Disney is sitting on a goldmine but is too blind to see it.
First, traditional animation is not dead. Despite what some may have said or the fact that computer-generated features like The Incredibles and Shrek 2 were more successful than Disney’s recent traditional animated features Teacher’s Pet and Home on the Range, computer graphics are not the be-all and end-all of animated films. The reason those films have been so much more successful than Disney’s recent attempts is, quite simply, they were better movies. They were better conceived, better written, better directed and included better talent. If Disney were inclined to make another traditional animated film, and wanted it to be successful, they just need a better story.
Lilo & Stitch 2
Lilo & Stitch (2002) was that story. The story, conceived by Chris Sanders, featured a less-than-perfect young girl who bites her classmates and has an unexplained fascination with obese people. She finds a little creature, scourge of spaceships everywhere, on the run from the galactic police. It’s the classic child-meets-monster scenario, but the unconventional lead characters leave doubt as to which is the monster and which the impressionable innocent.
It was an amazingly good and original movie that used classic children’s movie clichés and turned them on their heads. And yet, Disney no longer allows these kinds of creations to develop in their proper medium since the company announced the closure of its traditional animation studios in January of 2004.
Second (I was getting to it), Disney doesn’t seem to realize that Stitch and Lilo Pelekai provide the perfect opportunity to create a franchise game series that could truly rival the likes of Pokémon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Monster Rancher, Neopets and the dozens of other monster-collection-fighting games out there. Here they have a good, enthralling story unlike so many others, with a built-in collection of 627 (or 628 depending on who you ask) uniquely powered colorful monsters wondering around the islands of Hawaii that gamers would love the opportunity to collect. Disney should strike that iron while it’s hot, and before the fad grows too cold. This would be a great opportunity for a collectable card game, a Nintendo DS multiplayer game, Tamagotchi-style portable games or even HeroClix-style statuettes.
Sadly, Lilo & Stitch 2: Hämsterviel Havoc doesn’t take advantage of that, and with the Lilo & Stitch television series relegated to Toon Disney, it doesn’t seem likely that a new movie will be headed to the silver screen anytime soon.
In the game, the evil Dr. Jacques von Hämsterviel (who is “hamster-like” but not a gerbil despite rumors to the contrary) has turned Stitch’s experimental “cousins” against him. Including Stitch, 12 experiments are mentioned and nine of those are playable. Stitch and Lilo compete to see who can catch the most “experiment balls” (RE: Pokéballs). Competition means each title character is playable on a different level, in either case they must avoid the United Galactic Federation guards and Gantu, a former Galactic captain now working for the evil Hämsterviel.
The game play is as predictable as the premise would suggest. The game is a mildly diverting but an otherwise run of the mill action platformer. The monotony is broken up by alternating periodically between Stitch’s run-and-run gameplay and Lilo’s puzzle-solving and experiment-controlling gameplay, with a few Road Blasters style drive-and-shoot levels.
This is a slight departure from the first game in the series in which Stitch was not quite as versatile (he couldn’t fire in the crouched position), but Lilo was more aggressive (she didn’t need others to attack for her). Also, the first game included more boss fights and scrolling spaceship levels reminiscent of R-Type. The first game was also more difficult, a big turn off for the target elementary school age group. The most challenging part of the second game is figuring out how to activate different devices on Lilo’s levels, but even that can be done without losing lives.
The sequel is not a bad game, especially for the target audience, but it doesn’t reach the potential it could.
Despite the fact that this is a lower-end GameBoy Advance title, the writing is decent and comes complete with Stitch-speak like “Kata Bata-Dooka?” and “Naga-takabah!” Non-title characters also get a lot of lines, especially Stitch’s creator Jumba and the ever-frustrated arch-nemesis Gantu, who spouts alien cusswords like “Blitznack” whenever the heroes knock him down a peg or two. Sadly Sanders, Stitch’s creator, writer and voice, had nothing to do with this game. The writing, plot and possibly game style might have been better served with his involvement.