Imagine for a second, two entertainment giants. They are two wholly dissimilar forms of amusement, but a big corporation thinks a combination of the two would be a huge seller. After all, they’re both cash cows, right? Of course, I am speaking of Dreamworks’ hit Shrek films, and Nintendo’s million selling Super Smash Bros
. Activision and Amaze Entertainment have taken it upon themselves to make a Smash Bros. style Shrek fighting game, and the two don’t get along very well.
I’ll be honest; I’ve never liked Shrek much. Personally I think it’s Dreakworks’ attempt to cash in on Pixar’s success. Dreamworks has great animation, but tries to pander to the adult crowd with fart jokes and Michael Meier’s signature form of humor. The result is a big-budget Saturday morning cartoon in the vein of Nickelodeon’s crap, with none of the clever wit and quality of Toy Story or The Incredibles.
Now that I’ve stepped down from my soapbox, I’ll also state that I judge a game independently of the franchise it is based upon. The sad truth is, the Shrek films could’ve made an entertaining brawler game. Amaze just didn’t capture the magic or frenetic gameplay of Smash Bros.
The concept seems a sure winner at first: choose one of the satirical fairy-tale Shrek characters and battle another one in a locale from the movies. There certainly isn’t a lack of variety here, with a good host of characters and a suitable selection of themed arenas. The green ogre, his donkey sidekick and a host of other misfits can duke it out in palace backdrops replete with traps and items, which is in essence the golden Smash Bros. formula. The way the game controls, and the fundamental concept behind it, is the real problem.
The whole idea is to “slam” your opponent more times that he/she can slam you before time runs out. A slam is charged up by repeatedly beating on your opponent, and once you have enough power built up, an icon flashes above your player indicating that you can let loose a devastating attack. These attacks can theoretically miss, but it takes several seconds for the charge to wear off, and most of the characters have slam moves that are very hard to avoid. So, matches degrade into button mashing at close range, until one player has enough charge to slam the other. This also gives quick, small characters with fast punch cycling rates a lopsided advantage. If you can corner the other guy and hammer him until you have a slam, why bother with elaborate combos?
This concept isn’t really terrible, it just doesn’t leave mush room for strategy. As I said, some characters are just too slow to play effectively, and with no score system other than a tally of slams, the standard melee mode feels limited. The camera doesn’t help much either; everything takes place from a two-thirds perspective. This is a radical departure from the side-scrolling approach that most fighting games have, the perspective works particularly well in Smash Bros
and Soul Calibur.
The almost isometric perspective in Shrek Super Slam
makes judging depth a pain, as well as escaping from cheap pummel attacks.
A handful of items serve to spruce up the gameplay, however the majority of the goodies are difficult to aim and once again are ineffective when cheap button mashing works just as well. The perspective is especially troubling when trying to fire a gun, and with no lock-on feature for the projectile weapons, they’re really more of an annoyance than a help.
There are a number of other modes to choose from, most notably king of the hill and story. King of the hill is played in a special arena with a very slippery hill and not much else in the background. Again, there was potential here, but gameplay is more of the same button mashing, trying to stay on the hill the longest while batting other players away. Story mode glues several matches to a thin plot involving a bedtime story of some sort. Basically, you choose a character and beat your way through a series of one-on-one battles with a CPU player, much in the same manner as the melee mode. Yes, Smash Bros. does the exact same thing, with even less of a story, but the mechanics are far removed from Super Slam
and make Smash Bros. so much more fun to play.
So, the gameplay is nothing spectacular or even very enjoyable, but how does the game look? Well there’s a real tossup in Super Slam
concerning graphics, and it plays out like this. Character modeling is actually quite impressive, with each player model sporting a good deal of polygons and imitating their movie versions with decent fidelity. Animations are spot on, facial expressions in particular, and this is probably where Super Slam does the best job of representing the source material. In short, you don’t have to squint to tell that you’re looking at Shrek.
Environments are nothing to shout about, but there are plenty of little touches that bring the decidedly low-brow humor of the films into the gaming realm. There are the occasional traps and landmarks that feel very Shrek-like, and the weapons are at least appropriate. Particle effects, physics and other frills are merely satisfactory, but it’s nice to see them anyway. The only real problem with the graphics is the texturing. Every last surface, be it on a character or playfield, is noticeably smeary. They aren’t disgusting to look at, but with such great poly models, you’d think Amaze would deck them out with some higher res textures.
Sound is really quite refreshing after some of the sub-par elements in the graphics and gameplay. To be honest I was amazed at the quality of the voice work. I had to look in the manual to determine that the actually movie actors didn’t provide the voices; the sound-alikes are that good. Music is what you’d expect from such a game, but it has a distinctly Shrek flavor. So, you get the remixes of 70’s pop and the typical party game tunes, which all serve their purpose without being too overt.
With such a well rounded package of production values, it’s a surprise that Shrek Super Slam
didn’t have more polish put into the actual gameplay. The developers took their cue from Smash Bros, but if you’re going to do that, you’d better get it right. The final product is only half of what it could’ve been, with mechanics that are more irritating than addictive, and a gameplay principle that limits customization in the end. Shrek fans should give this one a rent—they’ll enjoy the movie references and playing as their favorite characters. Hardcore gamers and just about everybody else should keep on playing Smash Bros. Melee
Activision has churned out another Shrek licensed title, with all the sophomoric charm of the films but a tired gameplay concept. Thereâ€™s a certain degree of variety, between story and multiplayer modes, but it all comes up short when the player realizes thereâ€™s nothing here to hold interest.