As the summer marches on and popcorn movies line the multiplexes, the accompanying wave of licensed games takes up residence on the shelves of your local game retailer. While some, like Transformers, try hard but ultimately miss the point, Shrek the Third for DS does a good job of fitting into the cramped tie-in lineup. Shrek the Third is a fun little adventure game that doesn’t try to be anything outrageous, and works in the end because it adds a bit of spice to the tired old formula.
The story intro is narrated by Donkey, and he gives advice through tutorials throughout the rest of the levels. His presence is actually a lot funnier than it sounds on paper, and if they didn’t get Eddie Murphy for the voiceover, they definitely found a good sound-alike. The comical perspective of Donkey adds some more incentive and cleverness to what could’ve been a much duller game.
As for the core gameplay, Shrek the Third is a new take on the tried and true team adventure model, where multiple characters can be controlled to achieve complex goals. The movie plot is told by small textual overlays that are found in the main quest, but the game itself strikes out on its own to offer more variety. As Shrek, Puss in Boots and young prince Artie, you travel across various side-scrolling fairytale levels in quest of golden fairies. These fairies have the power to turn the wizard Merlin back to his old self (Donkey accidentally transformed him into a delicious parfait, but tells it as if the ordeal was none of his fault).
Each character has the obligatory unique abilities to get past various obstacles. Shrek is pure muscle, with the strength to power through barricades, smash stone floors and topple the big enemies with only a few punches. Puss in Boots is quick, small and agile, so he can slide through tight spots, cling to walls and wall jump, and leap to high ledges. For balance’s sake, his sword is the weakest of the characters’ melee attacks. Artie is more of a solve-all character and is used to bypass puzzles. His magic shield can be thrown to hit enemies and activate switches, block against attacks or falling hazards, and even allows him to float across water. All three characters can travel together as a team, but you’ll usually have to take one of them off in a different direction to unlock a door or solve some other problem. This is especially true of Puss in Boots, who does a lot of traveling to out of reach places.
This game would be fairly generic, except that all of these actions are performed with the DS’s special features. Aside from movement with the D-pad or face buttons, every attack and move is carried out with intuitive touch screen swipes. A couple techniques even require the microphone—such as blowing on a flying enemy to knock him out of the sky, or to propel Artie across a river.
Shrek the Third also includes some very light point-and-click functionality. Donkey is always watching the heroes through Merlin’s magic mirror, and he can lend a hand in certain situations. Holding either of the shoulder buttons turns the screen purple, and allows you to cast spells on enemies or parts of the environment with a stylus tap.
Shrek’s gameplay does have a good deal of repetition. The puzzles are fairly consistent, so after the first couple of levels you’ll pretty much know what to do for the rest of the game. The level scenery changes from forests to castles and other magical locales, and the puzzles get a tad more complex, but the gameplay is pretty uniform. Some older gamers might find this boring, but Shrek the Third is a kid game after all. The overall simplicity and rather forgiving enemies and bosses make this game a good choice for younger players, as it’ll probably give them a sense of achievement and act as a good brain teaser at the same time.
A few technical difficulties keep this game from shining. Everything, from the characters to the environments, are fully rendered in 3D on both screens, which looks crisp and well textured, but also does a number on the framerate. I often ran into considerable slowdown for no apparent reason, even when the screens were relatively clear of enemies or effects. The chop issues don’t ruin the experience, but they do trip it up on a fairly regular basis, and this might frustrate the game’s main audience. The voice work, except for the Donkey, is pretty average, but it isn’t painful or embarrassing. Music is cartoony and might get annoying, but there are some nice tricks that keep it fresh. Switching characters will change the level music’s cadence; for example, choosing Puss in Boots will add a castanet accompaniment that fits with the character’s Latin personality.
Shrek the Third also includes three player cooperative multiplayer, but I was unable to test it because other players must have the game to participate, and I only had one copy.
It might not be the flashiest or most original movie tie-in game, but Shrek the Third does its job and uses the DS’s abilities for a fun and creative experience. Older players might not be too interested, but this game is good for younger kids who liked the movie.