It’s Great to Have This Mouse in Your House
The Tale of Despereaux has a few things working against it, but fortunately it’s able to overcome the odds. First of all, it’s aimed at a younger audience, and the first impression for most gamers is that it’s just too darn cutesy to be any good. It’s also based on a movie, which is typically the curse of death for many video games. The Tale of Despereaux is not only based on an animated movie but also a book.
The developers have obviously been inspired to associate this game more closely with the book. The presentation includes storybook panels, but there are also a number of cutscenes which proves the developers didn’t take the easy way out. Overall, The Tale of Despereaux has the hallmarks of a Disney production with good quality visuals, audio, and gameplay variety. The game is relatively short and there isn’t much replay value, but there is lots of diversity and challenge that will satisfy gamers of all ages, while not completely frustrating younger and more inexperienced gamers.
Despereaux, the protagonist of the story, is a feisty little rodent filled with an adventurous spirit, wild imagination, and a desire to do good. His passion is reading, and with the aid of a magical storybook, he’s able to take part in a series of high-spirited adventures by entering stories in the enchanted book. After making friends with a princess, she is kidnapped by a gang of evil rats led by an even more vile varmint that you will eventually do battle against. The game will take you to a variety of locations in and around the castles including the kitchen, library, dungeon, sewer, courtyard, and garden. Yours is a miniature world in which normal, everyday items take on different characteristics from your new perspective. Some items make great weapons and tools such as needle and thread, while other are huge and foreboding, ultimately becoming a threat. These environmental objects help make this 2D world appear more interactive.
Combing elements of platforming, action/adventure, combat, and puzzle solving, The Tale of Despereaux is interesting in its diversity and challenges. This is a 2D side-scroller at the core, but the environment is rendered in glorious 3D, which creates an illusion of freedom and spaciousness. The move list is impressive. It’s similar in scope to Prince of Persia but considerably lighter. Despereaux has the standard run and jump moves, but you can add to the list: wall crawling, wall jumping, grappling, sword fighting, ledge grabbing, rappelling, and pushing and pulling items. You can learn how to use all of these moves in-game, as you will come across question marks that will act as a mini-tutorial, instructing you on how to employ each individual move. In this way, you will be able to work them into your routine much more effectively than if you had to learn from a manual.
Despereaux is not what you would call an easy game, although there are some very easy stages. The game is forgiving in that you have an endless supply of lives. If you get killed, you only have to start over from the last save point. At the outset of the game, you will have only your wits and few avoidance moves. Enemies such as the evil rats will be lying in wait to swarm you if you make a wrong move. The environment can close in on you, literally and figuratively. When it a tight situation, you will have to move objects around in such a way to get yourself to the next stage. You will also encounter dark sections where it’s imperative to light your way with torches and candles. These lights will keep enemies at bay while lighting your way through sections loaded with traps and obstacles.
Aside from the rats, other enemies include frogs, scorpions, bats, birds, bees, and a host of insects. There is some “mild cartoon violence” but there’s not a lot of blatant killing.
You will eventually acquire a needle that can be used as a sword, among other things, but there are no guns or explosions with which to eliminate the enemy. Mousetraps can be used to rid yourself of unwanted vermin, but you have to be careful not to take the bait yourself. Luring enemies to the trap will deactivate it, but if you don’t have any takers, you’ll have to look for items you can use to throw at I,t so that it won’t snap your little head off when you pass by. These puzzle elements are not only challenging, but they fit in nicely within the context of the storyline and the gameplay.
As in any traditional side-scroller, there are a variety of goodies to collect that will do everything from increasing your points to giving you a special ability. Hidden within the levels are musical notes that you can collect. Each series of notes will unlock a new instrument to play along with the soundtrack. It’s a cool idea that sounds as good as it…er…sounds. The music is extremely well done and there’s not much you can do to improve on it except to add more color to it.
Speaking of color, Despereaux is definitely a cartoon-come-to-life. Everything from the animation to the static storybook panels exhibits a quality generally lacking in movie-inspired games. The controls work great; they are very responsive and precise. Despereaux makes plenty of interesting noises when exerting himself, or taking a hit. I could definitely have stood to see more cutscenes and voiceacting. That would have helped to flesh out the story better.
I have not read the book, nor will I ever read it or see the movie for that matter. I found the storyline to be lacking cohesion and continuity, but you don’t need to know what’s going on to try to save the princess. The game is divided into numerous chapters, each with their own levels. It will take most gamers little longer than a day to play through the entire game. Aside from going back and collecting more notes, there’s essentially no replay value here at all. While there’s no doubt that Despereaux will make a great present or stocking stuffer, if you’re considering it for yourself, you would be advised to rent it.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
Great faux-3D effects makes this 2D side-scroller look spacious. 4.5 Control
Simple control scheme. Lots of different moves accessed contextually. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great music but more voiceover work would be welcome. 3.4
Plenty of gameplay diversity and challenge. Too short with no replay value.
3.8 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.