We Are Definitely Not in the Swamp Anymore
In a market where movie tie-ins are about as common as McDonalds (and, usually, just about as satisfying), it’s almost a surprise to see a game that captures the spirit of the original movie well enough to be considered as good as the film. Shrek 2 delivers on this promise, without being slavishly devoted to the plot details of the movie sequel it is based on. The player gets a whole new adventure with everyone’s favorite ogre and his band of fairy tale friends.
The story is this: it seems that Fiona’s parents, the King and Queen of Far Far Away, have heard of Shrek and Fiona’s nuptials, and are ecstatic about meeting their new son-in-law. They send a messenger to request Shrek and Fiona’s presence at their castle. Of course, they don’t yet know that Fiona, who started off as a human who turned into an ogre at night, took her true form as an ogre when she fell in love with Shrek, and she is no longer the demure and dainty daughter they raised and then squirreled away in a high castle tower to await her true love. When Shrek and Fiona arrive at the King and Queen’s castle, there’s more than a little shock and intrigue to go around.
Of the four characters you start out with—Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and The Gingerbread Man—you can choose any character, then switch between characters at any point during gameplay (the computer, or another player, controls the remaining teammates). This is not only fun variety-wise, but it is necessary for game play; each character has particular strengths that must be used to get through certain obstacles or complete certain tasks. In addition, there are act breaks where you play just one computer-chosen character in a heroic challenge—“Hero Time”—a test of that characters skill and stamina. Getting to know their moves before Hero Time is essential.
As the game (and story) progresses, teammates leave and new characters join the group. Like the four principal characters, the newcomers each have special moves and abilities. Little Red Riding Hood fires poison goodies from her picnic basket, and Puss In Boots has a mean tumbling/slashing attack (as well as a devastatingly cute set of peepers). The gang must face various tasks, missions, and challenges as they go along. Many of the characters from the original Shrek movie make cameo appearances in various forms (who can forget the wolf with his deadpan “What?”); perhaps as adversaries (“Oh, Merry Meeeeennnn!”), or as charges to escort through dangerous territory (The Three Blind Mice).
The thing Shrek 2 does right is the humor—snarky, irreverent, but not full of itself. It appeals to adult players as well as a kid audience—a welcome relief from the usual kid-oriented fare, such as the Harry Potter games. At one point, after Shrek and Fiona finally arrive in Far Far Away, the King sends Shrek on a quest to find the “family jewels” and does a funny little wiggle and grimace to show the double meaning behind the words. The voice actors who replicated the movie actors do an excellent job, and this helps to preserve the feeling that the story unfolding on-screen is like watching the movie. The gameplay is also fluid and realistic enough that expressions and physical idiosyncrasies are duplicated for the characters, which becomes especially important for non-speaking characters like Dragon.
The adventure and variety in game play is also a plus. In addition to the regular missions and tasks, there are several side-missions that players can complete if they want to, but these are optional. If they do all these side missions, the game is considered 100% complete. But, for those who don’t like digging around for hidden goodies or trying to figure out how to get to seemingly impossibly placed items, they can just go on and complete the major tasks. Both are clearly delineated.
What Shrek doesn’t get right is some of the messages it sends. While the game doesn’t have a lot of outright violence (even a scene with Puss In Boots and his rapier is turned into a sort of musical match game), some of the violence is subtle. None of it is gory, but the implications of some of the tasks are kind of chilling. For instance, when the gang meets up with Lil’ Red, her chickens have gotten loose and she needs Shrek and Co. to round them up so she can make chicken soup! First, they have to stun the chickens, then fire them into Red’s big soup pot, where I guess they are boiled alive. Am I the only one who finds this a little disturbing? In another scene, the gang has to round up and jail errant fairies, who cry out (seemingly in pain) in their little Tinkerbell voices when they are yanked down and shoved into fairy-size cages. Brr.
Again, none of this is gory and it is certainly presented as the sort of “all in good fun” physical hi-jinx that the movies are known for, but it somehow crosses a good taste barrier and some parents may have trouble showing it to impressionable youngsters.
One gameplay problem that stuck in my craw was the lack of in-chapter save points. Once a chapter begins, you must finish it in order to save your progress. If you get halfway through, you can “save” your game so all the side-mission data is remembered, but when you return to the game, you have to start the chapter over from the beginning. This is just unnecessary and repetitive. It’s probably okay for kids, who will probably want to play the game over and over anyway, but parents who wish to join in the fun may find their attention span taxed by this feature.
All in all, Shrek 2 is an excellent opportunity to have more fun with beloved characters, and the level design and game world are very true to the movies it is based on. The focus is on humor and adventure rather than flash, and that is a plus. While some caution may be warranted for some of the more ambiguously violent scenes, it is just as likely that any deeper meaning will go right over the heads of very young kids, and not be an issue for older kids. It just depends on their personality, as in all things.