For all mighty EA's dominance, it has never managed to successfully come up with a cutesy icon to compete with the Sonics, Marios and Crash Bandicoots of the console world. So it should come as no surprise to see a new 'franchise' appear that attempts to carve itself a slice of this lucrative worldwide market.
The star of the game is a chirpy, matey, cuddly Tiger from Tasmania, called - you're ahead of me here - Ty. And he's on of those 'heroes' that you just know has gone through countless focus groups over recent years as the creative committee attempted to conjure one of those gaming characters that's cute enough appeal to as broad a gaming 'demographic' as possible; non threatening, adorable, but with 'attitude'. Argh. And our hero has the unenviable task of reclaiming five Talismans from across the gaming world for some hardly worth repeating reason.
Platforming by committee
To give you a flavour of what it's like to play, just try and imagine the kind of 3D platformer that a creative committee would come up with. Give yourself a minute or two. Maybe grab a pen and paper and jot down five games you'd choose as inspiration and a few features that you'd have in them, and you won't be a million miles away from the game that is Ty The Tasmanian Tiger, one of the games keeping the nation's charts warm this Christmas sales period. So, yes. You collect items, negotiate platforms, run, jump, swim, and kill numerous baddies in all the familiar ways. But all voiced by one of the most irritatingly unendearing voiceovers in videogaming history. It's almost damned before you even start. Almost.
Normally we'd take one look at a game like this and be so bored at its utter vacuousness within seconds that we'd be unable to prevent ourselves zoning in on the PS2's eject button. But given that it's the quietest time of the year for new releases, and that it's been selling in worryingly high numbers, our curiosity was aroused. And after all, we're not afraid to admit that we love a bit of spangly, childish platform fun. Some of our favourite games of the past 12 months have come from this overused, much abused genre, including Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and of course Super Mario Sunshine. To put it mildly, EA has some heavyweight competition.
As we've already mentioned, the voiceovers are bad. Not just because of the whiny Tasmanian accents that make a Brummie accent seem an appealing choice, but because the characters are so hatefully scripted and generic that you'd be hard pressed to stop yourself from screaming fouled mouthed abuse straight back at the TV. They're so inoffensively offensive; any attempt to feel something other than contempt is futile. But no doubt the developers would scream indignantly "But it's not made for you". And that may well be true, but that doesn't stop us giggling inanely at every Pixar movie ever made. It's just bad. Bad characters, bad script, bad voices. Surely the game itself can't be as bad?
Believe it or not, it's not completely terrible
Fortunately for EA, Krome Studios hasn't made a bad fist of making a platform game. It hasn't made a good fist of it either; it's just somewhere between the two that avoids being completely terrible by borrowing lots of things that made other games in the genre really good.
Its most obvious inspiration is the utterly sublime Jak & Daxter - a game we appreciate even more, a year down the line. Although it never gets anywhere near close to matching it for technological prowess, much, if not all of J&D's mission structures have been borrowed - no make that copied to the letter. In fact the more we think about it, the more it's painfully obvious that Krome spent much of the design stage of this game realising that J&D had a ton going for it. So, in Ty, we get to run around picking up Opals (instead of eggs), of which there are 300 per level to seek out, five of Ty's 'Bilby mates' to rescue (instead of spirits), and eight Thunder Eggs per level (instead of orbs), as well as 10 Golden Cogs. Honestly it's a kleptomaniacs dream. And as with J&D, Ty comes across a few characters every level, which have some spurious task for you to achieve in exchange for a Thunder Egg. Likewise sub games break up the proceedings, so you'll find yourself racing head to head or other fun interludes that help break up the regular platforming action.
But unlike its illustrious rival, there's nothing going on in the technology area to keep seasoned gamers marvelling. The levels are based around the old fashioned 'portal' system, so the need to load in every level is blatantly apparent - and in no way comparable to the impressive 'no load' system that Naughty Dog so skilfully pioneered. And not only that, the graphics, while not bad, are not standard setting. It's all very colourful, cute, bright, and functional, but never anything more than that. It looks rushed and cheap next to any of its rivals, and when you're a newcomer to the scene, the engine is the one area that you need to impress a discerning audience with.
Originality? Are you having a laugh?
The controls, unsurprisingly, make no attempt to bring anything new to the proceedings. The movement is directed by the left stick, with cameras controlled by the right stick. The main four buttons take care of jumping, firing, biting and activating, while the shoulder buttons add extra functions including switching to a first person targeting view to dispatch those awkward beasts easily. There's not much to criticise here, apart from the camera's tendency to wrestle control from you, 'helpfully', but that's the perennial bugbear of any 3D platformer - Ty is no worse an offender than any other, but it's certainly worth pointing out it's another area that will get on your nerves.
Despite Ty being one of the most generic, formulaic games we've ever seen, its thievery of the Jak & Daxter mission structure makes it a much more compelling prospect than you could possibly expect, given all the obvious lack of inspiration on display. The obsessive compulsive kleptomaniac in us just couldn't help but want to explore the vast sprawling maps within the game. There's something cruelly satisfying in clearing stuff up within games that we're sure only Freud could explain, and despite our better judgement, we could barely stop being so foolishly addicted to even write this review!
But that's probably a bit like a tidy minded refuse collector getting job satisfaction from taking a leaf sweeping job on the side. You know it's pointless, you know there will be more leaves in the morning to wreck all your good work, but there you are, trudging around clearing more mess up, for no good reason at all.
A good way to waste your money
And if that still sounds entertaining to you, then good luck to you and Ty. You truly deserve one another. The rest of us will get along just fine with dozens of other much better games, thanks.