Like most of you, I ventured out to my local theater to catch Universal Studios/Illumination Entertainment’s recent animated Steve Carell vehicle Despicable Me. I found it to be a fun (if slightly farcical) family-friendly mash-up of new school animation and the classic supervillain pastiche. Likewise, I found the film’s video game tie-in, Despicable Me: The Game: Minion Mayhem for the Nintendo DS, to be similarly satisfying.
Like the source material, Minion Mayhem doesn’t exactly innovate, but it still manages to make the most of several well-worn motifs. Developed by WayForward Technologies (the crew behind the modern reboot of A Boy and His Blob) and published by D3 Publisher (of Puzzle Quest fame), the title has a lot to live up to. Like its distant cousins, Minion Mayhem combines simplistic yet effective graphics with a deceptively difficult level of play. Unfortunately, whereas A Boy and His Blob and Puzzle Quest 2, though similarly ESRB rated, obviously appeal to a bit of an older audience, this game comes off as far too complicated for what are likely the biggest fans of the property.
A puzzle platformer solidly in the vein of Mario vs. Donkey Kong — which is itself actually a clever take on that oft-reinvented classic computer game Lemmings – each stage tasks your Minion with making his way through a 2D maze as quickly and safely as possible. At his disposal are a growing cast of specialty Minions and a series of interactive environmental elements like pneumatic tubes, retractable bridges and spring loaded platforms to help you on your way.
Of course these more helpful items are also joined by some equally troubling traps and barriers. Classics like fire spouts, immovable walls and dangerous enemies crowd the playing field. Thankfully, this is where your more highly trained brethren come into play. Fireproof Minions can pass through the flames. Ray-gun armed Minions can disintegrate those pesky blockages. Sumo Minions can beat down enemies. Whatever your trouble, there’s a Minion for that.
While this would seemingly simplify the title’s puzzle element, it actually only serves to make navigating the level mazes rise to a near Rube Goldberg-level of inefficiency. As the Minions simply walk in one direction until the strike an insurmountable obstacle or plummet to their death, much careful planning is required to ensure that your enemy-busting Minion contends with rogue robots before the flame-retardant Minion passes through the following fire trap to activate the necessary floor switch to complete the level. Add to this expansive maps that are multiple screens in height and width, an incredibly tight game clock and the fact that each level requires a certain number of scattered collectibles be reclaimed before your Minion army can pass through the exit door, and you’ve got a recipe for genuine frustration.
It all comes down to the simple fact that Minion Mayhem is a thinking-man’s game. Sadly, the payoff is less than cerebral. Completing each eight-level “world” nets you a static cut scene devoid of the vibrant depth and movement inherent in the source material. Don’t get me wrong, the images look great (especially the shot of arch-nemesis Vector that taunts you after a mission failure), but they just don’t seem to convey the full weight of the film’s off-kilter ambiance.
Despicable Me: The Game: Minion Mayhem packages itself as a sweet, innocent movie tie-in, but the game itself has much more in common with Gru, the movie’s protagonist; it may look harmless, but it’s a killer! Monitoring your Minion’s progress, activating launch platforms and drawbridges and navigating a dangerous map in a mad race against the clock requires some serious mental aerobics. Though the DS touch screen offers a fairly intuitive control scheme for managing all the action, the game comes off as far too difficult for most young gamers. In fact, it’s likely to offer a sizable challenge even for curious GeekParents, and therein lies the strength of the title. If you can successfully negotiate your Minions through even a handful of levels, you truly feel as though you’ve hatched the crime of the century!
WIRED: Interesting use of a great movie license, straight-forward gameplay mechanic, charming and colorful sprites remind you why the Minions stole the show.
TIRED: High level of difficulty.
Review materials provided by D3 Publisher