Summer is the time for blockbuster movies, and with it come countless movie games. While a handful of these conversions aim for the hardcore gamers to work in tandem with a more mature movie audience, it's the children's brands that seem to get the most attention from consumers, as families everywhere line up for the next Shrek, Toy Story, or Ice Age flick. Following suit with franchises before it, The Ant Bully has released a multi-platform adventure loosely based on the film, and while it isn't quite up to par with some of the other licensed titles out there, that won't stop younger gamers from picking it up during these long summer months.
Interestingly enough, The Ant Bully follows a very familiar formula to deliver a more simplistic adventure for young movie-going gamers. The story follows Lucas "The Destroyer" just after he is transformed to ant size. Just like the movie, Lucas will have to learn the ways of the ant in order to be returned to his original form. You see, Lucas, much like any other well-to-do kid out there, was fond of wrecking ant hills, and in the world of The Ant Bully, actions like that are the greatest "no-no" of all. As punishment for his crimes, Lucas must now go through tons of entertaining activities in order to go back to his previous life. Why would he want to go back after getting to beat down beetles and using ant telepathy? Who knows, but that's just the way it is. In order to complete the necessary missions, Lucas is outfitted with various weapons such as a wooden staff, larva silk squirter, dart bow, and seed bombs. Not too shabby.
After a quick introduction to the world, players are left to pretty much fend for themselves in the colony. There are multiple areas to acquire new missions, though in an odd move the majority of the game is still linear, allowing only one mission choice at a time. As the game progresses there is a bit more freedom to the design, but for the most part The Ant Bully allows for free-roaming as a break between a pretty straight-forward design. In another unusual move, the introduction to the game offers no tutorial stage, so while the opening moments of the adventure are simple, they don't describe basic movement or control until a bit later; a peculiar design choice.
Rather than defaulting gameplay to the normal hop 'n bop style we're used to, The Ant Bully combines familiar play mechanics from more high-end adventure games such as Beyond Good and Evil and the Zelda franchise. The controls are very unusual for a licensed game, having Lucas jump and climb automatically depending on his surroundings. In fact, aside from context-sensitive situations (which use the A button) and weapon management, nearly all the navigation can be done with just the analog stick. It's a bit to use such a unique gameplay format, especially when offering no tutorial mode at the beginning, but it's also intriguing to see developers try new gameplay mechanics on licensed games. Not only does player movement lend itself to larger-scale adventure games, The Ant Bully actually uses Z targeting for lock-on attacks. That's right; a licensed game is making use of Z targeting. Simply pull the L trigger and Lucas locks onto the nearest enemy, focusing only on the intended target when moving, strafing, and dodging. The camera even goes into a mock-letterbox mode when lock-on is being used.
Unfortunately, The Ant Bully most likely didn't have the time or funding to create a game with the depth and polish of a full-fledged adventure game, and the execution suffers because of it. While some areas are very entertaining, specifically those based around combat, the majority of the game is filled with tedious fetch-quests. Whether it's seeking out parts for a new weapon or gathering items for food and supplies, players will be subjected to level after level of "waypoint chasing" gameplay. In fact, the game is actually very difficult at key points as well, as players will have to gather or protect multiple items from enemy bugs, and losing a single item means the entire mission (which can be up to 20 minutes long at times) has to be replayed. Players will be left with a game that appears to be solid, but is full of little disturbing nuances that will definitely pile up quickly.
Things get a bit worse on audio side as well, as the game suffers tremendously from sloppy acoustic presentation on nearly every front. While the game isn't amazing graphically, it does hold its own, offering strong character animations and a ton of vivid environments. When it comes to the sound design, however, the game simply falls apart. Recorded VO is a mess, overlapping, cutting off, and doubling up constantly during gameplay. Even during the extra content trailers (which were really just advertisements for upcoming licensed games) the audio mixing was horrendous, having the in-video audio nearly muted in comparison to the normal game. There's no reason someone should have to pump the volume on their TV just to watch a few extras.
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