Platform: Nintendo Wii
Category: Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
2 Player Cooperative
I have been fan of Pixar movies since the original Toy Story was released in 1995. This was their first theatrical release and it put them on the map. Since that time they have released 10 feature films including the recently released "Up". Well, as one would expect with most Pixar films, the movie has been recently brought to the realm of videogames via THQ. Released on almost all platforms available I was tasked to review the Wii version of the game. I have yet to see Up in theaters so I went into this game somewhat blind to what the whole story was about. After sitting down and playing the game I have to say that the whole experience is a mixed affair, but there are some redeeming qualities to the game.
Visually speaking I had high hopes for Up given the source material. Although the game does manage the visual style Up it seems to lack the fine details that are offered in a Pixar movie. I know that the Wii is not a powerhouse when compared to the other consoles on the market, but it is capable of some pretty amazing visuals. Up is definitely a title that could look so much better on the Wii then it actually does. I guess I expected it to look somewhat like the trailers that I have seen, but unfortunately it does not. Technically there are jaggies that are evident throughout and the animation is not nearly as fluid as I had hoped for. On a more positive note the game is bright and vibrant, something I have come to expect of children's titles. Overall the title's visuals could have been so much better.
The sound area in Up somewhat makes up for the lackluster visuals. I was happy to hear the same voices that make up the characters in the movie, well the movie trailers for me. From my research, and the press information we received, the voice actors from the movie participated in the dialog for the game. It has always been my opinion, along with others here at Game-Boyz, that this adds a feel of authenticity to a movie based game and Up is no different. If there is any negative to this aspect though it is that the comments can get repetitive now and then, but given that kids love Pixar movies just havint the actual voices of the Up characters on their own Nintendo Wii should prove to be pretty cool. The rest of the sound package rounds off a pretty solid effort. From the sound effects to the music, all seems very well suited, and well matched, to the on-screen action. At the end of the day there are high marks all around for the games audio.
The plot of the game follows the plot of the movie in a roundabout way. Not being one to spoil anything, and not having seen the big screen version of Up, this plot can be found in the trailers that hype the actual movie itself. The story revolves around Carl, a crotchety and somewhat cantankerous old man who has a dream, that dream is to live in South America at Paradise Falls. As evidenced by many trailers available, he fills up hundreds of balloons and releases them into the sky, of course they are attached to his house allowing him take his home with him. Unbeknownst to him Russell, a merit badge seeking wilderness explorer, is on his front porch when Carl releases all the balloons and he unwillingly comes along for the ride. Together these two take on an adventure of a lifetime in an effort to help Carl end up at Paradise Falls.
For those that have seen the movie, you should know that the game is sandwiched with an airborne sequence where Dug, the talking dog from the movie and trailers, and other dogs are battling it out in some very vintage looking biplanes. These battles are part of the creative liberty of the game, as from my understanding these sequences do not take place in the movie. After the introductory aerial dog fighting (Editors note: pun intended) you are then put into the loose events of the movie. I know that I felt somewhat lost as I played, but I did have some help understanding the plot from a few of my friends and their kids who happened to have already seen the big screen version of the movie.
Up can best be described as a platforming game with some slight puzzle elements thrown in. You will find that as Carl and Russell venture through the various levels they will be able to help one another in their effort to get over, under, or around the various obstacles they come across. There is walking, jumping, and even rock pushing to be completed in the game. Along with these traditional platform centric elements you will also find some simple combat too. Both Carl and Russell have weapons of sorts, from Carl's hearing aid to Russell's bugle, there is an attempt to add some traditional, but yet original, aspects to this area. How many times have you played a game where a hearing aid will fend of enemies? Of course you will have to face the obligatory boss battles too as this is a platform style game. These battles end up being a search for something in your level that you can use against the each boss.
You can control either Carl or Russell with the press of the Z button. The interesting thing is that the game encourages you to switch between the two main characters given that they each have their own strengths that will enable you to navigate certain sections of each level. Carl is stronger then Russell. He is able to reach areas as he can climb with his cane. Russell on the other hand is smaller which allows him to be somewhat more agile. He can climb along narrow edges as well as lower his rope down for Carl to climb up to areas he cannot reach. All in all the whole team aspect is well played. Dug, who I briefly mentioned earlier, is also playable in small spurts throughout the game and given that he is a dog, he is used to crawl through small spaces, digging up items, and activating specific dog controlled items. For those wondering how you get your characters to do their actions, you can either press a button or waggle the Wii Remote. For example you can waggle the Wii Remote to attack enemies and objects, but should you feel the need for old school controls you can press a button as well.
I found that the overall control scheme was not as solid as it could be. There were times that it felt somewhat unresponsive. I also found it frustrating that I had to micromanage my computer controlled AI partner at times in order for him not to cause our demise given that both characters share the same health bar. There were many times that I was able to get either character in the position I needed them and when I switched to the other character, the one I had just placed went off on his own and we'd eventually die. Although this was not a game stopping experience, it could prove to be frustrating on more then one occasion. On a more positive note addressing this area, there are a lot of health items to be found on each level and the checkpoints are quite frequent, but should you die you won't have to go too far back in the level.
Given that the cooperative relationship of Carl and Russell throughout the game you can play two player cooperative which actually makes the game that more enjoyable. Being able to play through the game with another person makes for a better gaming experience. I had the chance to play a bit with my four and a half year old daughter and the laughter and giggles that she made actually produced a smile from me given that she was enjoying the game with help from her daddy. The game is truly something that a parent, even one who is a novice gamers, can pick up and play with ease.
This leads me to talk about the overall skill needed to play this game. The game does not push anyone to be a diehard gamer and one can tell that the game's target audience is the kids that will be running to their local movie theater to watch Up. Personally I find it great that my four and a half year old daughter can pick up and play this game with some success. Sure, it did get hard for her now and then; given her age, but with my aforementioned assistance she was able to really enjoy the game. This being said though, this strength may also be perceived as weakness. Making the game too easy may turn a lot of other games (e.g. skilled or older) from actually trying this game. As the game's skill is not that tough some may find a lack of challenge too boring and not worth the effort, and I recognize that. If I had to play the game on its own, not thinking about my own child, I may even harp on this fact; however I have to admit I am somewhat bias and am looking at the experience my daughter had playing, and the experience we had playing it together.
Up is not just about platforming or combat, as there is the option to collect various objects through the game in order to open bonus items. There are merit-badges scattered throughout the various levels and when you manage to find a specific number you will earn a quest card. This card lists other collectibles that you can discover (e.g. artifacts) and once you manage to find everything that is listed on specific card you will unlock artwork to view in the menu. In terms of the gameplay length, the whole game itself can be beaten in a few hours, but when playing with young kids who are not proficient at gaming it can last a little longer, but not that much longer though.
There is some multiplayer mayhem beyond the cooperative aspect of the game. This is accomplished via local split-screen for two to four players. There are three different game modes ranging from trying to shoot each other down, racing to shoot down balloons from the sky, or teaming up in an effort to try to take down your opposing team's blimp. These added a nice change from the regular single player or cooperative story and I found that my daughter and I had lots of laughs playing this too, even if I did have to let up quite often or not for her to virtually beat up on her dad. I just wish that there were more of these games then those available, but what was added was a pleasant addition indeed.
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