Where the Wild Things Are Review
”Where The Wild Things Are,” a children’s classic by Maurice Sendak, came to life on the big screen last year and despite the difficulty in translating a very short book into a feature film, Warner Bros. wanted to make it into a game, too. Not surprisingly, the interactive version doesn’t have much to do with the book or the movie; developer Griptonite Games had to come up with a new vision. It’s a little weird – something about stars falling from the skies, shadows attacking everything on the island, and the Wild Things’ goal to build a tower to the moon – but it’s somewhat atmospheric. The problem is that they don’t bother to build a fully realized action/adventure game around this kooky idea, which means we’re left with a relatively boring and repetitive quest. The good news is that the controls are solid and it doesn’t look too terrible, despite the lackluster in-game cut-scenes. I suppose it might be okay for young fans, but beyond that…
While I’ve seen many harp on this game’s graphical presentation, I really don’t think it’s that bad. Like I said, the in-game cut-scenes are mediocre; they’re blurry and definitely lacking in detail, but the gameplay visuals aren’t terrible. The environments are nice, the Wild Things and Max are mostly enjoyable to look upon and although there isn’t a lot of variety in the island landscape and enemy design, it’s unlikely that kids wouldn't find it appealing. Remember, we have to consider the target demographic for all products and for Where The Wild Things Are, we’re probably looking at the 6-12 age group. Most kids that age will like wandering around an environment that looks a good deal like the island in the book, and although it doesn’t change much, at least you’re always doing something. And there are a few decent special effects to go along with the backdrops; it just isn’t all that polished.
The balancing in the sound category is what’s most annoying; the voices of the Wild Things are about ten times louder than anything you’ll do during the gameplay, which is a little irritating. The soundtrack isn’t brought out enough but at least it provides your adventure with the mystical, mysterious tone it requires. The effects are probably the best part of this production, as smacking enemies around with your trusty scepter and the simple sounds that accompany your platforming are agreeable to the ears. I particularly liked Max’s appropriately childlike “roars” that came with each swing of his weapon; remember how you’d pretend as a kid and go, “rar!” when lashing about with a stick or something? This inclusion, along with the simple and understated actions of Max, makes the gameplay more believable; we actually feel as if we’re controlling a 9-year-old. Overall, the balancing needs work and the music is fitting but a bit of a letdown in the long run, and the effects are okay.
The gameplay starts out promising but ends up being repetitive and a little tiresome. And just because the adventure won’t last very long doesn’t excuse this flaw, although I have to admit that with some decent mechanics, at least it doesn’t feel like a chore. The storyline is all sorts of loopy but one could applaud its originality (I suppose), and besides, we need to have something for Max to do. Therefore, the developers decided to simply deposit Max on the fictitious island and have him follow one of the Wild Things to their village. You can consider this aspect of the game to be the introduction: you will learn to jump with the X button, attack with the Square button (and hold the Square button for a more powerful attack), and block with the L1 button. Max can leap over gaps, sidle along and scramble up ledges, and even climb vines and thin trees. The controls for everything are accurate and responsive and the camera is functional.
The latter can get a little irksome because rotating the camera can be cumbersome and slow but for the most part, the third-person perspective is just about right. The view sits at the right distance from Max, laying about with your weapon is easy enough (you can’t lock on but you don’t really need to), and all in all, wandering about your environment is quite pleasant. As we just established, Max sounds just like a child and he also moves like a child…a sprightly, tireless one, to be sure, but it still works. Then, when you discover the village, this is where you can take advantage of your exploring. See, as you progress, you’ll find certain items that will please particular members of the Wild Things tribe. By collecting enough of their favorite item, that Wild Thing will do something to help you, or open a new path to more treasures. You can even have a mud clot fight with your huge new friends, even though you’re destined to lose.
It’s just that there isn’t much to do beyond this. You run around, whacking at a few enemies here and there, blocking when necessary, swinging off a few tree branches, and finding the items that will get you a little closer towards your collection goals. And on top of this, there’s a definite frame rate issue at times when running through the natural landscape, and as I said before, the camera isn’t always perfect. There’s really nothing crucially wrong with Where The Wild Things Are; there just isn’t enough content to keep anyone over the age of 10 playing for very long. Even fans of either the book or movie will start to feel the repetitive nature of this experience within the first few hours, and that’s a bad sign. It’s tough to keep a game interesting when you learn most everything there is to know in about 45 minutes. On the good side, the controls are good, it really doesn’t look bad, and the majority of the gameplay is fluid and tight.
But in the end, the whole thing just feels bare. Oh, and that plot is a little over the top and just plain zany, although that’s more of a subjective thing. I guess it just needed more in the way of substance, you know?
1/21/2010 Ben Dutka