Version tested: PlayStation 2
You must play Arthur and the Invisibles. The human race depends on it.
Now, yes, obviously I'm going to need to inject a little melodrama into a review that heralds the next in a long, long line of average movie-licensed platformers, but hear me out. I have a plan. Gather closely.
OK, from what I know of the Godfather of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, and his research on the islands of Galapagos (which is, to say, not much) he coined a concept known as natural selection. Nature essentially gives a leg up to those who adapt and survive, wiping out the weakest of the species and changing the strongest for the better. Constantly getting eaten by beasties twice your size? Then divert your evolutionary path towards future generations adorned with spiky skulls and patterns on their backs that look like grimacing faces. Simple really.
In fact, we can supposedly find direct evidence of this evolution of the species deep within ourselves. The memories of our early lives are, it's said, locked away at a purely instinctive level of our being. For instance, the reactive fight-or-flight model we all possess isn't a modern conceit, it's a process honed thousand of years ago, brought about by our cavemen ancestors trying to survive in a dangerous era of sabre-toothed tigers, pterodactyls, and pedal-powered cars.
So if such is the case, then why not take a leaf out of the idea of selective breeding and engineer some worthwhile instincts ourselves? Why not take matters into our own hands? Why not, by taking Arthur and the Invisibles as an example and commanding every gamer to play it each day for the rest of our lives, instil into our minds self-made neurons of hate and apathy for the whole uninspired movie tie-in genre. Time spent gritting our teeth on its uninspired shell shall become encoded into our genetic make-up, ready for us to pass on to the next generation. Then, imagine! A world instinctually repulsed by a needless double-jump. No more justifying collecting 100 sponges or ten spatulas for an extra live, we'll stamp on those abhorrent CDs like we do spiders in the bath. No more 'Simon Says' mini-games cluttering up our precious time. We'll be free. Free! And we can finally get rid of that damning phrase, 'Not that there's anything really wrong with the game.'
Say You Want a Revolution
Not that there's anything really wrong with the game (sigh). The title doesn't have an original bone in its body, yet it's pleasant enough not to offend. It certainly aims high, I'll give it that, borrowing from some notable sources, chiefly the Prince of Persia series with its simplistic imitation of ledge-clambering and QTE fights upon the shoulders of monsters, and Demon Stone with its on-the-fly character switching for combat and puzzles.
Don't expect the same levels of action excitement found in either, though. The main elements are far more prosaic, built around block-pushing, door-opening and simple combat. Of the three characters you command, each has one or two special abilities that needs to be utilised at well sign-posted times - Selenia, Arthur's love interest, for example (voiced by Madonna in the film, who was obviously too busy to voice the inane 'Hit the action button to open the door' voiceovers to appear here), is the only one who can chop down the many brambles that block our trio's way. Speaking of which, the AI is smart enough to keep characters close to your side and sufficient in combat at nearly all times.
Counting To None
Yet the game wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so damn slow and repetitive. Its linear nature keeps you busy with tasks aplenty, but it's hard not to feel short-changed under all the excitement as you very slowly push yet another ill-disguised block into place. While the three leads constantly chat to each other, building up a repartee to keep you awake, some of the lines do come across as either irritating or patronising if you're over the age of nine and most likely played a zillion other of these types of games. And it's suitably chunky, if pretty forgiving - any death usually sees you put back in exactly the same place with all progress intact.
In fact, the only thing incongruous about the whole affair is the last section of the game, which - apropos of nothing, except the fact that it appears in the film - rips you out of the platforming world to race down a pipe in a toy car. I only mention it because it's an annoyingly long and difficult section with sensitive steering and tricky obstacles that, due to cack-handedness took me hours to complete. Grr. I wish you better luck.
Visually, though, I'm rather quite gobsmacked. It's no God of War, certainly, but they know their onions. For those not in the know, the story sees Arthur shrunk to the size of a pinhead and shacking up with a group of Minimoys, semi-ugly troll-like things, for some high-falutin' high-jinks in Grandma's backyard. Now maybe I'm simply suffering from an early bout of rose-tinted nostalgia for the PS2, or maybe this is evidence of a machine giving its best to designers who've unlocked its power. I'm not quite sure why I'm impressed but I am. It's as if the sense of scale and detail is more than we should rightfully expect from an average movie tie-in. Giant bees buzz over your head as you scale skyscraper high blades of grass, the world stretching out below you as far as your tiny eye can see. Huge chunks of wood impose their shadows on beads of reflective water. Even if the movie itself is a rather ugly Euro-animation affair, its intricately designed background design - a ramshackle mixture of the Minimoy's natural world and enormous-looking human items - displays a technical prowess betrayed only by the way it plays.
Aw, now. Taking the game as a whole, I feel a little bad holding it up as an example of the problems with lazy movie cash-ins. But, no. No. Somebody has to be that sacrifice. Play, so that future generations can bring themselves closer to perfection. Come to think of it, for best results, play at the moment of conception. Coital passion infused with abject hatred shall save the future. Together we can rid this curse for good!
But wait! What if I'm wrong? What if such sacrifice creates a martyr? What if, instead of hate, it breeds a benign tolerance? What if I've doomed humanity to a destiny of gaming ennui it actually likes? What if I've created a world of docile Eloi too passive to resist the whims of savage Morlocks (die-hard Ghost Recon fans and THQ developers), lapping up unlockable artwork like a kitten laps up creamy milk? No man was meant to hold such power. Let's stop this insanity before it's too late. I'm aborting this experiment right now. Let's just slap a score and a verdict on the bottom here and we can all forget the game ever happened.
6 / 10