I must admit, I was a little apprehensive about reviewing this. I hadn't seen the movie and here I was playing the game. Pixar's animations are always an event, this one especially, being the next one from Brad Bird, director of the excellent The Incredibles. I wanted to go into Ratatouille fresh. I didn't want to spoil the experience by learning the plot through in-engine cutscenes and level goals when the silver screen experience lay so close to hand. Still, what could I do? I had to obligingly follow my reviewer's oath and get stuck in.
I needn't have worried. There was a reason for this game coming out a couple of weeks before the movie's release. Having done my fair share of movie license reviews, I should have known by now that this would bear little relation to what actually happens in the film. True, I know how the story ends and I know where it's set, but I still know nothing of the journey; the dialogue, the humour, the characters, and what makes it sparkle. Ratatouille the game doesn't so much follow the plot of the movie as get stuck to its shoe and dragged helplessly along.
There's not much you can really do with the tale of a rat turning his hand to cookery in a Parisian restaurant. A Cooking Mama-style game where you probably want to avoid the sultanas, maybe? No, THQ has followed tradition and plumped for your bog standard platformer. A jump and climb adventure in a rodent-sized world with minigames to partake in and dozens of charms (read: coins) and tokens to obsessively collect just because they're there.
I don't give a rat's ass
Four of the six worlds (the others being a tutorial world and a hub level) have missions you must complete in order to progress, usually involving getting an object or yourself to another place. Each contributes to the set up for a heist operation involving helping your ratty friends get some food or object down into their sewer home. Once this is done, you're onto another set of timed challenges against a very generous clock in order to put things in operation. The planning and execution stages make it a lot like the Sly Raccoon series in that respect, although nowhere as polished or varied. What it really does is make us wish the Sly trilogy had sold more so we could all appreciate how this should have been done.
Each of the levels culminates in a 'boss battle' in which you must run towards the screen to escape your pursuer. That kind of thing was pretty irritating back when Crash Bandicoot did it on the PSOne ten years ago. Here it's equally so, especially when you combine inevitable deaths with the fact that they seem to drag on far too long.
There's a good sense of scale to the environment at least (even if there is noticeable pop-up in each level's introductory fly-overs). Being a tiny rat means finding ways and means of reaching the highest of heights: tightrope walks along wires, point to point jumps (another reference to Sly Cooper there) across light fixtures, scrabbling down table legs, and the traditional rat up the drainpipe are your standard means. Although perhaps that latter description isn't so apt, as Remy's normal speed is a treacle-like canter. You can run, but your stamina depletes out far too quickly. If, for any reason, you ever find yourself forced to play through this game, I'd suggest entering the cheat code SPEEDY for infinite running. It should make your experience slightly better than mine - if I'd known about that code at the time, perhaps my play through wouldn't have been quite so tedious an affair.
Fetch the rat poison
For a game aimed towards a younger audience, though, it's a lot tougher than it looks. Remy can't fall that far and the tricky jumping controls always conspire to make him miss his mark. It's not entirely uncompromising given the generous mission checkpoints, but outside of those central goals you'll often find yourself respawning way back from where you were each time you die. It puts a little bit of a damper on exploration in a game that looks like it would be fun to scamper everywhere but often isn't. Still, it's a game that's easily gotten through despite those hurdles.
In contrast, meanwhile, a few of the mini-games almost had me crying real tears. Set in abstract dream sequences, some are easy, but some feature tough platform challenges against the clock where one hit is all you get before restarting. Thankfully, they don't have to be completed to progress, yet they're a surprisingly enjoyable distraction amongst the mindless platform fodder of the main game.
Incidentally, this being the 360 review, getting every Achievement isn't as simple to do as you'd think. This is the kind of game in which you get AP for doing things rather than doing them well. However, there are certain rooms and areas you gain access to throughout the game with hidden charms to collect. If you miss a few, though, you can never go back, forcing a restart of the whole game. No matter your view on Achievements, that's pretty mean and sloppy design right there.
It point towards a general mediocrity beneath the Pixar polish. There's no real sense of involvement with the story. Missions are completed without really knowing why, and like most games of its type, it's more of a brainlessly compulsive collect-a-thon than anything else. Competent in its own right, playable even, but deep down as nutritionally void as the popcorn you'll scoff while watching the movie.