Few would deny that one of Shrek and its sequel's greatest successes on the big screen was managing to tell a basic child's story in such a way that it genuinely appealed to both children and adults. Sadly, the same is not true of the game developed by Luxoflux to tie in with the film's release. Although perfectly serviceable in many respects, sitting down with the nippers to play the game of Shrek 2 is going to be rather tedious for the rest of us.
Pick me! Pick me!
However, that's not to say they won't like it. In fact, they almost certainly will. It's a colourful, largely authentic experience and there's certainly a lot more to it than there was to the original Shrek spin-off. And although it follows the events of the film only loosely, often narrating the chunks of plot that you'll remember over colourful storybook illustrations before plunging you into a level that has little to do with what happened on the big screen, most of the things that the young'uns will enjoy are firmly in place.
For a start, you get to control a bunch of characters and not just the big green oaf. He's still there of course, but by pressing the trigger buttons you can toggle between his various friends including Princess Fiona, Donkey and a host of others, and use them to run around solving basic puzzles, running basic gauntlets, killing basic enemies, winning basic mini-games, jumping basic platforms, and collecting basic upgrades at the occasional leprechaun vendor.
Even the youngsters in the audience will notice a theme developing. Shrek 2 is definitely a very plain and straightforward proposition, with only a few real niggles but nothing substantially exciting about it either - unless you happen to be knee-high to an ogre. Levels are ostensibly linear affairs that involve collecting coins and other objects and overcoming various Shrek-tainted tasks, like gathering chickens into a pot, collecting snail eyeballs to munch on the trip to Far, Far Away, or guiding the three blind mice through some woods - as they move between pieces of cheese, you have to contend with all the usual obstacles and also make sure they don't fall into any holes or wind up in mousetraps.
The controls are very simple - left stick moves, right stick controls a stubborn camera (although helpfully the pace and difficulty of the game is such that it's rarely a source of frustration), A is jump, X is attack, B is 'action' and Y triggers a special ability. The puzzles are equally simple, and generally rely on using the right character at the right time - Donkey to knock down trees to form bridges, Fiona to slow down time so you can dispatch bats or catch fairies as they dart about, or maybe Gingerbread Man to hurl a candy cane at a switch beyond your reach. This isn't always visually intuitive, but it doesn't matter greatly because you're more or less always told what to do by one of the characters if you're ever in more than half a second's doubt.
Besides that, there's a smattering of combat to contend with, and "Hero Time" tasks. Combat, sadly, is a bit underwhelming. Attacks are basic to perform and yet somehow over-elaborate (having to knock chickens into a coop isn't very easy when Shrek seems to belt them halfway across the screen just to stun them, for example), and enemies, although some do have attack patterns of sorts, are never more than a trifling obstacle.
Hero Time, meanwhile, is a nice idea that rounds off the levels rather well. At the end of the first section for example, set in Shrek's Swamp, Fiona is called upon to get some blackbirds together for Lil' Red's grandmother's pie. Instead of slowing down time and then chasing them down in the usual manner, though, instead we're treated to a brief sojourn into the realms of rhythm-action, tapping buttons in time with on-screen prompts to make Fiona sing until all the blackbirds have been collected (or rather, popped) by her twittering.
There are a few things we might poke it about, but nothing particularly serious. Characters can be knocked out in a fight, for example, but the game's handling of some other events is inconsistent - with one-touch kills for other sections like running-past-a-bunch-of-crocs-in-slow-motion and disarming mousetraps. But this is offset by the generous checkpointing that never forces you back more than about 30 seconds.
It's also a shame, although not altogether surprising, that the original voice-acting cast from the film hasn't made the transition. Instead we're treated to a bunch of talented imitators who do a fairly convincing job for the most part - with a few exceptions that sounds rather incongruous, or un-Shrekly. The problem though isn't really the facsimiles but rather the sense of humour - there are a few chucklesome lines of dialogue, but nothing here will make you laugh as much as the film - which is laugh-out-loud hilarious - does, the repetition can be annoying, and most of the humour is sufficiently juvenile to go unnoticed. Donkey's special ability is an explosive fart, apparently. Oh how we, er, barely registered it until he did it for the fifth time.
Then again, as we said, these are only minor points and, since the game is blatantly aimed at children too young to play proper platform action stuff like Jak & Daxter, just about forgivable. Indeed, if you happen to find yourself with a group of young'uns any time soon, Shrek 2 is perfect fodder - the four-character design is sufficiently versatile that up to four players can dip in and out whenever they please, and in actual fact the game is a bit more interesting when you only have to perform some of the silly tasks, not all, and only collect some of the masses of loot.
He's behind you
That it's over in a few short hours (whatever your abilities) and that everything's very contrived and undemanding is, in fact, rather the point. Granted, it's a pity that Luxoflux couldn't capture the one-size-fits-all humour of the big screen version, but for what it's worth, Shrek 2 is harmless, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road action for young children, and there aren't too many other games around that fit that bill with much success.