Over the Hedge

Review

posted 6/16/2006 by Lydia Graslie
other articles by Lydia Graslie
Platforms: GC

After about 5 hours of grinding my teeth over the GBA version of Over the Hedge, I have to admit I eyeballed the Gamecube version a bit suspiciously before picking it up to review. I had good reason to hesitate, as the GBA version turned out to be less than stellar. A cadaver like control scheme, annoying repetition and little to get excited about left me feeling apathetic about RJ and Co. (If you're looking for an instantly gratifying Over the Hedge game, click here) Still, I was hopeful. Would the control scheme be better on the GC? Would it be smoother? More interesting? Even, dare I say it, amusing? Well, having played through it, I can safely say yes, yes, yes, and maybe.

First off, the GC version is a completely different game than its GBA counterpart. Whereas the GBA version puts most of its effort into emulating the plot of the movie, the GC version spends only an hour or so replaying the events of the film before launching into the real plot of the game, which takes place one year later. A small band of woodland animals resides in the last piece of untouched land outside suburbia. Their leaders, RJ, a wisecracking and somewhat reckless raccoon, and Verne, a level-headed turtle who's somewhat more easygoing this time around, are faced with a dilemma. All of their lovely gadgets (such as a TV, a lamp, etc.) which they have acquired have been stolen by the Verminator, a somewhat scuzzy looking man with a combover and nemesis to the woodland animals. This is, of course, a disaster. Even the opossums can't live without TV. A plan is formed. The gadgets must be replaced. And some more food wouldn't hurt either.

While the premise of both the GBA and the GC version is essentially the same (run around and collect food and gadgets), the GC version does a vastly better job in its execution. Within thirty seconds of playing through the first level I got the feeling that this was a much more thought out piece of work. While I think the GBA version was definitely limited by the medium, I was disappointed in the lack of original ideas. Side-scrolling and item hunting can only get you so far if the concepts are under-developed. The GC version by comparison outshines its small cousin in every way. The control problems simply don't exist. The graphics are and interesting. The sound...well, the sound was a bit annoying, but then again this is a kid's game and I'm pretty sure that's almost a requirement anymore.

The control scheme in OTH is simple but serviceable. No 8 button combo attacks here, most enemies are repelled by furious one button mashing. Perfect for young players. Movement onscreen is tight and controlled, and I encountered no frustration with cheap deaths, unlike the GBA version. The one beef I did have was with the flying golf ball attack. Its a bit tough to use as the targeting system seems a bit unresponsive, but since I used it only a handful of times it really didn't affect me too much. And, to my delight, every skill that I learned could be used in every level, every time.

The game is indeed quite smooth. Everything segways nicely from one mission to the next, with minimal load times. I encountered no slowdowns of any sort, even in the most visually demanding portions of the game. The character movements are realistic; RJ walks just like I'd expect a sentinent bipedal raccoon to walk and Verne's determined waddle fits in well with his character.

As far as stuff to do goes, the formula is simple: ROTAGT (Run Over There And Get the Thing). Most of your time will be spent chasing down shiny new toys to steal from the humans. Some of the in-game obstacles are hilarious. For example, a garden gnome that is secretly a miniature Iron Maiden. A statue of a dog with its head in the ground and a behind that sprays sleeping gas. After a while I stopped trying to avoid the traps and ran into them on purpose just to see what would happen. Its a pleasant, if rather sadistic pastime. There are a lot of breakable objects in OTH as well, many of which contain bonus items, and I spent a fair amount of time whacking different stuff just to see if it would break. The real pleasure in most of the item missions is not derived from getting the item, but from seeing how much fun you can have breaking stuff before you get it.

The visuals are interesting. I say interesting because its hard to describe the feeling I get when playing as a raccoon in an environment that looks disturbingly like my house and neighborhood. I get a kick out of the ridiculous traps(flying fireball-shooting barbecues, motion detectors, tennis ball machine/vacuum hybrids) that are placed in an otherwise normal looking generic suburban environment. Sort of like Silent Hill 4, but without the blood and possession and zombies...well, I guess its nothing like Silent Hill 4. Never mind.

The sound and music grated on me a little, but again this is a kids game and I must be getting old. I suppose some youngster would consider my annoyance a positive attribute.

All in all I liked this game. Its fun, its simple, and kids will like it. While it lacks the portable entertainment value of the GBA version, so does it also lack the tears of frustration that can result with kids who don't deal well with unresponsive controls. I enjoyed playing it, even as a grown-up.




B-
Simple, effective, and efficient, its everything a kids game should be. Minimal confusing play mechanics, lots of stuff to break, and plenty of missions and places to explore. This game takes a good formula and runs with it.


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