XBOX REVIEW: ZATHURA

Zathura is short on long term play value but kids who really, really loved the movie will probably enjoy most of what the game has to offer. by Vaughn Smith

January 17, 2006 - Zathura the game is based on Zathura the movie, released late last fall. Written by Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, Polar Express) Zathura takes what should be a normal everyday occurance and turns it into a fantastic adventure. At least on paper.

The tale begins innocently enough when brothers Danny and Walter find themselves in their creepy basement and locate a dusty old board game called Zathura. A flip of the card reveals 'meteor shower' and low and behold, meteors begin smashing through their home causing them to run for cover. Fast forward the story a bit and it becomes apparent that the boys aren't in Kansas anymore...if the infinite chasm of space appearing outside their front door is any indication. The boys are a long way from home and find themselves surrounded by robots and a menacing alien race known as the Zorgons and so the adventure begins in their quest to get back to earth safely.

In this 3D platforming action game, you'll play as brothers Danny and Walter and will eventually take control of an enemy turned ally robot who prefers to attack with firepower in contrast to the boys melee and weaker weapon attacks. Obviously aimed at the younger set, Zathura is a companion piece offered to moviegoers who had their imaginations tickled in theaters watching the events unfold. Unfortunately though, the level of difficulty in the game is quite inconsistent, ranging from very easy to frustrating (due to some platforming challenges) but is primarily easy and shouldn't be too challenging for the intended audience.

Each playable character is given their own particular levels which means you won't have the added playability of discovering the right one for the job. While the characters tend to control similarly each has their own distinct move set. Danny is armed with a slingshot with an infinite supply of moon rock ammo (other ammo can be obtained) and a really weak kick move. Early on Walter will locate a robotic arm which he can use as a melee attack and he's also been granted the responsiblity of being more able-bodied and will have to contend with far more platforming challenges such as rope hanging and pole swinging. The Robot is the most powerful for obvious reasons and comes factory equipped with lasers, a powered shot (must be charged) and has a higher jumping ability.

Awkward platforming jumps aside, most of Zathura's levels involve hitting buttons which open doorways to other levels while avoiding enemies. The idea of avoiding enemies is far easier than actually taking the time to fight enemies and once young gamers grasp that concept, it shouldn't take too long to reach the end of the game - which can take about 4 hours tops depending on skill level thanks mostly in part to infinite lives and respawning in the same spot you died. Since enemies tend to drop health you will have to stand and fight sometimes simply to collect some health lost due to cheapshots. Oddly enough, the plaforming challenges which can be frustrating are often completely fast forwarded by dying and then being revived beyond where the challenge took place.

Zuthara does a nice job of capturing the essence of the movie, but doesn't quite excite on a visual scale. Textures are bland, character models are average (although the Zorgons stand out as well as the couple of bosses) and the environments are largely forgettable and unimpressive; in short Zathura is pretty generic. Where Zathura does manage to elevate the experience is when the game goes beyond the movie providing a little more depth to the already shallow storyline. The music is standard action fare and it's surprisingly good. The two actors from the movie provided the voices for their game counterparts and it at least ties the two products together. Hey, give the kids a break; it was probably a kick for them to record their lines for the game.

Ultimately Zathura is a full priced game with the least amount of play value I've seen in recent memory. An average gamer would get through this adventure in a few short hours which means for goodness sakes, rent this one if you're itching to play the movie.

Features:

  • Create your own exciting space adventures based on the best-selling children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg (Polar Express) and the feature film directed by Jon Favreau (Elf).
  • Play as Walter, Danny or a rampaging robot, utilizing the characters’ unique strengths and abilities to conquer each situation.
  • Explore 15 action-packed levels spanning the universe, including some locations only hinted at in the film and book.
  • Over 36 dangerous alien adversaries, including lizard-like Zorgons, menacing robots and other bizarre space creatures.

By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director

Rating out of 5
Zathura (Xbox)
2.9
Graphics
Aside from the Zorgons and the bosses, most of the environments and textures are generic sci fi. Framerate drops are common.
3.0
Control
Wonky camera can often place you into harms way at the least opportune time.
4.0
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and voice acting are the best parts of Zathura in terms of production values, but the sound effects are as generic as the environments.
1.0
Play Value
Kids will find the game too easy in parts and difficult in others - but for the most part the challenge has been completely removed which will have you at the ending in under 4 hours.
3.0
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: X, PS2 (shown)
Dev: High Voltage
Pub: 2K Games
Release: Nov 2005
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best