Once you get past the initial ridiculousness of playing a guinea pig secret agent, you're going to have a good time in G-Force. Not that controlling a rodent with an attitude is anything unusual in the world of videogames, but in this case it just feels a little, shall we say, silly. Still, the portable game, based on the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Walt Disney flick just released to theaters, takes itself as seriously as it can, and it comes out the better for it. It runs into a few "rushed to meet the deadline" issues that affect most film-to-game designs, but as a merchandise cash-in Disney and its handheld developer didn't phone this one in.
All of the console versions -- Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 – were developed by Eurocom using the same game design. For the two handheld systems on the market, Disney went with Keen Games, a German game shop previously known as Neon Studios. Both the Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable are the same general experience, which is loosely based on the Eurocom design. So while G-Force on the handheld may lift the same story and locations from the console, the DS and PSP editions offer a different take on a similar game.
G-Force follows Darwin, a crazy-skilled member of an elite team of guinea pigs, with the occasional mole and housefly thrown in for good measure. The majority of G-Force's action revolves around a "go from point A to B" 3D platforming design, with a bit of basic Ratchet and Clank-style weapon combat thrown in. Since Darwin barely scrapes the one-foot-tall height, his environments – usually offices, kitchens, hallways -- are human-scaled so he'll have to do lots of climbing and jetpack hopping to get up high, many times into the rafters or vent shafts. Sofas and tables make good mid-level steps, and the designers have fun giving players a good amount of oversized, real-world obstacles to overcome. The weapon combat is extremely basic button mashing since there's only one attack button, but later levels feature enemies that are a little tougher to get rid of and require a bit more leaping and attacking combinations.
Levels are pretty straightforward in their design but the designers try to shake things up with a few puzzle elements. Some require the use of Mooch the housefly to get through normally inaccessible areas and scan needed items like keycards. Some doors remain locked until players "hack" into the system by playing a mini-game – on the DS it's a "connect the pipe" puzzle, on the PSP it's a basic game of Dance Dance Revolution using the X, O, Square and Triangle buttons in time to the rhythm of the music. There is a pretty cool element where you'll occasionally take control of specific appliances to help your character rather than have it hurt him: a favorite is the vacuum cleaner, which can be used to suck up Darwin and then used to catapult him over obstacles like a wall of lasers that prevent access to the next part of the game.
G-Force is not a particularly difficult game overall, but then, consider the target audience. At the very least the game doesn't feel like it was dumbed down to cater to a younger crowd. The designers do throw in the ability to see the next checkpoint through the use of scanner goggles, but it's an option that doesn't need to be used if you're an observant gamer. If anything, G-Force feels like a serious action design and this is the kind of "kid's game" I appreciate because, hey, sometimes these designs are a guilty pleasure for the more mature, hardcore crowd.
Both the DS and PSP versions were developed around the strengths of that platform, but for the most part the Sony portable gets the better edition: it looks and sounds better, and with a wider, higher resolution screen you get a better view of your surroundings. The Nintendo DS version looks great for a DS game but feels a bit downscaled from the PSP game. The camera system remains untouched -- that's a problem since the DS screen doesn't offer as high a resolution or as wide an aspect ratio, so you'll feel a bit claustrophobic because the camera's good and tight against the character and you don't get a good sense of the environment around him.
The DS version also gets the extremely short end of the stick in the audio department: it has no voice acting. None. Even the full-motion video sequences have had their voice overs stripped out of them, which doesn't make much sense considering the clips still have digital audio embedded in them. Our best guess: because the DS cartridge is limited in space and didn't allow the developers to squeeze in the dialogue they're using in the PSP game, they decided to simply axe any and all spoken voice to remain consistent. That was a big mistake because the PSP cutscenes are well acted and are actually interesting to watch because of the vocal emotion.
The DS version does have the DGamer aspect that the PSP edition lacks. Whether the ability to upgrade an online avatar with G-Force merchandise makes up for the gameplay and presentation shortcomings is up to you: the DGamer stuff is a cool addition, but it's only worth it to those who have a DGamer account to beef up. At the very least, DS owners get more (and better) unlockables than purchasers of the PSP game.
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