When it comes to children’s stories, Where the Wild Things Are ranks up there with the most memorable classics of all time. Though the book itself consists of no more than 10 complete sentences, Warner Bros. has managed to squeeze an entire live-action movie out of Maurice Sendak’s masterpiece. Tagging along for the ride is Griptonite Games’ interpretation of the tale for Wii.
In book form, the main character, Max, is sent to his room for getting into mischief. Max’s imagination sees him to the land of the Wild Things and back in time for supper within the space of just a few lines of text. Where the Wild Things Are the video game, however, riffs on the surreal style of the book to tell of an adventure that shoots for the moon.
The dialogue is sparse and used mostly as a means of instructing the player on how to proceed throughout levels. Taking liberties with the original tale, the Wild Things are given very unique personalities, and though you won’t develop any real relationships with the creatures, the story is weaved nicely into the gameplay.
Breaking it down to its most basic parts, Where the Wild Things Are can easily be likened to a melding of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and God of War with training wheels. The game borrows almost completely from other franchises, but the controls and mechanics ensure a pleasant ride.
You will, of course, take control of Max, moving him with the analog stick – A to jump, B to attack, Z to guard, and the C button allows you to interact with various objects. You’ll begin your journey, fittingly, on the shores of… where the Wild Things are. You’re tasked with following Carol (one of the Wild Things) to the Wild Things’ village, and in doing so, you’ll run through most of the basics.
The gameplay is broken up into platforming, combat, a touch of puzzle-solving, and the occasional on-rails sequence. Making it to the village introduces you to the game’s hub, and the rest of the story plays out in a mission-based structure. A tent at the center of the village allows you to continue the story, and the game moves in a completely linear fashion.
Combat is pretty basic. You can mash the B button three times for a combo, or hold B to charge an attack. The variety of enemies is sparse, with fireflies and beetles demanding most of your attention during battle. The main villain of the game, however, is a tar-like substance called miasma, which makes plenty of repeat appearances throughout the adventure.
As simplistic as the combat is, it’s satisfying when doled out accordingly. Controls are tight and responsive, and like God of War, putting up your guard mid combo is seamless. Some fireflies drop explosive orbs when defeated, and you’ll use these to break past various obstacles or take out large nests of enemies. Each enemy has a unique tell that alerts you it’s about to attack; it’s an element that helps to keep the combat interesting throughout the game.
The adventure portions, however, are definitely the high points in terms of gameplay. There’s really nothing here most gamers haven’t seen or done before, but the execution is spot-on, with really strong pacing in terms of platform design. You’ll be navigating vine-covered walls, quickly running from stone platforms as they crumble beneath your feet, and swinging from tree roots in order to leap onto the edge of some outcropping.
Tossed into the mix are a few on-rails sequences. There are two main types: one that has you riding atop Carol’s shoulders, and another where you’re rafting. Riding Carol is definitely the more enjoyable of the two, and you’ll be zipping under logs, bashing through bramble, and leaping over mountain cliffs with precision timing. Though there’s a bit of trial and error involved in completing these levels, they’re ultimately a lot of fun. Rafting missions control fine and break up the story pacing nicely, but context-sensitive moments that require you to waggle the Wii Remote do little to enhance the experience.
As a complete package, Where the Wild Things Are is solid; however, there’s one particular gameplay component that’s reused far too often. Miasma spiders will grab hold of whichever Wild Thing you’re traveling with and try to drag them underground. It’s up to you to fight off a horde of these creatures before your friend is taken under. You’ll have to juggle keeping your Wild Thing buddy above ground by whacking the miasma surrounding him whilst combating the spider creatures nearby. Unfortunately, you’ll be forced to replay this same, basic scenario an ungodly number of times, and in an adventure that clocks in at a mere five to six hours in length, it smothers many of the game’s finer moments.
In spite of this particular shortcoming, the game hits some real highs. There are moments late in the game that are truly magical, due in large part to a handful of really cool gameplay mechanics. For instance, you can throw a willow seed at one of the Wild Things, causing him to sneeze and leave feathers on the ground, which you can then use to fly across chasms. The selection isn’t vast, but such gameplay additions are integrated really well into the story.
From a production standpoint, the game is kind of a mixed bag. Where the Wild Things Are makes a really good first impression, with landscapes that often look next-gen. Many of the breakable objects, however, are blurry and lack detail. The Wild Things, themselves, look a lot like the creatures from the book, but they have a bland appearance when seen up close. When wandering around the village, there are often bouts of slowdown, though it’s not much of a problem during level gameplay. It’s unfortunate that many of the environments look the same, though there are a few moments late in the game that are super imaginative.
The musical score sits nicely in the background, but the fidelity isn’t great. There aren’t any themes that will leave a lasting impression, but overall, the soundtrack does a fine job of supporting the gameplay. The dialogue of Max and the Wild Things are voiced throughout the entire game, and all of the actors bring a good performance to their respective roles.
Where the Wild Things Are is, in the span of just a few, short hours, a grand adventure. In spite of an obnoxious amount of repetition related to one specific combat sequence, the game inspires a host of powerful emotions. Once you complete the story, you can go back and redo individual missions, either to collect hidden items or simply to revisit your favorite levels. The gameplay on offer here isn’t anything but new, but it’s still a fun vehicle for experiencing this timeless classic.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
During level play, Where the Wild Things Are is often an impressive game to look at. Some minor issues with slowdown, as well as a few unsightly textures, prevent the game from being a real looker on Wii. 4.0 Control
There’s precious little we haven’t seen before, but everything works really well. Aiming with the Wii Remote to lob stones is a nice touch; waggling to escape whirlpools isn’t. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack isn’t all that memorable, but it makes a strong foundation for the gameplay. Sound effects are merely decent, though the voice work is nicely done. 3.4
Clocking in at around five or six hours, depending upon your commitment to nabbing hidden items, the experience is short-lived. The adventure is rock solid, though, in spite of some repetition. The game’s high points are sure to shine especially bright for anyone who loved the book growing up.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.