Reviewing movie tie-ins is normally akin to spooning your eyes out, such is the depressing inevitability of their being rancid, derivative exercises in interactive merchandising that suck the will to live out of any right thinking gamer. So how come we've just spent the last six hours completing Traveller's Tale's latest? Is this just blind devotion to our jobs, too many mind altering chemicals, or is this actually quite good? You know, stranger things have happened. Like Tom making his boss a cup of tea [actually that's never happened -Tom].
Thanks to the intensely annoying film distribution status quo, Europeans have only just had the chance to see Pixar's latest animated gem, and so we've also only just had the accompanying game release as well, despite it having been out in the States since May. Oh well. Suffice to say the movie's pretty good, as with all Pixar's previous efforts, and it's genuinely surprising to find such a lavish interpretation of the key moments in the movie that really capture the feel-good mood and package it in such a polished fashion.
It's a deep blue sea
Without giving away any spoilers (the numerous in-game movie clips do that for you), the premise is that a young weak-finned Clownfish called Nemo has disobeyed his father on the way to school, and finds himself in a whole pile of bother, the other side of the world. Controlling his father, Marlin, the forgetful Dory, and Nemo himself, you've got to work together to, um, find Nemo and get the little blighter home again.
Set across 18 levels, the game features various simple gameplay styles that are generally recycled in a more challenging form as you work your way through. Pitched very much at the younger end of the market, the controls and gameplay objectives are resolutely simplistic, but rarely as easy as you would expect.
The first few levels are basic exercises in familiarising the player with the controls, which for most of the game involve moving with the left stick/D-pad, performing some kind of action with the Square button, and occasionally hitting X to swim faster. For the most part the controls are perfectly responsive, but a few perspective issues caused headaches from time to time - especially during the chase levels where forcing your way through bubble or speed rings can be a lottery.
Race and chase
Talking of which, much of the game revolves around these chase/race sequences, which either involve you being chased or doing the chasing (for example to finish first in a race) - the only difference being that your character swims into the screen rather than out of it. Elsewhere you're swimming from left to right in pseudo 3D environments, pulling switches, solving puzzles and avoiding the numerous traps and beasties that populate the sea.
In addition, the game occasionally slips in a few Q-Bert-style isometric levels, requiring you to bounce from one mine/jellyfish to the next, flip turtles or squash snails, which are all a lot harder than they initially appear to be. On a few even more infuriating occasions it even drops in some hair tearing old-school tile sliding puzzles, often the most frustrating parts of the entire game (Damn them! Damn the hairs in their nostrils!), and took us ages to figure out. And where would a movie tie-in be without the need to fetching and carry various coloured objects from place to place to prompt your passage to the next level, or satisfy some spurious objective? Hmmm? Nowhere, that's where.
In the main, Finding Nemo sports a decent amount of variety, regular check points and plenty of replay incentive thanks to the obligatory option to hoover up a multitude of objects. Should you swim through all the green bubble rings, win races, pop all the baddies that lurk, bounce the Luxo ball through the rings, or match the pebbles with the corresponding colour, you get rewarded with a Starfish.
Collect all of the Starfishes on that level and you're rewarded with a mini-game - generally races, matching puzzles or Luxo ball challenges. Collect all 60 starfish and unlock artwork. Whoop de doo! For kleptomaniacs it's paradise, and a real challenge to ferret out all of the various nuggets stashed away, but once you've seen all the inter-level snatches of movie footage and trawled through all 18 levels, it's debatable whether you'll really be bothered to grab everything for the sake of a few throwaway extras.
Visually, the game's often an absolute revelation, and top marks go to Traveller's Tales artists for recreating the Finding Nemo world with expert attention to detail. Without hesitation the standard of the graphics are better than anyone could've reasonably expected, and are truly outstanding throughout. Even on the PS2 version the sea is beautifully rendered, the characters are exquisitely animated and genuinely give the player an incentive to press on even during some of the more frustrating moments. Even the audio matches the atmosphere of the movie to perfection, providing a calming backdrop to the proceedings and rarely drilling itself into your skull like so many other kid-oriented titles.
As an animated movie tie-in, we've come away genuinely impressed at the overall standard on offer. At the current Ł40 price point it's hard to recommend it given its often overly simplistic nature, the occasional joypad-mashing frustration, and the speed at which any reasonable gamer will be able to rip through it, but on its inevitable journey to the realms of budget price it'll be a great game to give to the young 'uns as a pressie. A step in the right direction for a Disney related title, and kudos to Traveller's Tales for a marked improvement in licence-related fodder.