IGN Review of Disney's Chicken Little: Ace in Action
Rather than kicking this review off with some obligatory reference to the Chicken Little franchise that - let's face it - nobody really cares to hear about, let me open by saying that Chicken Little is a licensed take on an already successful franchise (Ratchet & Clank), and that the game is a perfect example of what licensed developers need to do when they find themselves out of time, out of cash, or in need of some inspiration. The game isn't perfect by any means, having a few control issues here and there and a couple signs of a rushed Wii port-over, but overall the title is a success, and it's because the design is solid, the execution is there for the most part, and it's entertaining.
The first victory for Chicken Little: Ace in Action comes at the very beginning of its design. Rather than being based on the happy-go-lucky movie that has very little business ever being a game, Chicken Little is instead more of a spin-off from the main formula. Focusing on the adventures of Commander Ace Little, Ace in Action is as much a parody on the world of sci-fi as it is a Chicken Little game at all. Sure the main characters make an appearance from time to time in cut-scenes (you're actually controlling the characters who are in turn controlling the Ace in Action game...), but the primary license plays a backseat to the action, supporting the world of Ace Little over the overplayed and overseen Chicken Little movie itself. In short, the game manages to squeeze the necessary elements of the license it encapsulates while bringing the oh-so needed entertainment as well.
As mentioned, Ace in Action is basically a licensed homage to Rachet & Clank for PS2. We've said it, developer Avalanche Software has said it, and by now it's commonplace for the game. That being said, emulating an already tried and true design isn't a bad move, and instead sets up a solid foundation for the game to rest on. Rather than being the 400th hop-n-bob kids game out there Ace in Action is a breathe of fresh air, something that is definitely needed in the world of licensed gaming. Working within three different game modes players will command Ace on foot, commandeer a huge tank (a la Star Fox's Landmaster tank), or pilot a hovership and blast the heck out of baddies from the sky. No platforming. No butt-stomp. No "been there, done that" feel.
That being said, the control between all three sections has its ups and downs, as the game stays loyal to its inspiration but falls into a few control traps along the way. For starters, the game relies entirely on an on-screen cursor. For the PS2 version the cursor is centered in the screen, but on Wii it is entirely free-roaming and controls the camera much like Elebits and Red Steel. The pixel-perfect control feels great on the Wii, but there are a few camera issues that arise when using the pointer. For starters, there's no way to change the look sensitivity at all, so turning will only be as fast as it initially is, and players will have to adjust.
Along those same lines, the cursor will eventually go outside the natural bounding box of the Wii sensor bar, and when it does the camera pan actually stops, rather than continuing to scroll. This was implemented as a way to stop younger players from spinning in circles if they lose the pointer, but it also means that over-shooting the cursor on-screen will result in a lack of turning - something that can be particularly annoying when trying to blast baddies at a fast rate. Even with the downsides to the camera control, we still prefer the Wii precision hands-down against the PS2, as it's incredibly simple to flick the cursor, lock on to some space-scum, and blast the heck out of him with the Wii IR control.
When it comes to the added vehicles in the game, each have their own ups and downs as well, particularly when dealing with the Wii controller. For the tank, control is essentially the same as Ace's on-foot missions, with the only real downfall being the off-screen cursor freezing the turning. That being said, the tank control is especially solid, and actually makes us want to see a Wii game (original or licensed) based entirely on pixel-perfect tank control. When dealing with the hovership, we were surprised to see how complex the controls were, and while the design works it's actually very complex for a kids game. In addition to IR control players will use the analog stick to move and strafe, and tilt the nunchuk controller to change altitude.
Combining two different motion controls with a couple buttons on each hand is a bit of a tall order, but when you get down the complexity of the game it can also be very entertaining. The only major downside with the control scheme aside from its inherent complexity is that the nunchuk isn't quite as precise as the Wii-mote, often cutting in and out when we tried to change altitude. With a little practice we were able to find the controller's sweet spot, but this seems to be an issue not just with Chicken Little, but with any persistent nunchuk control in general. The game motion issues happen at times when on-foot, as the different nunchuk motions determine which direction Ace dives, often mixing up forward/backward and left/right. It's annoying, but it's a minor problem in the grand scheme of the game.
When looking at Chicken Little: Ace in Action on a broader scale, the game has a ton to offer - as long as the core gameplay holds out. The game is broken into four main areas consisting of Pluto, Saturn, Mars, and the Moon. Each section has multiple foot, tank, and flight levels, as well as a few monstrous bosses to zap. Each of the areas have a distinct look to them, though the main Ace in Action style is pretty congruent throughout. The voiceover work is done by the actual Chicken Little cast, with Adam West (in all his glory) at the helm, delivering blatantly hyper-charismatic lines that could make Futurama's Zapp Brannigan blush just a little bit.
It's funny to hear the character's voiceover quips as you explore the world, as it often breaks the fourth wall (since it's really the Chicken Little cast playing, after all), but a bit more depth in the script would be greatly appreciated. Hearing Adam West call out an enemy for not being blaster-proof is a solid Shatner-worthy line, but it's only funny for so long. Basically, give Adam West his own game and we'll be happy. Sorry Chicken Little, you've been upstaged. At least it was by the original go-go dancing Batman though, right?
Not everything about Chicken Little: Ace in Action is quite as solid as we'd hoped though, and while it's due in part to being a rushed Wii upgrade from the PS2 version, it's still annoying to see. Along with some of the repetitive VO work the game outputs in only 4:3 and 480i, which is extremely irritating when compared to the majority of its competition on the Wii. In addition, the game looks almost identical to the PS2 version visually (maybe a few brighter lighting effects here, and a bit more detail there), and though the game isn't ugly by any standard it definitely has a last-gen look, something that we'd love to have seen upgraded for Nintendo fans. If you're going to focus on delivering lasting, entertaining gameplay, shell out the extra cash so the game can ship with the production value it deserves. If Ice Age 2: The Meltdown can pull it off, so can Ace in Action. Aside from a few gameplay suggestions - speed it up a bit, add in more weaponry to work with, and fine-tune the nunchuk control - the game is pretty solid, and the extra visual quality would have gone a long way on Wii.
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