Over The Hedge shines a little brighter than your average licensed based game. by Patrick Evans
July 12, 2006 – Rating movie-based videogames, especially those geared towards younger gamers, is often difficult. Games simplifying their mechanics for younger players often take it too far; instead developing a game that would be an insult to the average young gamer’s intelligence. Luckily for fans of the movie, this isn’t the case with Over the Hedge. Providing just enough action and atmosphere to keep players interested throughout, Over the Hedge side-steps a few of the pitfalls that usually claim lesser license-based titles and provides enough action to fit the bill.
Based on the recent film of the same name starring the voices of Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, and Wanda Sykes, Over the Hedge tells the story of a group of woodland creatures adjusting to the new subdivision that popped up next door by robbing these new homes of supplies and avoiding the local exterminator. While ensuring their survival in the forest by nabbing from the suburbs, RJ the Raccoon and company learn lessons about life and all that jazz, ensuring that the game stays faithful to the source license. The game also provides areas that aren’t seen in the film, including the Exterminator’s Lab, the Sewers, and a Wild Western theme park.
While I mentioned that Over the Hedge doesn’t insult its player’s intelligence, you may not be able to tell that with some aspects of its gameplay. Hedge feels like a combination of the recent three-dimensional Gauntlet titles combined with platforming elements one might see the much-more violent Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. The combat is simple, requiring only using one button repeatedly to score kills against the various woodland baddies that appear from monster generators such as trash cans or electronic cages. Finishing moves can be pulled off depending on the timing used on that one button, which helps a ton later in the game, but special moves, charged by grabbing power-ups throughout the level, felt nearly useless. Ranged attacks with golf balls, ping pong ball launchers, and freeze guns can also be used to eliminate threats from afar, but are only necessary in certain situations that call for it specifically and aren’t as useful throughout. You can select from RJ, Verne, Hammy, and Stella at any point of the game, but since there are no discernable differences between these characters besides aesthetics and special moves, there is no real decision to make outside of preference.
The lack of depth in combat is mirrored with the lack of depth in platforming as well. Venturing into the various households in search of goodies usually involves avoiding traps and security measures while searching for triggers to advance to the next room or objective. While the security traps are clever enough using food or power-ups as bait the obstacles, many involving live wiring or moving platforms, are stale and provide little challenge or excitement. Collectable items are strewn across the various stages, providing the opportunity to collect food to add an additional point to maximum life or to unlock movie clips and concept art. These extras can provide a little more replay value, but it’s difficult to miss collectables as they are usually right in front and in plain sight. Again, in serving a younger audience, some of the gameplay feels remedial.
Despite these simplifications, Over the Hedge manages to entertain for its entirety. The combat, while simplistic and repetitive, doesn’t age as quickly as one might imagine as it is balanced with chunks of platforming. Many levels, such as the raid on Vincent’s cave, have genuine moments of excitement as you plow through moles and rats while keeping your footing on the side of a mountain. Secondary objectives are also available in the form of “Complete the stage without setting off a motion sensor” or “Collect all eight batteries.” These objectives help the player challenge themselves as they advance, which in turn provides a more enjoyable experience.
By advancing through the single-player mode and completing objectives, players can unlock mini-games like the Driving Range and a Golf Cart Destruction Derby. While they are a decent distraction from the story mode, they don’t provide any sort of lasting entertainment and feel rushed. Since mini-games hardly make or break an overall package this is excusable, but it would have been nice to see a developer take these a little more seriously in a movie title such as this.
License games often flounder if the source material isn’t recreated faithfully, but developer Edge of Reality avoids this shortcoming by providing a solid audio and visual package. While it certainly doesn’t blow you away, the graphics of Hedge are clean, bright, and energetic. Combat never exhibits slowdown when the screen fills with enemies while the game-engine cut-scenes look very accurate to the film. Most of the voice talent assembled for the speaking parts of the game is decent, with only Arnie’s voice noticeably inaccurate.
As a total package, Over the Hedge is an adequate title that aims to please its core audience and nothing more. By following the typical license-game recipe, the developers have managed to make a title that is passable by industry standards but worthy of the fan following. The humor and style of the film translate well here and are helpful in filling the gaps where the simplistic gameplay and rushed mini-game mode fall short.
By Patrick Evans
CCC Staff Writer