IGN Review of Alvin & the Chipmunks
Just about every popular cartoon from the 1980s seems to be destined for a major motion picture and a videogame tie-in. Transformers was released earlier this year in theaters, while an adaptation of G.I. Joe is in the works. The latest one is Alvin and the Chipmunks, which returned to popularity in the early '80s and will hit screens next week. In time to capitalize on the movie, Brash Entertainment and Sensory Sweep recently released Alvin and the Chipmunks to stores. But the gameplay (if you can call it that) does such a disservice to the animated characters that it's not even worth a Chipmunk fan's time or money.
The basic premise behind the Story Mode is that the intrepid trio of Alvin, Simon and Theodore want to get their band to play on stage at the concert to end all concerts, Rockathonapalooza. Unfortunately for Alvin's ego, they have to start off small and work their way up to the main stage by jamming through sets at smaller gigs such as proms and malls. As they finish performances, they gain access to larger spaces like clubs and resorts before they finally hit the big time. Eventually, the furry threesome will have graced nine separate locales, playing their renditions of billboard hits and favorites.
What the game essentially breaks down into is a rhythm game where you keep time with the music. Instead of watching the notes scrolling down the screen like other rhythm games, you match button presses as different colored stars approach target icons in the corner of the screen. Based on your timing, you get more points and even combos to boost your score. Hitting the right notes also sustains your Rockometer, which determines whether you succeed or fail at a particular song. However, this setup is where the game immediately starts to fall apart. Constantly hitting the right notes doesn't affect anything on stage, such as how the Chipmunks are playing or the animations that they pull off. In fact, the action on stage carries on in the same way regardless if you're getting everything or missing notes.
However, it's practically impossible to fail a song, even if you happen to have the worst sense of rhythm in the world. The Rockometer is easily maxed out and even if you don't hit the proper notes for ten or fifteen seconds, one correct note is enough to pull any failing attempt out of serious danger. Considering that the hardest difficulty setting doesn't adjust this issue but merely appears to throw more notes at you, it's possible to screw up a ton of notes and still come out with a maximum rating of four stars at the end of a song. Even worse, it's practically impossible to tell which section of the song the game is generating notes from. At times during a song (frequently during solos), it seems like notes come out of the percussion from Theodore, while at others it's the bass line from Simon or the vocals from Alvin. However, for the most part, it's just a large number of stars being flung, which isn't so much rhythm as it is an exercise in quickly smacking shoulder buttons.
As you play through the three songs per stage in Story Mode, you'll unlock these tracks for the Quick Play mode, Multiplayer mode and Video mode. While Quick Play is exactly the same as the single-player Story Mode, Multiplayer "pits" players against each other in a split screen duel to see who can get the highest score. However, there are no powerups to distract an opponent and no possible way to fail a song even if a player chooses the hardest difficulty setting – for some reason, the Rockometer is completely removed from this mode entirely, which further highlights its uselessness. The only thing that rivals the randomness of the Rockometer is the inclusion of the Video mode, which is non-interactive video with a song being "performed" by the trio.
I highlight "performed" because as I said earlier, accurately hitting stars or missing them has no real impact on the animations on the screen. In fact, none of the Chipmunks appear to even be singing or even playing their instruments at times. When you witness the robot or characters spinning on their backs, while notes for their instuments or lyrics should be coming from their mouths, you realize that the onscreen action is much more of an animated backdrop. A weakly designed backdrop, but a backdrop nonetheless. The few fans of the artists that pop up onscreen are shown as paper thin shadows, and regardless of the stage setup, each bland pyrotechnic explosion or light demonstration looks extremely generic and unimpressive.
That's a shame because the Chipmunks themselves animate quite nicely and look pretty good, but their backdrops look horrible. What's more, the game suffers from significant slowdown during some camera angles, which really makes no sense whatsoever considering the basic nature of the title itself. It's not as if the songs should really be stressing the system in any stretch of the imagination. Speaking of the songs, it's a diverse list of artists from groups like R.E.M, Jesus Jones and Blues Traveler, but unless you're a serious fan, you'll only be able to put up with constantly going through Chipmunk renditions of these tracks for so long. While the voice over work during the story is good, there's so little of it that it has practically no impact on the overall game itself.
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