Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Review
At this point, just about any animated film is capable of raking in the big bucks in movie theaters. The latest "Ice Age" is no exception, but there's never any guarantee the corresponding video game will be any good; in fact, history tells us the game typically falls well below expectations. Thankfully, we've seen some better efforts in the past year and provided the developers could nail down some decent gameplay that would entice fans, they might have a winner. For the most part, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs doesn't do anything unforgivably wrong, but at the same time, it doesn't quite hit the mark. The control for one character is just fine but it falls short for other characters, the camera can be troublesome and the repetitive nature of the gameplay gets tiresome. Still, it's likely good family-friendly fun for the younger gamer who very much enjoyed the film, and who won't notice the minor technical hang-ups and the fact that there isn't much cohesion between storyline and gameplay quests.
Considering the target audience for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, one should probably be satisfied if the game is devoid of any crippling flaws that makes the adventure unplayable. All we really need is a decent camera, an accessible and effective control mechanic, and a sense of purpose to our quests and goals. ...well, two out of three isn't bad, or perhaps it's only one and a half out of three because the camera isn't always agreeable. Right from the start, you'll easily move around, collecting cherries, apples, pears, crystals, and projectiles, and the basic actions - double-jumping, clambering up ledges, attacking, etc. - are easily executed. The game trips and stumbles when using just about any character besides Sid, though, and despite the fluid framerate that doesn't stutter, the on-screen action isn't exactly demanding. At the very least, though, just about anyone will be able to zip right through each level with very little effort, and that's the kind of pick-up-and-play quality that the targeted demographic requires. We just wish the quests didn't feel useless and disjointed from the actual storyline, and in the end, there just isn't enough to do.
I mean, the idea of baby-proofing an archaic playground is kinda cute, but it doesn't really enhance our enjoyment of the game, and even when things get slightly challenging regarding the platforming aspects, the repetitiveness of the game rears its ugly head within a mere hour. Sure, one can argue that any game could be labeled as "repetitive," but you should grasp my meaning here; essentially, you bound around, performing the same set of actions throughout. This gets boring fast, although die-hard fans of the movie might find it entertaining for longer periods of time. Then you've got the camera, which works fine for the majority of the play time, but when you get jammed into corners, things go nuts. It also sits slightly too close to the action, although this is only a minor complaint. What isn't a minor complaint is the fact that using characters like Manny (the Woolly Mammoth) and Diego (the saber-tooth tiger), the controls cease to be solid and reliable. First of all, it makes zero sense that a bunch of rabid beavers could even harm a Woolly Mammoth, let alone knock him out, and putting in a quasi-racing mechanic for chasing prey with Diego just doesn't work.
Moving and attacking with Manny is annoying and the only good news is that you'll spend a lot of your time playing with Sid. Playing around with him is fine, albeit a little tedious; half the time, it's as if you're only playing to collect fruit for purchasing new items. I spent just as much time doing that as I did progressing through an actual level, and that can only be interpreted as a gameplay balance issue. On the plus side, the game does encourage thorough exploration of your surroundings and the difficulty seems about right for young gamers. Also, because you've got the genuinely humorous dialogue that makes the movies so appealing, and a decent set of visuals, fans will really appreciate the presentation. Finally, although there's a definite lack of seamlessness between levels, you likely won't be doing the same thing twice in a row, which adds to the variety and diversity. If Eurocom had managed to refine the controls of other characters, give us a few more inventive objectives that involve different actions, and tweak the camera a little, we could've had a really good platformer. Instead, it falls a little short and will likely only be attractive to those who have "Ice Age" action figures in their rooms.
On the techy side of things, I think it's extremely important that games based on CG movies are visually appealing, and unfortunately that's almost never the case. The graphics in Ice Age aren't bad, but their minimalism is clear evidence that this game was built in order to be ported to multiple consoles, including those of the past generation. I wouldn't say that the graphics are offensive, though, because if you've got kids playing, they'll probably think they're fine. Sure the texture detail may not be amazing, but the characters look okay and enough like their big-screen counterparts to earn this game a pass. Plus, the framerate is pretty solid all throughout and the picture quality is really smooth, and those two are big pluses.
Now, as we had mentioned earlier on, this game boasts some pretty funny dialogue and that's thanks to two reasons. First obviously being Sid. Second being John Leguizamo. So I guess one and two are pretty much the same thing, right? Well, in any case, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a funny game, and not just for the kids, because even I laughed numerous times. Much of the cast from the movie came to reprise their roles for the game, which gives it a fairly authentic presentation to tie it closer to the big-screen experience. Unfortunately, Denis Leary (Diego), Sean William Scott (Crash), and Simon Pegg (Buck) are the cast of notables who don't reprise their characters and are instead subbed with sound-alikes...that don't really sound anything like them. I did find myself having a problem with this inconsistency, because on the one hand you're listening to Leguizamo, Romano, and Queen Latifah, while on the other are stand-ins, essentially. And it's not like they do a bad job, they're fine, actually. It's just that we're used to hearing the entire cast in the movies, and not just half. With a cute soundtrack accompanying the gameplay, the audio still receives a solid score from us.
If you've got kids at home who love the Ice Age franchise, then we don't see why they shouldn't have themselves a copy. Aside from the $50 price tag, which we think may be too high, it's a straightforward and lighthearted game that the little ones should enjoy quite a bit. From a more professional and grown up point of view, we actually think a lot of these games have some really massive potential to look more like their big-screen kin, and play even better. The obvious limitations here are the graphics, which have been kept back in order to make this a port friendly game. We'd really love to see a developer try and release something proper to really bridge the gap between CG movie and videogame.
7/24/2009 Arnold K. and Ben D.