As a games reviewer, much of the “work” element often comes into play when you have to review a game released in support of a movie. Let’s face it – games based on movie licenses have a fairly poor image, in general, and for good reason. These retail packages are often slapped together on the quick in order to meet deadlines, and budgetary considerations routinely rob what creativity might otherwise be allowed to flourish. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I set out on my adventures with Monsters vs. Aliens.
The characters and setting are based directly on the recently released Monsters vs. Aliens animated movie, and the game is broken up into four chapters, with a collection of missions per chapter. While on the way to her wedding, main character Susan is hit by a meteor and transformed into Ginormica – a 49ft. 11in. colossus. The military capture and confine her within a secret base where other monsters are kept far away from the public eye. Susan, however, just wants to get back to her normal life, and your mission throughout the early part of the game is to see her through to freedom.
The game has a great sense of humor, and cute yet clever one-liners tie the story, gameplay, and even the menus together in a very entertaining way. The presentation is top-notch, and you quickly get the impression that playful minds were at work on this game. The four chapters will take you through a generous variety of environments, implementing fresh gameplay ideas the entire way through.
Upon loading up Monsters vs. Aliens, you’re treated to a really good-looking cutscene that sets the stage for the gameplay. I have to admit, it was a bit too long – after nearly 15 minutes of cinema, I was ready to do some actual gameplay – but it was still enjoyable to watch and well-crafted. You then take control of Susan as she’s skating on two Jeeps. One of the other main characters, Dr. Cockroach, tutors you on the basics (though tutorials can be turned off), and you’ll run through a series of short levels, playing as one of three main characters from the movie.
Each of the three characters plays quite differently, and the levels you’ll navigate through offer a unique and enjoyable gameplay experience. When playing as Susan, you’ll be on-rails, jumping over and crouching under lasers and other obstacles, skating along walls, and dashing into enemies. The levels are fast-paced, and best of all, Susan controls really well and the levels are designed for a quick burst of fun.
Next up is The Missing Link, a reptilian creature who makes up the brawn of this monster dream team. Here, the developers have taken some obvious cues from both God of War and Ratchet & Clank, and the levels are enjoyable, brawler-type romps that differ greatly from the Susan levels. You move The Missing Link around with the analog stick, and he can perform a variety of attacks, pounces, and throws. Generally speaking, you’ll need to defeat a few baddies, destroy a handful of key elements within the environment, and occasionally partake in a bit of Missile Command-style shooting.
The last of the three playable characters is B.O.B., a monster modeled after The Blob, and his levels are more about solving simple, environmental puzzles than engaging in heavy combat. The level of challenge never gets too difficult, though it’s perhaps perfectly balanced for the game’s intended audience. The control and level elements that involve this walking, green goop, however, make for some of the more clever and creative gameplay moments in Monsters vs. Aliens. At some points during B.O.B.’s levels, you’ll enter a shooting mini-game that’s fun and does a great job of mixing up the gameplay. The Wii functionality during these portions really shines.
The game takes turns putting you in control of each of the three characters, and the levels have a nice, bite-sized appeal to them that never makes you feel like you’ve overstayed your welcome. Controls are spot-on, and for the most part, we had a great time with the game – much better than expected. That said, there were issues with the camera, as it didn’t always line up in ways that were helpful during gameplay. Never did we find ourselves locked into a corner or succumb to cheap deaths due to the view, but the cinematic-camera system was often less than ideal. Some of the motion controls felt tacked on, though tossing enemies with the Wii Remote proved to be surprisingly satisfying.
Though a few of the Wii add-ons are a bit superfluous, this is one of those rare cases where the Wii version comes out on top. Certain segments during The Missing Link levels call for you to weaken turrets and then hop onto them using the Z button. You’ll then need to waggle the remote sideways in order to weaken them further, and then gesture downwards to execute a finishing move. Stringing this combo together is very satisfying, and the whole process takes only a short time. There are a host of other context-sensitive motion gestures that are simple and really add to the overall enjoyment of the game.
Perhaps the game’s greatest asset is its presentation. As you play through each level, you’ll gain DNA points based on a multiplier system. You can then spend those points in the laboratory to unlock a bunch of cool items. It’s the way in which it’s all doled out, however, that really adds to the game’s appeal.
You’ll first have to unlock DNA strands by playing through levels. You then purchase artwork and challenges with the points earned from gameplay. Those items are linked to additional strands, and you’ll need to earn medals within the challenges in order to unlock upgrades for your characters. The game gives you more than enough points per level to buy whatever you like, but you’ll still have to do well in challenges in order to get at everything the game has to offer. This is an especially cool system, since the challenges are generally made up of the best elements of various adventure levels.
Though the menu system is really slick and the overall presentation has a nice polish to it, the in-game graphics don’t do the greatest job of utilizing what power the Wii / PS2 has to offer. You’ll see plenty of shimmer and a bit of screen-tearing, as well as some seriously poor animation here and there. Environments are very low-poly, though character models exhibit a nice level of detail. None of this affects the gameplay, however, and when running through levels, Monsters vs. Aliens has a playful style that greatly matches the kid-friendly formula it’s obviously going for.
Though the game’s visuals fall a bit short, the aural elements in Monsters vs. Aliens are tight and well-integrated. The voice acting is on par with the movie, and the music works as a great backdrop to the action. Certain lines are repeated when exploring the laboratory, but overall, the game’s presentation is impressive for any title, let alone a title based on a movie.
If you’ve got a youngster who really took a shine to the movie, then we wholeheartedly recommend this game as a way to extend the experience. It offers a unique perspective from what you’ll see in theaters, as well as a quality gaming package overall. The adventure is a bit short and the camera system is guilty of a few minor issues, but in terms of movie-to-video-game crossovers, Monsters vs. Aliens is a rare commodity in a sea of throwaway games churned out to accompany the latest movie sensation. The story mode and achievements are tied together in a very intelligent manner, and the level of challenge is almost pitch-perfect for budding gamers. Alternate paths through levels, as well as points goals – not to mention great level design – are ample incentive to replay missions.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
In-game graphics have a fun style overall but are low-poly with a few poor animations. The presentation, however, more than makes up for any graphical shortcomings. 4.2 Control
A couple of the motion gimmicks feel unnecessary, while others make the Wii version a better game overall. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The musical score is surprisingly powerful, and the voice work is on par with its movie counterpart. 3.8
Though the actual adventure is a bit on the short side, there is a generous amount of content and it’s divvied out in such a way as to encourage multiple runs through levels. Challenges are comprised mostly of the very best portions of the game. There is a cooperative, multiplayer component, but it’s little more than a novelty of fleeting interest.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.