[30 August 2009]
Probably the most noteworthy thing about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in both movie and video game form is that the successful franchise has apparently done away with numbers for the sequels, thus allowing for movie (and game) after movie (and game) to be made without expressly pointing out just how many of the silly things there have been. The game/movie is harmless fluff that shows up, does its unassuming best to entertain for a couple of hours, and then wanders off into the night content never to be remembered.
Regardless of the quality, however, there is typically at least one thing that a game has over a movie going experience: the minutes-to-dollars ratio. Playing Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is roughly as enjoyable as watching it, which itself says a little something for the game—it’s tightly programmed and fast-paced, allowing for a fun, active game experience while it lasts.
Regrettably, it doesn’t.
I haven’t owned a PS3 for very long, but I can say that I’ve never even approached the level of dedication that it typically takes to achieve one of those highly-sought platinum trophies that have been kicking around PS3 properties for the last year or so. The platinum trophy for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs took me, a pretty leisurely player who broke far more ice cubes and boxes for fruit (the game’s currency) than needed, six hours. There is a little bit of multiplayer fun to be had, but as far as the single-player experience goes, I had pushed the game to its upper limit of playability—that is, winning it, collecting every collectible crystal, and managing some pretty decent scores on the various quickie challenges that it offers—in about six hours. So, 360 minutes divided by the 50-dollar list price of the game allows for a minutes-to-dollars ratio of 7.2. The 87-minute movie divided by a 10-dollar movie ticket yields an 8.7.
What do these numbers mean? Nothing, really, except that Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a shockingly short game.
The brevity of the play time is compounded by the fact that there are several off-the-beaten-path play styles on display here considering that this is a movie license cash-in, each of which is used exactly once. There are levels upon levels of squarely-in-the-middle-of-the-beaten-path gameplay where you get to be either Sid the sloth or Buck the weasel running around hammering on the attack button to beat up dinosaurs and collect pounds of cherries, apples, and pears. At one point, you get to be Diego, the sabre-toothed tiger and run around a track chasing a gazelle. This segment of play is fast-paced and surprisingly intense, and the combination of jumping and drift mechanics makes it surprisingly challenging. An experienced racing game player, however, could beat the thing in about 20 seconds, and that’s it—never again over the course of the story do you get to be Diego.
Similarly, there are behind-the-back and side-scrolling aerial shooter levels where you fly on a pterodactyl, but again, they only happen once each, which is especially unfortunate for the side-scrolling mechanic simply because it’s so well-realized. A balanced assortment of weapons and tight shmup-style control makes for a wonderful break in the action, which could have livened up much more of the game had they found a way to fit it in. Sure, there are the side-scrolling platforming levels featuring the mascot of the Ice Age series, Scrat the “sabre-toothed squirrel”, but oddly, these are the only levels where the controls feel touchy, and their separation from the primary narrative of the game makes them feel more like a nuisance than a welcome change of pace. Why even include these wonderful diversions if they’re only going to be played for mere minutes? It’s a shame that more of these side trips couldn’t have been taken because their presence could have made the game feel like a true journey through a plethora of genres rather than the typical 3D pseudo-platformer that these games usually turn out to be.
As long as we’re nitpicking, it’s also a shame that the game couldn’t land Denis Leary or Simon Pegg for the voices of Diego and Buck respectively, though the presence of the rest of the cast is admittedly a welcome surprise.
Despite all of the strikes against it, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in no way represents the worst of movie-driven console fodder; the platforming is generally well-designed, and the dinosaurs are especially well-realized by the in-game engine that developer Eurocom is using—the colors are bright and the dialogue is appropriately punchy and cute, the combination of which draws you into the world of Ice Age very effectively. Kids who enjoy the movie will almost surely enjoy the game, even if their game-playing parents will bore of it awfully quickly.
As such, it seems appropriate to recommend this game to the age group it was intended for—that is, fairly young children, who aren’t game-savvy enough to care that it’s over quicker than they can say “apatosaurus”—with a less hearty recommendation to PS3 trophy hunters. Yes, you can pick up a platinum on an overnight rental. If that’s not a warning against purchasing it, regardless of its quality while it lasts, I don’t know what is.