Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Review
At the start of this generation, we were still mired in the unfortunate trend where video games based on movies tend to suck or, at best, end up being a mediocre experience still unworthy of the full price tag. However, we’ve seen better efforts over the past couple of years, especially in regards to the titles targeting a younger demographic. They’re not going to be winning any awards but certain recent games understand their primary audience; those who were fans of the movie that only require a solid gameplay mechanic, a simple setup, and some decent technicals. A good example of this is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, obviously based on the film of the same name and clearly designed for kids and maybe early teenagers. It’s difficult to say this production is significantly flawed in any particular way, although we do question if it’s a little too simplified.
This is the same type of graphical style we’ve been seeing in a lot of interactive big-screen adaptations: it’s good; it’s clean, without any major hitches, has a decent frame rate, and a colorful and even vibrant palette. In other words, it looks exactly as you might expect it to, especially after watching the movie. The levels are designed relatively well, the various foodstuffs that litter each stage appear good enough to eat, and while there isn’t much in the way of intricate detail or stellar backdrops, it’s certainly acceptable. Remember, those interested in a purchase are likely parents of children who won’t be dissecting the visuals right down to the last pixel so in that respect, we refuse to get all anal on the subject. Some areas of the game felt a little stark and not quite lively enough (a little too easy to get bored with our fantastical surroundings) but the relative cleanliness and sharpness is solid enough.
The sound falls a little short, though, mostly due to the absence of a good soundtrack and some surprisingly bland effects during gameplay. Again, there isn’t much to get in a twist about, but there just wasn’t enough attention paid to the sound category. Animated movies tend to have excellent music and of course, fantastic voice acting, and although the voiceovers were okay, they weren’t prominent enough. The music was fitting but it simply wasn’t brought to the forefront enough and we could’ve used more tunes during our adventurous jaunts through falling skies. There was also a bizarre balance issue going on where the brief cut-scenes were about twice as loud as the gameplay portions, which isn’t a major detractor, but it certainly kept me reaching for the remote. Well, at least the voices, as I just indicated, were okay, and in general, the fans likely won’t have any big complaints. I suppose we can leave it on that positive note.
Some movies automatically work well in a game setting (even if the developer fails to implement the mechanics correctly), but we have to admit, we were wondering what we’d be doing in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Well, we should’ve seen it coming: we’re cleaning up the world, of course. That kooky scientist’s invention has gone all haywire and now, we can’t control what’s coming down from the sky, which could be red hot chilis that splash at our feet and hurt us, or giant rib-steaks that smack us upside the head. The doc has to head out with a variety of gadgets and clean up the mess he created and the good news is, the control is mostly tight, if a little too restricted. You can really only jump and use whatever gadget you have equipped; it only gets a bit more complex when you have multiple gadgets to choose from, but in terms of basic control…well, it doesn’t get much more “basic” than this. You just hit the R2 button to use the gadget, which can either be used to get rid of giant pieces of food or attack enemies.
The best part of the game is its ingenuity related to the aforementioned gadgets and level design. It starts off simple enough but as you progress, you’ll really have to carefully make your way through each stage in an effort to take care of all the primary food items. See, there are usually 30 pieces of food that must be disposed of in each level in addition to the main objective; if you can get all 30, you’ll get a puzzle piece that gets you one step closer to the “Ultimate Gadget.” But you often have to use more than one gadget to reach all 30 and just progressing is enough to put a smile on your face. For instance, one of the first tools you receive is a sucking device; you can either use it to melt giant sugar cubes, suck up goop and shoot it at gummi bears (which are cute, but also enemies), or even suck up honey and spread it over a wall so you can climb the sticky stuff. This is just one example; there are even vehicles you’ll find that have a couple “disposal” options.
The only problem is that you’ll often make a wrong turn and be unable to go back; you’ll realize you missed some foods but can’t return, which means you have to restart the level (or just play it again after completing) in order to nab what you missed. Thankfully, whatever you get remains saved so if you go through a level and get 24 of the 30, those 24 will still be gone when you attempt it again. Getting new gadgets is always fun and makes playing the game that much more appealing, especially because everything operates smoothly and you’ll never once struggle with the button mapping or responsiveness. There is a small issue with the fixed camera, though, just because it’s not always in the best place, especially when you’re trying to avoid certain unpleasantness. Ubisoft tries to combat this by still allowing the player to see a shadow of the scientist when he disappears behind an obstruction, but this doesn’t seem to work to perfection all the time. It got a little frustrating in some levels.
The other issue I noticed is that it’s essentially impossible to actively dodge falling food because it comes so fast. Your only defense is to keep moving but that doesn’t always work so well, and I definitely didn’t like the fact that food was falling while I was really trying to do something. I guess one could say that adds to the challenge, but it’s not really a challenge when there isn’t any real evasive action included in the game…you just have to run and hope. But like I said, it’s the creativity that lies at the heart of the game; snagging a half-shell with a fork and using it as a shield is really only the start of the imaginative fun, so it’s great for the targeted audience. There’s absolutely nothing in the way of freedom or player customization, besides the fact that you can repeat levels already played, and choose to play any one of four or live stages in each Act (in almost any order). Thing is, every level is extremely linear, your main hub of operation – the laboratory – only consists of Upgrades, Options, Unlockables, and the Map, and in the end, there just isn’t much to do besides embark on the quests.
However, that really might be enough. This very simple and straightforward format may turn off older players in the first hour but the younger crowd may enjoy it plenty. There are some minor technical issues that really aren’t worth mentioning, the game isn’t very long but lengthy enough to satisfy the younger player, and the creativity and design is strong enough to add to the overall entertainment factor. They just needed to take the next step and give us a bit more in order to become worthy of a really good score. The entire thing really does feel a little bland and hence, a little boring, despite that ingenuity. They just don’t do enough with it and we could’ve used a little extra “oomph” in all aspects and elements. That’s about all I’ve got to say on this one; it’s decent.
11/9/2009 Ben Dutka