Mean and Green: Shrek Returns to Nintendo Wii and DS

Geek Culture

Image: ActivisionImage: Activision

Image: Activision

Shrek is the perfect example of the little license that could. From its early life as a humble children’s book by American author/illustrator William Steig to its present incarnation as a lucrative DreamWorks film series, it is a success story two decades in the making. With Shrek’s fortunate transition to the big screen came the obligatory bevy of official products including Happy Meal crossover promotions and video games. And while the value of the former (nutritional or otherwise) may be suspect, Shrek’s latest sojourn into the realm of electronic games is hard to resist.

Taking a cue from the film itself, Shrek Forever After for the Nintendo Wii finds our favorite ogre ill-content with domestic life. After a near-Faustian deal with the diabolical Rumpelstiltskin, players discover themselves trapped in an alternate version of Far Far Away where Shrek is no longer a beloved celebrity, but a feared and hated monster. Thankfully, even in this twisted realm, he can still depend on his old friends Fiona, Donkey and Puss in Boots to lend a hand.

The principle gameplay mechanic is rather reminiscent of classic puzzle-platformer The Lost Vikings, where each playable character possesses a unique skill that aids in your adventure. This supplements what would otherwise be a fairly repetitive third-person brawler and adds some genuine flash to the title.

Shrek’s the crew tank, a heavy lifter who can both throw down on some hand-to-hand and heft objects like over-sized oil barrels and strategically place them in front of on-screen obstacles. This pairs well with Fiona’s knack for igniting the inevitable trail of spilled fuel which, in turn, causes the barrels to explode and eliminate said obstacles. Donkey’s ability involves using his strong back legs to kick open doors and activate triggers, and Puss in Boots, despite his newly acquired girth, employs feline agility to scale walls and battlements.

Multiplayer family fun was obviously the game’s original aim, but even in a single-player environment, where one is forced to switch characters on the fly to solve environmental puzzles, there’s still ample enjoyment to be had. Couple this with solid voice-overs and licensed music (which kicks in during the game’s marathon beat-em-up miniboss battles), and you’ve got a really engaging affair. There are also a handful of added elements that should easily please both younger gamers, like the fact that the Three Blind Mice are always on hand to aid in the solving of particularly tricky puzzles, and GeekParents, who’ll dig the ability to shift the environments between Rumpelstiltskin’s warped world and Far Far Away Prime to navigate tricky terrain.

Still, it’s not a flawless title, and things like blocky visuals and limited power-ups seem to hold the game back. The same can be said for the overall playtime of around six hours, but playing with younger children will inflate that significantly.

More importantly, you’ll all likely relish the experience had with Shrek Forever After.

WIRED: interesting puzzles, solid voice acting and music, a fun experience both on the single- and multi-player ends

TIRED: short playtime, rather dated graphics

Image: ActivisionImage: Activision

Image: Activision

While the Wii version may be a tad on the easy side, Shrek Forever After on the Nintendo DS features some of the most grueling platforming I’ve experienced this side of the N64. Though it endeavors to mimic the gameplay of its big brother, the DS iteration ramps up the brawling aspect and ties the in-game puzzles more to an old school style of quick-thinking platform jumping.

On the surface, it seems rather uninspired with its two-button combat mechanic and its needlessly pesky fixed-camera angle. And yet, in spite of this, I found myself having a lot of fun with the title. So much fun that it held my attention despite its overall difficulty, intermittent stretches of tedium and even a lone game-killing bug that found Shrek hopelessly caught in a background sprite late in my play-through.

Early on I was confused by Shrek Forever After‘s design. Why couldn’t I determine whether to jump or double-jump from platform to platform? Why were the in-level save points so few and far between? Why wouldn’t the game allow me to resume from such a mid-level save point between play sessions?

But as I got further into the title I began to see these as intentional decisions. Believe it or not, my friends, this game is pretty hardcore. With collapsible terrain, timed fire spouts, box puzzles and a nearly ridiculous array of collectibles, Shrek Forever After is decidedly retro in its approach. I can’t imagine this blend of classic gameplay and a modern movie license is going to move copies of the title, but those brave (or foolhardy) enough to pick it up are in for quite a ride.

Some things, like in-game unlockables that act as little more than next gen Colorforms for static scene dressing, seem hollow and extraneous, but the game’s mementos, collectible treasures which can be arranged on a grid for buffs like increased damage and health (à la the crystal system in Children of Mana), provide a genuine sense of reward for all that hard-fought hopping.

Still, you take the good with the bad, and repetitive exercises like the title’s various mini-games, which put you in the shoes of Fiona, Donkey or Puss in Boots, rely on punishing quick time button-press events (think Guitar Hero on the higher modes) or mindlessly navigating terrain ignoring hourglasses, the game’s inherent point system, in the hopes of stumbling across cooler loot.

All things considered, I find myself a little unsure as to the game’s target audience. Shrek Forever After for the DS is likely the kind of title you’ll find yourself forced to help your geeklings through on a number of occasions due to its high level of difficulty. While at the same time, you’re not going to garner any true gamer cred by being spotted playing this one on your daily commute.

In spite of all that, I can’t help but recommend the title. It’s good fun. In a masochistic sort of way.

WIRED: great power-up system, good use of voice-overs, tons of collectibles, a genuine challenge for gamers of all stripes

TIRED: occasional collision bugs, unforgiving platforming coupled with a less-than-helpful fixed-camera perspective, difficult quick time events

Review materials provided by Activision.

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