Oh, it's a shame to see what Hollywood's doing to CG-animated movies these days. Back when Toy Story was released, it was a fresh, innovative and exciting genre of infinite possibilities. Today: a formulaic rehashing of the same wacky group of anthropomorphic characters wise-cracking the same tawdry jokes with a moderately serviceable wink to the grown-ups, and transparent parodies of modern-day culture. All tied up in some high-concept plot that tediously echoes the previous one on the production line. The more things change the more they stay the same.
Incidentally, here's a movie-licensed 3D platform game.
Where the two Ice Age movies, with their make up of wise-cracking anthropomorphic animals on a snow-filled adventure, broke out of the ever-restricting CGI cartoon framework was in their dazzling use of beautifully stark, minimalist backgrounds to frame the leisurely-scripted foreground action. Ice Age 2, the game, is about collecting nuts.
Now, you may have noticed that those last two sentences don't really scan, do they? And that's because the movie and the game operate on two completely different levels. The first is about a group of prehistoric animals involved in a race against time to save their valley from a melting glacier, the second is about collecting nuts. Nuts, nuts, nuts and more freakin' nuts.
Evidently, somebody in charge believed that players don't want to waste their time identifying with the movie's prominent lead characters. Oh no. Not when they can have the opportunity to fill the furry shoes of Scrat, the primitive put-upon squirrel with the (admittedly pretty funny) nut-obsession sub-plot. And so that one-joke idea is applied to the mechanics of a bog-standard action-adventure in which you have to collect hundreds of nuts spread across ground and platform in every single level in order to successfully complete the game. Seriously, it's a lesson in the obsessive-compulsive collection of food the likes of which we haven't seen since the dark days of Donkey Kong 64's banana-hoarding. Dreary, but addictive; each nut collected makes a satisfying popping sound, like bubble wrap to a gamer's ear.
Here's the kicker, though: you don't actually have to collect any of them. Technically, you're only on the look-out for one or two special task-specific shining nuts that inexplicably permit you to squeeze into tight crevasses (I believe our man Freud would have a thing or two to say about that) and access the next zone. The rest are window-dressing, but strewn about everywhere (and not even cunningly hidden) in such a small game that you feel obliged to suck them up in order to find some value. Of course, the game promises early on that collecting a ton of them per level unlocks the tantalising prospect of bonus features. Except all that hard work doesn't reward you with, say, access to one of the all-too-brief mini-games for high-score replay or even concept art. No, it gives you hollow promotional puff-pieces in which the actors don their interview hats and gush about the ball they had working together on the obligatory sequel. It's a sickly victory for a game that actually rewards you by trying to sell its own so-called 'franchise' back at you. Unbelievable.
For a simple game for the simpler of heart, Ice Age 2 takes an easy five hours to complete. Having done that, for experiment's sake, I figured I'd return on another run-through sans nut-gathering and calculate how much of the game actually involved peripheral collecting - ostensibly a lazy excuse for some kind of longevity. Around two and a half hours later and it doesn't take a genius to figure you spend half the game pointlessly scrabbling around picking up the damn things for some perverse advertisement thrill.
As to the structure of the game itself, as with any average platformer, it lays out the goods in the first level, introduces its main moves via an ongoing tutorial and runs with it: Scrat can dig up items, he can climb walls, sniff out power-ups, spin-attack enemies, collect nuts... We've all been there, and it isn't long before the game sinks into a shallow groove of fetch quests and simple platform-hopping. If you're going to nit-pick you'd focus on the slow turning circle of the camera but it's all so unremarkable. Some would call it kid-friendly, others would say it's formulaic. All would agree it's boring with little atmosphere to its linear environments, basic condescending tasks and a failure to capture any kind of kinetic energy that the movie may possess.
But maybe there's some salvation in mini-games, you say? Those very brief, obligatory mini-games where the playable main cast finally appear, relegated to diversions that count amongst them a Three Card Monte variant, a Simon-style memory test and a Whack-A-Mole skit. They're about as engaging and inconsequential as the rest of the game, actually. Only a penguin bowling interlude and ice-slide section weakly stand up to the test, and even then they're blink-and-you'll-miss-them stereotypes which only ever appear once.
It would be all too easy to dismiss this as children's entertainment and say they'll enjoy this adventure associatively if they loved the film. Instead, try teaching them to spell 'soulless merchandising opportunity' because this isn't a worthy companion piece at all. If you think that's being too harsh, see how they treat you, the valued customer, in other areas. After relating the disconnected plot through short movie cut-scenes in the first few levels, the game inexplicably decides to give up halfway through and resorts to painted storyboard stills. Ray Romano, the Manny the mammoth character, sloppily narrates over these scenes at such speed, it sounds like he's just spotted his easy paycheque wafting out the window.
If Fox cares this much about preventing you from seeing any more cinematic footage in a game that you've just spent around Ł30 on, in order to force you to see the actual movie, that's a perverse way of going about it. And if Eurocom thought it could do an easy job of wrapping a weak platformer and some mini-games around a big-name cartoon, and maintain some critical integrity just because it's for children, they're kidding themselves. But this is 'Batman Begins' Eurocom we're talking about, which is developing a reputation for wholly average movie adaptations Either way, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown is a tedious game with serious length issues that doesn't distance itself from a million other average platformers, movie-based or not.
Except for those nuts, of course. Oh, God, the nuts.