Another day, another movie tie-in. Anyone who’s played enough of these things knows why there’s an (obvious) stigma attached to them: they usually suck. The reason for this is because, nearly every time, whatever hapless developer gets saddled with making a licensed movie game isn’t given the proper time, team, or budget to do so.
Deadlines in particular are a problem; since theatrical release dates for the kind of popcorn fodder (also why there won’t be game tie-ins for The Social Network or the new Wall Street) that lends itself to tie-in games, are hard and fast. Developers usually have less than a year to get the game ready to ship by the time people are lining up for its celluloid counterpart at the box office. The result is games that play and are designed like crap, generally. In any case, it’s always good to go into a licensed game with low expectations, since expecting anything above disappointment with such games is almost assuredly an exercise in either tragedy or futility, depending on your penchant for emoting over wasted cash.
This was more or less my thought process going into Despicable Me, a forgettable-looking game based on an equally, despite Steve Carell’s best efforts, forgettable-looking CG kid’s film. Oh boy, time to slog through eight or so hours of poorly designed and shoddily balanced gameplay, I thought. So imagine my surprise when Monkey Bar instead made a game that was only about three hours long!
I was surprised at Despicable Me’s short length, but I guess that’s as a good a way as any to get around the whole “lack of quality” problem endemic in movie tie-ins. The game is actually a competent, if tedious, puzzle platformer. The game revolves around Gru, Steve Carell’s Russian Bond-esque villain of the film, stealing pieces for a rocket that he plans to use to steal the moon and thus become the most despicable villain of all time. There’s two ways Gru can go about doing this: either taking matters into his own hands during the platforming sections or making use of his minions during the puzzle sections when the would-be master villain inexplicably gets stuck behind a door or laser barrier.
If you’ve played a puzzle-platformer at any time, ever, you know how to play this game. Gru’s various guns (innocuously armed with air, ice, magnetism, and webbing) can interact with level-based objects in various ways, and the minions can be used to reach environs (or more importantly, switches) thus helping Gru get past whatever his present obstacle is. The level design is Klonoa-style 2.5D (parents: if you want to get your kids a great family-friendly platformer, albeit one that’s not much longer, you might want to try that one). Steve Carell breaks the fourth wall to taunt you about how much you suck at video games, you only have so many minions that you can use at once per puzzle, Gru can double jump, you get the idea.
To the game’s credit, some of the platforming sections can get challenging, with more complex navigations between fast-moving obstacles, rotating or moving traps, and timed or skill-based environmental hazards. This is largely negated by the fact that the game gives you unlimited lives, but it’s a kid’s game, so you can’t really expect a Bionic Commando Rearmed-level of challenge. For any younger players, though, it’s probably a good thing that the developers put in a “skip whatever platforming challenge you’re repeatedly getting killed on” option that pops up the same way toggling easy mode in combo-based action games does. You’re not penalized for using this feature, either, other than possibly missing out on some extra items.
The puzzles work the same way, though, if you want to “skip” them, you have to use special instructional tokens that show you a vague outline of the solution. By justification that can only be explained by game design, following a platforming section of any given level, everything becomes puzzle-based, trapping Gru behind barriers of all kinds. You can summon minions with a bazooka, then use them as stepping stones, blocks, balloons (to hit ceiling switches), fans, bouncy tires, and other things, depending on how Gru uses his four guns. Of course, since the minions can’t do anything without Gru’s direct help, all puzzles are exercises in ordering actions and knowing how and where to manipulate your minions. Pretty standard practice for a puzzle platformer, in other words. These actually provide a modicum of challenge, though admittedly, it’s sometimes because it’s a little unclear if whatever minion manipulation you’re engaging in is actually doing anything or not.
For whatever reason, the developers also decided to throw some shooting segments into the mix, as Gru’s ship has to protect the minions’ craft after retrieving a part for the rocket. Anyone with any arcadey-flight game experience will do fine, although for younger players, it might test the reflexes a little bit. Though I found these sections tedious (as I did with the “consecutive puzzle” approach of the game’s brain-teasing bits) they’re over quickly, as is the game.
Although I did catch myself actually mildly enjoying the platforming segments of the game, Despicable Me is too short to really be worthwhile (unless for whatever reason you’re a huge fan of the film and happen to stumble on the game for a maximum of $5). It’s competent, and in terms of movie games, it’s actually better than a lot of others I’ve played. However, it’s not really memorable, and isn’t that one of the most despicable offenses a game can commit?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The lush, colorful graphics of Despicable Me look pretty good on the PSP. 3.8 Control
Controls are generally responsive, although there can be a lag when double-jumping. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Forgettable, as I don’t even remember what it sounded like. Steve Carell’s comments can be kind of funny. 2.5 Play Value
The game is competent, but it alternates between short, and usually decent, platforming segments and tedious sections of puzzle-solving. Also, you can beat the game in the amount of time it takes to watch the film twice. 2.8 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.