Animated movies have been turned into solid video games this generation, which is good news for all the kids out there. There have been plenty of enjoyable, relatively accomplished titles based on the most popular children’s blockbusters, and that includes the likes of Kung Fu Panda, Ice Age, and Toy Story 3. Now, you can add one more to the list: Rango. Featuring a linear action/adventure with a variety of different gameplay elements, fast-paced action, competent control, and some decent technical aspects, it’s a worthy quest for young fans of the movie. There are a few small issues but I refuse to believe 8-year-olds are going to be anal about their gaming experience. In the end, it’s an okay story with better-than-average balance and pacing, and good voice performances.
Visually, this is a consistent, colorful presentation with a surprising amount of detail in the cut-scenes. The developers put a fair amount of effort into the non-interactive storytelling sections of the adventure, and the game design is both interesting and accessible to all. The animations are smooth, the effects are nice, and the loopy western atmosphere will put smiles on the faces of Rango fans. Some of the backdrops seem a little bland but then again, we’re looking at a desert landscape or sheer space environment most of the time. Character detail is also pretty impressive for such a title, and I liked the diverse environments; one minute you’re running along a moving train and the next, you’re sneaking through mineshafts. There isn’t anything overly special here but for the target audience, it’s fine.
In the audio category, the effects are capable without being great and the soundtrack is fitting without being of the utmost quality. The music can be repetitive but we do get different scores for different stages, and those effects are always crisp and accurate. The only technical drawback is a balancing issue, where the effects and music don’t often blend well together; I cracked through boxes several times without hearing anything. But these are small glitches and ones that don’t hinder one’s enjoyment of the game. The voice performances are a definite highlight, as you might expect…although I really don’t think that’s Johnny Depp. Seems to be a sound-alike. Anyway, the verbose Rango is voiced quite well and the other characters are charming and charismatic. In short, this is a stable, effective, and appealing presentation.
As I said above, this is a standard linear action/adventure that boasts plenty of different environments and gameplay mechanics. Rango is telling a story and you’ll be acting out his part; he’ll battle gun-toting rats (or are they beavers?), perform some simple platforming maneuvers, and slide, punch, and jump his way to Western glory. He’s chasing his arch nemesis, Bad Bill, a bowler-wearing lizard who continually tries to foil Rango’s pursuit by tossing all sorts of obstacles in his way, from dozens of enemies to sections that require some tricky climbing. As you progress, you’ll collect gold Sherriff Stars, which act as the game’s currency and lets you upgrade 17 different skills and attributes, ranging from combat, weapon, and health upgrades. It's not complex and it adds some depth.
The controls are basic and they’re usually responsive and reliable. The only drawback involves the free aiming mechanic, where you aim with L1 and fire with R1. This is just far too slow and cumbersome and unless you’re faced with a very specific situation (i.e., shooting a lever to turn off electricity, or aiming at the dynamite Bill is holding), it’s never worthwhile. To compensate, they implemented an auto-aim feature; provided you’re facing in a foe’s general direction, you’ll probably lock on. Therefore, it’s easy to run around like a madman, firing away at everything in the vicinity, and maybe tossing in a few melee attacks for good measure. It just feels a little chaotic and disjointed when you do this, that’s all.
The other small issue is the camera, which can typically track the action well but there are times, especially in cramped areas, where you lose sight of everything. Well, everything that matters, anyway. It’s not a fixed camera, which is both a blessing and a curse. And while I’m on the subject of shortcomings, I should add that collision detection might be a little iffy, and I found it irritating that Rango’s melee range was always shorter than I might imagine. And that auto-lock-on is okay, and far better than aiming with L1, but it’s hardly 100% effective and after a while, I stopped caring about the direction of my bullets. Just run around and fire like a maniac. It seems to work just fine, though, and I imagine younger players won’t complain.
That all being said, this is a satisfying, diverse, entertaining little quest. You will have to be on your toes, as the stages vary widely; from speeding along on your crazy mount to stealth-oriented areas. It’s also fun to gather in as many Sherriff Stars as humanly possible, and the control is solid enough to keep you playing. The story isn’t bad, either, and the progression holds down a great pace, which continually grabs your interest. In this way, Behavior Studios avoids the pitfalls of repetitiveness, where you might’ve seen everything there is to see in the first few hours. There’s always something new coming at you, and Rango’s abilities are always up to the challenge. It isn’t a hard game, but it will force you to pay attention and become a master of movement.
Rango is a worthwhile experience for everyone who loved the movie. The length is sufficient, the presentation, gameplay, and atmosphere is all quite good, and the lighthearted style remains entertaining throughout. I keep thinking it’d be a perfect buy for kids if it was $40 rather than $50, but maybe that’s a small matter. The control isn’t always perfect (the manual aiming is just too clunky), the sound balancing is off occasionally, and some of the combat feels more hectic than organized, but none of that cripples the experience. It’s recommended for those looking for a family-friendly romp with plenty of color and diverse missions.
The Good: Effective, solid technical presentation. Good voiceovers. Diverse stages and gameplay mechanics. Accessible without being bland. Pacing is just about right. Likeable, charming characters.
The Bad: Manual aiming doesn’t jive with gameplay speed. Sound balancing issues. Camera can be iffy. No multiplayer.
The Ugly: Too cute for anything ugly.
3/31/2011 Ben Dutka