Dreamworks' Trolls franchise is reliably fun and entertaining. I remember when the first film came out, and I slogged myself to the theater with my kids, fully expecting to roll my eyes for twenty minutes before I fell asleep for the remainder of the film. But I should have trusted the folks at Dreamworks Animation more, because their batting average for producing quality feature films is ridiculously high. Instead of snoozing my way through Trolls, I was fully engaged the entire time, delighted by the film's trippy rainbow-explosion visuals and witty dialogue. It's cheerful embrace of pop music didn't hurt either.
Since then, Trolls has become a beloved franchise with my family. The streaming release of Trolls World Tour during the early pandemic was a jolt of cheer during a time when we sorely needed it, and we've enjoyed both animated TV series. Heck, even the holiday specials are pretty great. With the pending release of a third film, this is clearly a franchise that Dreamworks is invested in, and it remains one of the most dependable bets in kids' entertainment.
Off we go on an adventure! To give kids chronic self esteem issues and depression! I'm gonna sing a little song about it!
Which is why it is so shocking that Dreamworks allowed Dreamworks Trolls Remix Rescue to ever see the light of day in its current condition. And while Dreamworks doesn't bear direct responsibility for making this game, the company that owns the franchise still doesn't get a pass. If you put your company's name in the title of an unplayable game and charge families fifty bucks for it, you are going to hear about it.
Trolls Remix Rescue starts out pretty well, actually, and it's clear that at some point in the game's development, someone actually gave a damn. Players can create their own character using a pretty nice little custom character creator, which my kids were absolutely insane for. No matter options what you choose, the end result comes out looking like a character from the films, which is fun. Then the game starts with a series of well-made little cut scenes that are fully voiced by what sounds like the performers from the television series. The game centers on a fun little Trolls-like plot about a character named Chaz, who hypnotizes the pop-loving Trolls into listening to "smooth jazz".
Best part of the game, right here.
Players then run around four colorful worlds (each consisting of three semi-linear levels), freeing the franchise's primary characters from the horrors of Kenny G. The level design in the game is appropriately colorful, feeling somewhat like a bargain basement version of Sackboy's craftwork marvels, echoing Queen Poppy's love of scrap booking. Players start with a simple jump, but soon unlock a variety of attack and traversal skills. Some minor puzzle-solving is embedded in the world design, requiring that the player solve little musical challenges to proceed. There are also some harmless rhythm game sections woven into the game.
If all of this worked as intended, we would be left with a fun and inoffensive kids' game. Nothing to write home about, but clever enough in its own way. Unfortunately, on a technical level, Dreamworks Trolls Remix Rescue is a total mess.
The screenshots look pretty good. That's because you can't see the textures load in five seconds late (on a Series X!) in a screenshot
The primary offender is the game's camera, which is an unwieldy nightmare to the point where it just about destroys the game. Almost immediately, the camera starts acting up, zooming in so close to the player character that you can't see the world around them. For a platformer, where you're actually supposed to be moving around the world and performing delicate feats of jumping prowess, this is absolute death. The game severely handicaps the ability to see the objects around your Troll, which becomes even more impossible when the game randomly decides to blur out the world around the character, leaving you with a Troll that takes up half the screen, surrounded by a smudgy world of indistinguishable goop. It's not like this is an infrequent occurrence, either. It happens constantly.
The camera issues make it extra frustrating when you get stuck in the game's geometry, running or falling through solid objects just to become trapped inside them. Or when you fall through the ground and get stuck falling through an endless sky. Or when an enemy you can't see attacks you from outside your field of vision and kills you. It's clear that this game still needed several months of QA work, but was shoved out the door on the unsuspecting public to be on Target shelves when the new film releases. Gotta make those Christmas dollars.
Now! Quickly! Zoom in super close so the player can't see the spikey log, the lava, or anything that is in front of them!
Then there are the game's laughable "boss levels", which are somewhat synced with Frankenstein renditions of the franchise's original songs, which sound like they have been edited by a tone-deaf seventh grader who just discovered Audacity. There are sections of the game that require the player to run ahead of bosses that chase them, but the camera is completely unsynched from the action, allowing the player and the camera to completely abandon each other, resulting in frequent, frustrating, off-camera deaths. The entire ordeal clanks and hiccups along like the video game version of a broken organ grinder accompanied by a one-armed monkey attempting to clang it's single cymbal in the air, resulting in a sickly visual and auditory cacophony of failure. And don't get me started on how the camera behaves when you play the game in multiplayer - I might use swear words that would make me fire myself.
I normally hold back on such harsh criticisms, as no creator sets out to make a bad game. But there is a special dark place in my heart for companies that release broken kids' games on the market, as they are taking a massive dump on the tiny and loving fan base that puts a roof over their heads. Kids don't understand when a game is broken, and will get frustrated and upset when playing a broken game, thinking that they just aren't doing it right. Many children that love gaming don't have a video game-savvy adult in the house that will say "It's not that you've done anything wrong, it's that this game is trash. Stop playing it." And some kids - mine included - won't heed this advice. Since they love the Trolls so much, they keep heaving themselves face-first into the spirit-destroying cheese grater that is Trolls Remix Rescue.
This bit right here is what video game nightmares are made of. Pro-tip: wall jumping (even though you can't see the walls) is the key to getting past it.
I just can't understand how Dreamworks would allow something like Trolls Remix Rescue out into the world. I guarantee that every Trolls product, from the feature films down to coloring books, goes through some sort of approval process to ensure that it doesn't tarnish the brand. And then they release this malformed, half-baked Kuato of a game into stores, and ask families to pay fifty bucks for the pleasure of making their kids cry. When everything else undergoes strict quality control, why is okay if the video game - which probably requires the largest financial investment from fans - sucks?
The actual perpetrator of Dreamworks Trolls Remix Rescue is GameMill Entertainment, a company with a questionable hit rate. Still, the company did publish Nick Kart Racers 3, which was a respectable and fun kart racer, and while Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl started out pretty rough, the company eventually molded it into a decent Smash Bros-style brawler. But on the flip side, GameMill just released Kong: Rise of Skull Island, which seems to share some "so bad it's ridiculously bad" DNA with Trolls Remix Rescue.
The actual developer of Dreamworks Trolls Remix Rescue is Petit Fabrik, which also developed the criminally under-appreciated Kukoos: Lost Pets. Kukoos is an amazingly clever platformer, with tons of cool and unique mechanics. Though the game got little attention, it remains one of the best platformers of recent years. Seriously, go grab a copy on Steam. So it's clear that we have three teams here that are capable of creating - at the very least competent, and often pretty great - products. So how did Trolls end up being such a hot mess?
The answer has to be a lack of appropriate time and resources to complete the game. The sad part is, there are the bones to a pretty decent Trolls game hiding in this corpse. Someone, at some point, cared. But the wheels of commerce inexorably turn, and who cares how many little Trolls fans get ground up in this particular meat grinder?
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 and PS VR2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, Series S, PS5, PS4, PS VR2, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host the Chronologically Podcast, where we review every film from various filmmakers in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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