While it's no secret that games based on movies are generally awful, the worst ones tend to have adult-oriented themes (like when they tried to turn Blade into a game back on the PS2). The films designed for children can actually spawn some decent video games, and a few of them - Surfs Up and Cars: Mater-National, for instance - have just arrived recently. Now, they're not exactly must-own gems, but they're entertaining and often retain at least a glimpse of that fantastic humor that made the movies so good. Therefore, this is all we were hoping to get out of Ratatouille, the game. And in the first few minutes, we honestly thought Heavy Iron Studios had granted our wish; nothing too great, but still moderately fun and funny. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for our dreams to evaporate like so much dust in the wind, because things started to fall apart before we even finished the first level. Ratatouille looks pretty good and there's some appreciated inventiveness, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired, and it ends up being more frustrating than anything else.
Strangely enough, the graphics are the best part of this particular production. Usually, movies-turned-games aren't visual masterpieces (and this one isn't, either), but Ratatouille boasts plenty of detail, excellent color and a great deal of variety in each of the level environments. The cut-scenes are also solid, which means there's very little to complain about, here. Granted, it lacks the refinement and polish of many other PS3 games, so the visuals are still only slightly better than average, but that's okay. One of the reasons why we were encouraged right off the bat was because the graphics weren't atrocious; they were actually quite appealing and even impressive in certain spots. There's a lot of pop-in going on during those cut-scenes, though, and for some reason, the backdrops somehow got less attractive the more we played. Really, one of the most accomplished levels in the game is actually the very first one, where you're learning the basics in the litter-heavy backyard. There's plenty to do and even more to see. But the overall graphical presentation, while better than expected, is still lacking in a variety of areas.
The sound suffers greatly from boring and muted sound effects, a very lame soundtrack, and voiceovers that get so annoying during gameplay, you'll want to shoot the speakers out of your TV. For the most part, the voice acting is fine, but the repetitive nature of those voices when getting directions or instructions is truly irritating and it doesn't help that the music is never engaging. The movie had plenty of top-notch tracks, but evidently, the developers didn't feel the need to include many of them in the game. The sound is fine during the cut-scenes, and a few of the creatures you'll encounter issue clear grunts, chirps and grumbles, but it's just not enough. Perhaps the biggest problem centers on the fact that there are surprisingly few cut-scenes in the game, which means the talented voice cast has very little chance to shine. Instead, we're stuck with uninspired and generic effects, a soundtrack that rarely delivers the goods, and an overall sound palette that falls well shy of the goal. If the sound had managed to match the graphics, we might've had a game that sported fairly decent technicals the whole way ‘round. Sadly, this just didn't happen.
Ratatouille is a pretty standard platformer, although it does introduce a variety of interesting mechanics. You will play as Remy, the ambitious little rodent who has the highest of aspirations...for a rat: he wants to become a famous gourmet chef. When you first start off in the game, you will move through the backyard, learning how to jump (and double-jump), sprint, attack with your tail, pick up and place objects, and balance. We mentioned earlier that during the first few minutes of game time, we were immediately encouraged by what we saw. This is most certainly true, because we learned Remy could do all kinds of neat things- he can pick up a Chili pepper, place it near something that goes boom, start the timer with a swipe of his tail, and watch as the pepper explodes. He can balance - via the Sixaxis motion sensing or the left analog stick - on ropes, use certain objects as springboards and catapults, and even use his very capable smell to determine the correct direction. See, the foundation really is quite good, but there are far too many technical difficulties, and eventually, you'll just be battling to survive.
First up is the outrageously annoying fact that Remy can die at almost any time, and sometimes for no apparent reason. If he falls from too great a height, it's game over, or if he's running from something and falls behind too far, that also equals death. It's frustrating but at least we understand the concept; what we can't comprehend is why Remy would collapse when rubbing a board the wrong way or why certain mistakes takes away health. Secondly, the collision detection seems to be off, as Remy can easily get stuck when trying to jump forward onto a box or some other object. The player will often have to pause beforehand and jump straight up in order to reach the top; pushing forward with the left analog and jumping at the same time doesn't work all the time. In fact, it rarely works. The camera is probably the least infuriating of all the negatives listed here, but that's not saying much. You can rotate the camera view, but depending on the situation, control can be an exercise in futility and you'll routinely find yourself stuck behind a pile of debris, struggling to find your way out. So as you can see, there are plenty of shortcomings that can put a damper on the fun factor.
Now, in examining the "macro" aspect of your adventure, we have to point out that our quest is disturbingly aimless. The story is almost non-existent due to a limited number of cut-scenes and very little character dialogue during gameplay, which means we're constantly running around without any apparent rhyme or reason. You won't find much in the way of plot throughout the six-level adventure, and while it's always good to have a distinct focus on gameplay, the mediocre control only means we're focusing on a downfall. For example, the default setting has you balancing with the Sixaxis tilt functionality, but it just didn't work as effectively as the analog stick. Furthermore, during the sequences when Remy has to run away from something, he'll be running directly towards you, and that's a difficult mechanic to pull off. It's not crucially flawed, but because these portions last longer then they should, and due to Remy's fragile constitution, the process can feel too much like a chore. In retrospect, a lot of this game felt like a chore, and obviously, that's not exactly a plus. It's an even bigger problem when we realize this title is geared towards a younger age group.
These issues are significant enough to affect the entirety of your interactive experience, but we have to reiterate- the concepts and overall foundation is solid and even promising. It's just too bad Heavy Iron didn't follow through on these good ideas with a stable and accessible gameplay system. Even if they had opted to ignore the story - strange, but they did - playing the game would've been entertaining enough to take our minds off the lack of dialogue, plot-laden cut-scenes, etc. The game does shine with a series of interesting platforming ideas, as outlined earlier, so that might be enough to keep fans of the movie playing until the end. But there are plenty better PS3 titles out there for the avid gamer, and even several better games designed for the younger crowd. There's not much else to say, but we always hate to see productions with so much potential fail to follow through on all that promise. Ratatouille, without any doubt, is far better as a movie, and even big fans of the film probably won't get too much enjoyment out of the game.
2/11/2008 Ben Dutka