IGN Review of Curious George
Support for Nintendo's current console is beginning to drop off, and much like the situation with the GBA and DS, publishers are preparing for the next generation of gaming. This is a common trend and normally Nintendo would have a fall-back hit to deliver. At this time, however, that hit is Zelda, which has apparently been pushed to later this year. What GameCube as a system and community needs right now is strong third party support, something that it simply isn't getting. Curious George hits store shelves in time to satisfy the movie release, though filling the game with useful content seems to be less important than filling the box it's sold in. Curious George attempts to offer a children's game that follows the story arch, while satisfying young gamers. What it has delivered is a decent adventure that's plagued by sometimes sub-par control and surprisingly difficult objectives.
To aid the release of the movie, Curious George has been designed to work alongside the movie plot, using animated sequences and character voices to deliver a similar story, with added adventure. While the game does make good use of the animated sequences, the overall presentation needed to be much higher, and it is noticeable from the very first screen. The entire menu system is bland, using small icons, plain text, and an amazingly tiny portion of the screen. No huge pictures of original art accompany the menus, nor will young gamers see pictorials of their current level for game profiles. In fact, there is very little animation throughout the majority of the game's front end. Better opening presentation can be found on the bulk of GBA games, a shortcoming that is simply inexcusable. When booting up the game for the first time, we actually had to check our press copy to see if it was a final version. Everything up until the actual gameplay looked amazingly weak, and we were convinced they were demo menus.
From the start, the game's design appears to be kid friendly, though it ends up being plagued by difficult objectives, and less than brilliant gameplay. The main premise has players running though the movie's environments, usually to get from start to finish by finding red monkey idols. The game's design actually feels like a simplified Prince of Persia, mixing platforming with climbing and swinging elements. The much needed polish, however, just isn't there. Double jumps have a very small success margin, so younger kids who can't input successive button presses will end up missing a ton of the jumps. In fact, there is hardly any time in the game, even early on, when double jumps aren't needed, so mastery of the timing is essential.
The opening tutorial mode sends players though the jungle in pursuit of the man with the yellow hat, but even in the beginning stages there are death pits. The opening design also makes use of self-driving events, which gives the game a feel reminiscent of Sonic Adventure, though there is literally no way to get out of the event once it has begun. This was actually a great thing to see, since it allowed kids to get the feeling of a ride while still being able to control George. The mixture of ride vs. game seemed right in the tutorial level, though still a bit too hard. Unfortunately, as the game goes on, less and less of these events are used. This was a perfect way to have the game appeal to kids, and it seems like all attempts were made in the first five minutes, rather than the following few hours.
Another major gripe that comes into play is the suffering collision detection. The amount of invisible walls is incredible and collision detection on characters and objects are way off at times as well. George will often stand in mid-air on objects, slide off sections that seem to be flat, and run into pure nothingness while trying to navigate a room full of smaller objects. As a player, you'll never know whether an area can be explored until you actually test your limits.
Though the bulk of the game is based on platform elements, awarding players for finding "curious points" in interactive objects, there isn't a ton of depth. For that reason, Monkey Bar Games opted to include mini-games along the way. Most of them are relatively simple, offering a DDR clone and a few other Mario Party style single player games to keep the gameplay from getting stale. For the most part, these mini-games are a much needed break, but again the problem arises of it being a bit too hard for the age range. It is a daunting task to try and create a game geared to such a young audience, and while parts of Curious George hit the mark just fine, others will prove to be a bit too challenging.
As a full production, Curious George has a decent look and does a great job of crunching the light-hearted feeling of the movie into an interactive world. The graphical production is nothing special, but the art direction does hit the movie's style quite well. It has a look of its own, which is more than can be said for many of the movie-to-game packages. George's animation is hilarious to watch, and players will actually start to feel mischievous while wreaking havoc on suitcases and bathrooms. The team did a great job of giving the game personality, and credit should be given where it is due. It is just a shame that gameplay didn't get that last bit of polish, as balance issues and demanding control execution hurt the full experience.
While the style of the game yields well to the movie, issues still arrive on the graphical front. There are a few major oddities, and most of the time they show themselves when George interacts with objects. At times the object will be above or below George's height, and a stock animation for turning a knob or flicking a switch won't line up at all. The camera also has trouble in some of the confined environments, though the locking feature is great, as some levels will actually play like side-scrollers or spline-based platforming. Again, another layer of polish would have made all the difference in the world. The musical composition is simply average, though it is nice to hear the characters from the movie, and George himself has a ton of random monkey noises as he runs around and interacts with objects.
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