacing remains relatively quick; you’ll always be seeing different things in regards to the graphical presentation. Oh, and there isn’t a gigantic difference between the gameplay graphics and the cut-scenes; you can decide if you deem that a positive or a negative.
The sound falters due to a boring and repetitive soundtrack that isn’t nearly lively enough, but as is typically the case with certain licensed games, the voiceovers are solid and well worth listening to. There’s a genuine level of comedy and absurdity as one might expect and the sound effects, while generic and a little unbalanced, will satisfy the target demographic. B.O.B.’s movements are appropriately “slimy” and although we could’ve used more thumping and thundering on Ginormica’s part (maybe it’s just because she’s a girl), the effects will likely satisfy the target demographic. It’s just too bad that Beenox didn’t put more effort into the soundtrack, because we really could’ve used a rousing musical accompaniment; perhaps even a certain theme for each of the three characters we use throughout the game. The effects fit the atmosphere just fine but they’re kinda ho-hum, too, and in the end, it’s only the voice acting that makes the grade. Perhaps it won’t matter to those interested in Monsters vs. Aliens, but the shortcomings sure as heck mattered to us.
The developers do what they can to keep the gameplay fresh, as they do with the locales, but the only problem is that they keep using the same standard mechanic that you learn in the first hour. They try to break up the monotony by including the three playable characters – Ginormica, The Missing Link, and B.O.B., and each has their own unique set of movements and abilities. For example, you start the game by “roller-skating” with Ginormica (two trucks act as her skates), and she can not only ride walls, but she can also grind, crouch, jump, and double jump. She’s a fifty-foot giant so she’s usually pretty fun to use. Then you jump to The Missing Link, who is an amphibious lizard-like thing that can attack in any number of ways, and this includes the very cool leap attack: you gather energy then leap into the air and time pauses, allowing you to target multiple enemies. When play resumes, he dashes at every enemy and nails ‘em, eliminating them immediately. B.O.B. is a lovable blue slime that can squish along walls and even ceilings, and his powerful spitting ability can even take down helicopters. All of this is entertaining…for a while.
We’ve found this to be the biggest problem concerning licensed games designed for the younger gaming crowd: they just don’t evolve as you play. Once you’ve got the gist of the gameplay, you won’t learn anything new throughout your entire adventure; apparently, designers think kids just won’t care. And maybe they won’t. But it’s still a major drawback as it won’t take long to master the basic mechanics, and once you’ve got the controls down pat, it’s only a matter of dealing with progressively more difficult Scenes. The challenge is fair and doesn’t really suffer from spiking difficulty that can be frustrating, but as we kept playing, the experience quickly began to give us the bland, “been there, done that” feeling. The good news is that most all of the skills and moves you have at your disposal are implemented well, which means you won’t be battling poorly constructed movement mechanics. You may, however, get a little irritated at the fixed camera, which often doesn’t adapt quickly enough in certain situations. For example, when bounding around as The Missing Link, it’s easy to dodge off a ledge or something, simply because the camera doesn’t always accommodate his fast evasive roll.
You’ll collect DNA as you go – every action/adventure game needs a pick-up of some kind that acts as currency, right? – and it can be used to unlock a variety of things in the DNA Lab. You can unlock art, screens, audio files and even special mini games, where you compete to earn a Bronze, Silver, or Gold medal (you only need the Bronze to clear the game, though). Beyond that, there isn’t much else to talk about. Between the different platforming and combat aspects, Monsters vs. Aliens is indeed entertaining, but only if you limit yourself to an hour or two at a time. If you really sit down for an elongated play session, the fact that you’re always doing practically the same thing over and over will rear its ugly head. We’ve definitely seen better fixed cameras in the past, and although the Scenes were well done and even intriguing, there just isn’t enough to keep us playing without starting to yawn. It’s difficult to say if fans of the movie will enjoy it; the funny and appealing characters are definitely a high point, but we get the feeling they’re not developed enough in this particular adventure.
Monsters vs. Aliens for the PS2 has its fair share of shining points: some of the battle skills are cool, how we use the special abilities of each character is both inspired and imaginative, the voiceovers are very good, and it’s tough to find anything critically wrong with the entire production. But at the same time, it’s impossible to see the production as anything more than a little above average; the repetitive nature of the action, the inconsistent camera, and lackluster technicals bog everything down. It’s cheap and it may be a fine option for kids who loved the movie, but other than that, it’s not really worth your time. There are better games based on movies out there.
4/30/2009 Ben Dutka