I started playing Ratatouille the same day I saw Ratatouille. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake.
Pixar’s latest masterstroke is a beautifully animated bit of “don’t judge a book by its cover” moralizing with utterly lovable characters alongside perfectly (intentionally) hatable characters, a brief detour into the importance of family, and a happy ending. It’s very obviously a movie that was lovingly put together and edited, as it carries with it the sort of quickly-moving sense of flow that any animated movie must in order to stay interesting. Ratatouille succeeds with flying colors on that count, with both the grownups and the kiddies.
Given the strength of the movie’s story along with its mind-boggling computer animation (remember when animation’s ultimate goal was realistic hair? Not even an issue anymore), it’s understandable that the game itself would be a bit of a letdown. Still, the Wii version of the game looks surprisingly crude from the start, with a shockingly low polygon count on the characters. It’s nothing new to be ragging on the Wii for subpar graphics in this generation of game consoles, but Ratatouille doesn’t even bring with it the color or the style that have allowed so many of the Wii’s games to get by. It’s more like scenes from the movie run through a PlayStation 1 filter…
...except that they’re not scenes from the movie. This is the other disturbing thing that’s evident immediately when you fire up Ratatouille: The story doesn’t quite follow the movie. For some reason, perhaps related to the structure the designers chose to lend the game, perhaps due to the limitations of a DVD, but for whatever reason, seemingly trivial details are changed. The way the old lady with the shotgun at the beginning wakes up? Different! Linguini’s motivations for being a chef? Different! It’d be irresponsible to give away too many of the changes in the interest of being a total spoiler, but there are lots of seemingly minor changes that add up to an entirely different narrative flow.
Remy navigates a river…for a long time.
It seems like a minor thing, given that the story in and of itself has nothing to do with the gameplay, or the graphics, or the music, or any of those things that video games tend to be judged upon. Still, think of the target audience for the game. Kids, who aren’t always too clear on the distinction between reality and fantasy, are not going to take well to the rewriting of history. My five-year-old, having seen the movie once, was incredulous. “That’s not how it happened!” It took a stage or two of gameplay for the inconsistency to be forgotten, and for the story arc of the game to take hold. This sort of discrepancy feels either unnecessary or lazy, and either way, it takes from the experience of the game.
There are other things that the game fails at—you float along on a log for too long at one point, the ‘hub’ world seems unnecessary, and so on—but really, once you do get down to the level of actually scrutinizing the gameplay, Ratatouille is not all that bad. It’s like Crash Bandicoot with more mobility, as rats can apparently walk tightropes, climb nets, and use conveniently-placed umbrellas to float to places they need to go in this particular game world. Each stage has a number of unique goals, most of which involve either getting from one place to another or collecting a certain number of somethings, and the challenge ramps up smoothly and gracefully from the beautifully easy integrated tutorial of the first stage to the killer slide down a pipe of the final level. Granted, hardcore gamers will find a way through it within five hours or so, but it’s a good candidate for a child’s first experience with controller-tossing and naughty-word-yelling in the world of video games.
Did I mention the Wii-specific cooking mini-games,
like soup making and cake decorating? No? Good.
Placed somewhat randomly through each stage, too, are platters of food, each of which get our protagonist Remy the rat so excited as to send him straight to a dream world. It is in these dream worlds that the potential of Ratatouille is actually realized.
There is some hint of these dream worlds in the movie, but not to the extent that they are displayed here. Each dream world is based around a kind of food, whether it be bread, or meat, or sweets. These dream worlds are bright, vivid, colorful, and utterly dynamic. Everything in them is floating around, moving back and forth or in circles, creating this perfectly loopy action dynamic that is an absolute blast to play through. Even better, the difficulty level of these dream worlds is ratcheted up from that of the worlds that surround them, making them perfect diversions for the adults in the room. These dream worlds show that, at the very least, something in Ratatouille was crafted with the sort of care that Remy himself would put into one of his feats of culinary prowess.
Despite the game’s issues, it does, at the very least, keep your interest long enough for you to at least want to play through it to the end. The incentives for going beyond that, for completing all of the various collect quests and mini-stages in the game, are rather minimal; you can buy multiplayer games with the currency the game provides, or you can buy concept art and some really awful “making of” videos. Once you get all of the multiplayer games out of it, though, the rest of it doesn’t really inspire a want to play through environments that you’ve already grown tired of. Ratatouille is, at heart, a simple platformer that tries desperately to replicate the magic of its cinematic inspiration. Unfortunately, it never finds that magic, content merely to be an imitation. The game is the frozen microwave burrito to the movie’s gourmet meal. Rent it.