At some point in the recent past, somebody, somewhere, decided that kids' games really don't actually need to be very good to be worthwhile. And that's okay apparently, because it's not as if the audience is demanding, right? Stick some recognisable talking cars into a shoddy, depressingly monotonous game and Little Johnny should get his money's worth, right? Wrong.
The whole philosophy that underpins Cars: Mater-National is simply catastrophically wrong on every level. Perhaps developer Rainbow Studios hasn't noticed, but Pixar movies aren't just made for children. They're created for a family audience, with plenty of enjoyment and laughs for kids of all ages. More than that, they're actually entertaining, with sharp dialogue, great storylines and plenty to occupy the eye. The game on the other hand is anything but. The races are overlong, devoid of excitement and so short of actual things to do that only a pre-schooler entranced by pretty colours (which Cars offers up in abundance) would get any enjoyment out of it.
The genius of Pixar's approach to movie-making is that not only does it get the whole family engaged, it simultaneously recognises that kids are actually a pretty sophisticated bunch, and I'll warrant they're as discerning in their gaming habits as they are with their movies. Traveller's Tales has the right idea with its LEGO Star Wars games - indeed, you can't help but notice that the presentation and humour of the series is very Pixar-like. Combine that with solid, universally appealing gameplay and age is irrelevant. A good game, after all, is a good game and Pixar movies offer up plenty of great source material.
Cars: Mater-National on the other hand is simply an abysmal failure, equally abhorrent on both PS3 and Xbox 360. Of course there are differences, but the fundamental, head-slappingly poor gameplay comes as standard with both versions.
Technically speaking, it's a score draw. The Xbox 360 rendition might run a little faster in terms of refresh rate, but the PS3 game - weirdly - has what looks like a full-resolution 1080p mode contained therein. Of course, it impacts the frame-rate drastically but at least it's a small point of interest in what is otherwise a stupendously dull game.
The Golden Compass
On paper, this game has a lot going for it. The quality of SEGA's output is on the up and up, there's a 'big' developer on coding duties and regardless of what you think of the film - or indeed the books - there's no doubt that there's plenty of decent material around which to create a great game.
It's just a shame then that the final result of Shiny Entertainment's efforts is so completely predictable, a staggeringly banal mish-mash of basic hackandslash platforming featuring a spot of puzzling, combined with by-the-book adventuring ripped off from the Harry Potter games. Only not as good.
As Simon Parkin adroitly points out in the original Xbox 360 review, The Golden Compass is basically a PlayStation 2 game running in high definition, with barely any effort made in improving the basic 'last-gen' look and feel. While some of the character models are a touch enhanced, animation is uniformly poor and aside from a couple of GPU-powered effects, practically zero effort has gone into improving the backgrounds which betray their low-poly origins throughout the game.
Also curious is the weird inclusion of 'real' footage from the movie. Most of the narrative is conveyed through the use of cut-scenes based around the game's 3D engine. For this device to suddenly be jettisoned in favour of crapola-quality video that looks as though it was ripped from a pirate copy of the movie is not only bizarre, but also serves to throw the game's visual coherence out of the window.
In terms of game content, both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games are essentially identical, with just a few technical differences to tell the two versions apart. The most obvious aspect is the colour balance - pretty much ideal on PS3 but with a heavy gamma adjustment on 360 that doesn't look so good. However, the Sony console plays host to a lower refresh rate and almost continual v-lock screen tear - unavoidably ugly, and even worse than Ubisoft's Blazing Angels games (yes, that bad). Both games are native 720p, and both also support scaling to 1080p, which causes another performance drop on PS3. Bearing in mind that the whole game is essentially a PlayStation 2 title upscaled to 720p, the difference between the two versions is incomprehensible and basically unforgivable.
Sixaxis motion control is also included in the PS3 version, although the obligatory 'hold the controller level while walking across a tight-rope-style platform' system as seen in Ratatouille, Uncharted and Pirates of the Caribbean is yet another example of the spectacular lack of imagination and innovation that pervades the entire game.