Okay, it’s time to play that game again, folks: Let’s Critique the Movie Licensed game! Now don’t be afraid, I know we have to wade through a lot of, *ahem* content of questionable caliber, but if we dig deep enough, we just might find something remotely enjoyable. And that’s exactly what I’ve found in the DS version of Over the Hedge. It’s actually quite enjoyable, a real surprise for a movie churn-out. Let’s break it down, shall we, and see why this title escapes the dreaded moniker of shovel-ware.
Gameplay first: the heart, soul and essence of any game. If it doesn’t play well, then you probably won’t be playing it for more than a few minutes. Over the Hedge takes some well-worn techniques from other hit games and moulds them into its licensed frame. Hedge allows you to control three of the film’s main characters, RJ the raccoon, Verne the turtle, and Hammy the red squirrel. Each one has unique abilities: Verne can hide in his shell and thus become invisible to enemies, RJ can sniff out food and other collectibles, and Hammy can execute a short dash move to avoid danger. All of these variables factors into a core gameplay that feels like Metal Gear Solid stealth crossed with a colorful 3D platformer. There’s also some squad-based teamwork and puzzle-solving that works well due to its simple, streamlined nature. It all comes together very smoothly.
For example, at one point as Verne you hide in your shell, then switch back to RJ, target a hard-to-reach switch with the stylus, and hurl the turtle at it to disable some irritating security lasers. The screen duality is also utilized quite well, not just for the occasional in-game function. The top screen displays a 3D-behind-the-back perspective, as well as a first-person free look view, much like any standard platformer. The bottom screen displays a radar-like map, highlighting usable objects and the field of view of enemies, again like Solid Snake’s stealth thrillers. Enemies, which can be anything from household pets to human inhabitants, are more challenging than they may first appear. Their vision cone might not spot you, but their sense of hearing is surprisingly acute.
All of this stealth action and platforming is executed with one goal in mind: the acquisition of food, much like the movie’s main plot. It’s a simple premise with some re-used gameplay mechanics, but it works very well in the context of the licensed material, and retains the film’s humor as well.
If a game has sufficiently impressive gameplay, then visuals need not amaze to carry the weight. Hedge, however, shines in this area too. Character models are high-poly and well textured, almost on par with Mario 64 DS, and that’s a high mark to hit. Some of the enemy models are a bit spare on the triangles, and a little more attention to detail would have been nice, but the sufficiently rendered environments make up for this. The framerate is consistent throughout, even in the biggest areas. For a licensed title, Hedge got a full graphical makeover.
The audio element is effective, but not without a few flaws. There are some voice samples during the gameplay that do a great imitation of the movie talent, so you get to hear a really close version of Bill Shatner’s rendition of an over-dramatic possum. The pre-rendered cutscenes have full voice-overs, which is the best example of the vocal work. Music is generally high quality, but repetitive. I can’t attest to its similarity to the movie score (I haven’t seen the flick yet) but the tracks are generally cheerful, with some espionage themes thrown in when you get detected. Overall a good job, but not mind-blowing.
Multiplayer is really the only disappointment. There’s a single mode of play, with the main goal of collecting more food than your opponent, but there is only one arena to play in, and a single additional character to allow for four players to compete. Still, download play is supported, so you won’t need four copies of the game to play this rather mediocre multiplayer element.
There are a few more dings in the solo experience as well. The individual rooms and areas have solid design, but the structures and puzzles within them tend to repeat too often. Objectives could have used some more variety, besides the tired “go get this item” directive. The concepts behind the gameplay aren’t exactly original, but their use and execution makes up for any stolen ideas. What the developers have done is unexpected: they’ve taken an excuse to make a truly forgettable game, and instead produced a quality product that keeps the player playing, and occasionally makes them laugh as well.
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