Well folks it would seem that we are almost half way into another spring season (although if you know where I live then you also realize that we are never more than a couple days away from the harsh realities of winter snow). For a gamer such as myself, the spring season brings many things; cozy evenings with the A/C working overtime in front of my collection of favorite Xbox 360 games, exciting new titles and an almost endless supply of sequel titles, ....but spring also brings opportunities to be dragged away (during the precious few gaming hours I have) into the great outdoors to experience, sports, beaches, family gatherings and household chores. I really want to tell you that I hold a grudge against the 'other' activities ('other' of course being anything that doesn't involve gaming....I'm talking to you 'workplace') but I have, in recent years, actually found an abundance of inspiration from 'other' activities that have increased my enjoyment of my gaming hours.
Take for example youth soccer (no I don't play youth soccer, haha, no opening left for a punch line is there Symmetric). I have 2 children that enjoy soccer and as a (damn near perfect) Dad, I endeavor to be a part of what makes them happy. So every week we journey to the local fields and watch as hundreds of kids soak in the graces of the world's most popular game. The yelling, the kicking, the cheers, the cuts and bruises, even the many tears (from the parents of course) cannot take away from the core of the evenings events: Teamwork. I witness, on a regular basis, some of the most outstanding teamwork within those white lines from the most unlikely of characters.
Yet again, you're reading one of my reviews and asking what could this possibly have to do with my review. Well, this time, ladies and gentlemen I am reviewing Shrek; Forever Afterthe Game. Shrek; Forever Afterthe Movie AKA Shrek; the Final Chapter AKA Shrek; 4-D has hit theatres with all of the typical response expected from a once iconic character and while the release is not without its issues (do a search for movie reviews.this is a game review) Dreamworks Animation seems to have created a fitting conclusion for our heroesalthough there are rumors of a 5th installment. With seemingly every new Dreamworks picture comes a new video game. This edition has been developed by XPEC and Gameloft along with Activision and (as expected) is being released across all platforms.
Shrek; Forever After..the game is one of those thrilling sequels to hit us this spring and offers up some great teamwork style gameplay. Most surprisingly, this under anticipated title is an enjoyable game to play. Like any gamer over the age of 14, Ive experienced some of the other sequel games based on Digital/CGI movies and most have been less than stellar. It would seem that the developers have taken note of what has made the movies so popular and have made a title that seems targeted to youth but actually takes the time to engage a more mature audience.
The story is a pleasant twist on the actual movies tale; yes, Rumpelstiltskin has tricked Shrek into giving up his comfy lifestyle in favour of living out past glories as a fearsome Ogre. However, along with the loss of the creature comforts Shrek has also lost all that he holds dear; his best friends, his children, Fiona and even his life. Shrek is tasked with reinstating his True Loves Kiss within 24 hours or everything in Far, Far Away (and beyond) will be in shambles forever. Shouldn't be too hard right? Present Fiona with a few flowers, a scented candle and some swamp dipped slugs and the games over. wrong. Fiona is now an independent freedom fighter that has accepted her lot in life and has given up on ever finding her prince. This is going to take more than a smooth talking Ogre with bad breath and anger issues to win her over.
The game starts off with the usual tutorial level taking you through the pacing and controls of the game. It is within this early level that the first really pleasant surprise kind of slaps you in the face; this is not a button masher/lifeless character title. You can seamlessly switch between any of the four playable characters using different methods (to suit individual play styles) and each of the characters have their own unique abilities and powers.
Donkeyhas head butting attacks and the ability to sing off key (wow, I have a secret ability). He also has powerful kicks to help in solving puzzles.
Puss In Bootsis still our swashbuckling hero (if somewhat overweight) and has the cuteness ability (wow Variation has a secret ability). He uses his claws to climb and his unique jumping ability to access out of the way areas.
Fionahas powerful sword attacks and she uses a bullhorn as a rallying cry. The ability to light explosives with her lantern (see Kamshaft you do have special powers) opens secret areas.
Shrekhas sheer brute force and a roar to frighten any adversary he encounters (just the sound of your voice is a special power Symmetric). Shrek uses his power to move objects.
Each of the character abilities fit very nicely with the individuals and are varied enough to keep you switching between our heroes as they work through the levels. In order to cater to a wider market, we see the introduction of the 3 Blind Mice; these helpful fellows show up during some of the harder puzzle elements offer guidance to players (at a cost of course). This allowed my children to work through the puzzles while still making the tasks hard enough for my superior intelligence to get a workout (yes I had to use the mice a few timesso whats your point).
Another of the myriad of pleasant surprises, in this title, is the sound. Although the actual actors from the big screen are not used the stand-ins are more than reasonable in their voiceovers. The music plays more as a soundtrack including a number of licensed tracks. I found myself hoping for another epic fight sequence just to see what new number I would be presented with. These titles are generally rife with filler soundsyou know the same few lines repeated over and over add nauseawhile there was some repetition it was not to the point of being at all overwhelming (some of the sounds were quite interesting).
The visuals, while far from revolutionary, were beyond my expectations (taking into account past offerings). Even when getting into the coop play each of the character movements were seamless and interacted well with the surrounding environment. The camera angle, while static, was clearly used in the game development as there are not any foreground items placed where the camera angles would hinder the gameplay. Many of the in game cutscenes are of the usual quality but the games cinematics really amped up the visual style. While still not comparable to the actual movie the cinematics were very enjoyable which really helped to drive the story forward and engage the player. Even the implementation of the 2 worlds story development is another notch toward increasing the games enjoyment.
As for replayability; while the games pace does play you through the key plot elements there is an opportunity to go through each of the games previous levels to use new found abilities and access previously inaccessible areas. The game also offers the family style of play through its coop mode; simply activate another controller, pick your character and you are dropped into the middle of play. This drop in/drop out play was mostly used by my daughters as they enjoyed the fighting and puzzle solving but would opt out of the exploring sections.
Its abundantly clear that the game developers wanted to create an enjoyable title that engaged a range of age group and gameplay styles. Whats really nice is that while they havent perfected the formula, they have taken a big step forward. I encourage you to check this one out and to get your family and friends involved. Visit the characters of Far, Far Away and enjoy this fairytale for all ages