Happy Feet was one of the more successful CGI movies of last year, featuring penguins who sang to find their mates and one unlucky little blighter, Mumble, who had the vocal talent of a cat in heat, meaning he had no chance of attracting his special somebody unless they found his bizarre ability to dance appealing in anyway. How then, did this translate from celluloid to game?
You may have noticed that we haven’t exactly reviewed much (or any) of the licensed games from the Wii launch, generally because we had more important things to do with a hardware release. For this, though, we’ll make an exception, mainly because, well, we thought the film was actually pretty good. However, can the same be said for the game? Before we get onto that, we have to hand it to Midway on this occasion. Rather than crudely shoving the license into a bland and uninspiring platformer like many developers do with family-movie-to-game adaptations, some effort has gone in to actually making the gameplay fit in with the setting. What this means is that you get three basic types of level, two using the remote horizontally, one holding it like a baton.
First of all we have the toboggan-like levels, which involve you holding the remote sideways in NES configuration and sliding your way down massive snow mountains on penguin belly. Within this level type there are two sub-level types, collection missions and races. Collection missions are as inspiring as they sound (not very, then) and involve you moving to scoop up things like stones (it at least sort of makes sense if you see the film), while racing is generally a dash to the finish against one of your friends, with boost points mysteriously appearing on the track and large jumps through the air possible thanks to ice ramps, but only if you position your penguin properly. These level types represent the ‘just about alright’ sections of the game, although the control is not as responsive as you would want – sometimes it works as you’d expect, and other times, rather than nudging gently to move as you might in Excite Truck, you have to tilt yourself halfway out of your chair to get the movement you require.
Next we have the swimming levels, again played with the remote horizontally. There are a few types of underwater stages: collection (again), escape (swim as fast as possible and get out of the water – usually there’s a cave collapsing or something equally perilous) and chase (where, in a confusing twist, you’re swimming into the screen to get away from a seal). What ties all these together is that they all help to embody the ‘woefully terrible’ side to the game. Control is even more unresponsive than in the toboggan stages (aren’t penguins supposed to be more graceful underwater?) with you having to jut your arms around in ways that would probably cause injury to anybody in the surrounding settings to move decently. While underwater you not only have to combat the issue of actually moving, but also go to swirling boost points to get through the stage before the timer runs out, and go through streams of bubbles so your little penguin doesn’t drown, which makes things very frustrating indeed. The worst sections of this are, by far, the chase sections. Swimming into the screen and still having to go through bubbles and boosts that you literally cannot see until a second before they are reachable, especially with the vastly irritating control, is something we wouldn’t wish on anybody. Well, maybe some people.
Finally, dancing is the name of the game in the last section. This is best described as a Dance Dance Revolution clone without use of a dance mat. Instead, the player wields the remote in standard form, like a baton, and flicks it up, down, left or right as the arrows scroll vertically and through the arrow templates at the top of the screen. This may well sound a bit rubbish, but in reality it works very well – certainly well enough to warrant representing the ‘rather good fun’ side to the game. Control can get in the way, once again, but the difference here is that once you work out how to play it (each movement requires a firm, fast flick, not just a lazy wave) the issues melt away. The selection of music is entertaining, which always helps in this kind of thing, with a number of disco classics – we never thought watching penguins jump and gyrate to Boogie Wonderland would be anything less than extremely disturbing, but it works. Happy Feet disappoints in many respects, but the dancing is not one of them.
Graphically, sadly the game never matches up to the movie in any capacity – not that we expected it to, but penguins that looked a bit smoother and less jaggified, and without disturbing eyes, would have been pleasant. The presentation front in general is fairly average, though there are some extras that youngsters may enjoy, such as being able to see the songs being performed without having to play – it’s a shame they rendered them on the in-game engine and didn’t just chuck in some movie clips, though. Cutscenes appear between levels and are voice-acted to a standard that at least resembles the cast of the film, albeit not perfectly. There’s at least one good feature in there that more children’s games should pick up on if they haven’t already, in that if a level is failed twice an option to skip it comes up. This appears to be unlimited, which certainly puts to rest complaints of having to repeat frustrating levels over and over again until they’re completed just perfectly, saving Wii remotes and TVs at the hands of children (and unfortunate games reviewers) everywhere.
Happy Feet is not an altogether worthless game, but neither is it one that people should run to the shops for. It introduces some good ideas, but it also uses ideas that don’t work in greater proportions. Add in some control issues that plague most of the game, and this isn’t a penguin you should pick up – though it could be worth a sneaky rental to sample the dancing levels. Do it online, they won’t know you don’t have kids…
The downhill levels are alright, the dance sections are good, but the underwater sections are downright abysmal. Two out of three isn’t so bad, we suppose.
The environments are bland and the various creatures jaggy, but the animation is quite good.
Some excellent choices of music in the dance sections that fit well, and the voice acting is pretty good. It doesn’t even really get too annoying within levels, where characters have a tendency to shout random things out.
Fairly long, but easily finishable reasonably quickly with some determination. Nothing really challenges for very long, and the level skip option puts to rest any stages that do.
A below average licensed game, but home to some good ideas. If it weren’t for the swimming levels and a bit more polish was added, we probably wouldn’t be opposed to giving it an average or just above average mark, though. If you like the film, like dance games or have children, you should give it a shot if you can rent it.
You preordered it!?
I want to eat a penguin, I hear they taste a bit like duck.
Who the fuck actually digged this? u sad person...
Hmm, until Midway gets Mortal Kombat out on Wii I don't think their other contributions will be too good either (Rampage, Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy)...
Who the fuck actually digged this? u sad person...
Me, considering I took the time to actually write it...:tongue:
Nice review Mason, my mum's boyfriend bought this for her on the PS2, she loves the main character and the music but even she admitted it was a bit pants.
Also pointed out the swimming bits for being far too fiddly and annoying, and you know when my mum disses a game it has to be bad.