IGN Review of Monsters vs. Aliens
There are all manner of pitfalls that can appear when reviewing a licensed game -- so many that I could probably fill the space of a review talking about them. The two biggest are that the game could somehow magically get better as the game goes on (highly unlikely, but it's happened before) and that it takes a nosedive the longer you play (which is far more common). As a result, being the office whipping boy when it comes to licensed game reviews, I tend to get the brunt of these scenarios all too often.
Surprise, surprise, Monsters vs. Aliens fits rather neatly into the latter category -- a game that can be decent provided you have a stomach for passable action game fare, but takes the core concepts from the first hour of play that seem rather enjoyable and runs them into the ground for the next five hours or more. Nearly every mechanic introduced within the first few turns at controlling B.O.B. (an amorphous blob), Ginormica (a 49 foot 11 inch tall girl with super strength) and The Missing Link (a sort of Creature from the Black Lagoon-lookin' dude) is copied and pasted with a different setting over and over again well past the point of making you sick of 'em.
It sucks, too; no one part of Monsters vs. Aliens is bad, exactly -- and some are downright enjoyable -- but they're recycled so often and for so long that all that fun that is experienced at the start is eventually drained from the experience and you just want it all to be over. That the game is unflinching in how it approaches each of the characters is, ultimately, the game's downfall, and drags down what could have been a surprisingly solid little licensed game romp.
Ginormica, AKA Susan, was a girl smacked upside the head with a meteor during her wedding, causing her to grow to massive size and imbuing her with super strength, which makes her the perfect "monster" to... uh... run around on skates made out of various vehicles in the game. She can grind walls, duck under laser beams, button-mash (or waggle on the Wii) to open doors or throw off heavy objects and double-jump. So much potential and yet all she does is... skate? Oh, sorry, she also participates in some shoulder rams (which can later be linked together with some QTE events) and a smattering of boss fight-capping QTEs to finish 'em off.
I've often wondered to myself why more games haven't tried to copy some of the Ratchet & aesthetics, but after playing The Missing Link's sections, I wonder no more. Though his sections are probably the most diverse, they're also unabashed clones of Insomniac's little action platformer, right down to the crates he busts through, the walls he scales (and the resulting camera twists) and even little boxes that when touched explode after a few seconds of beeping. He can also attack enemies with a swipe or a tail sweep, jump on turrets to beat the snot out of 'em and so on. Thrown in are little moments where he can commandeer cannons or dodge incoming fire by jumping left or right (a theme that's repeated in Ginormica's levels too), but these far more rare than the rest of the combat-heavy sections.
The Missing Link also has the rather buggy mechanic of being able to charge up a blast that knocks all enemies into the air and then, while in slo-motion, all these targets can be "painted" until there are no more free targets, which sends lizardboy ping-ponging around the room, hitting all those targets and destroying them. Problem is, in the game's elevator sections (and even in one boss fight), something went horribly awry with the PS3 version and TML just ended up passing through the floor and falling into an inky pit for about 10-15 seconds before his life ended. That a key part of the game is so bugged on the PS3 is not only unfortunate, it actually can ruin one's chances for getting a Platinum Trophy, as one of the Golds is for dying less than 10 times in the entire game (needless to say, I won't be getting a Platinum in this one).
B.O.B.'s sections are perhaps the most frustrating of all. See, since he's a blob, he can pass through semi-solid objects like grates and such so long as he hasn't sucked a crate or enemy into his gullet. This mechanic is used extensively, but some of the detection for when he's standing on a grate, or the edge of one or on solid ground gets progressively more finicky, leading to tons of cheap deaths. His sections are almost entirely composed of puzzle-like maze segments that require a bit of thinking and more than a little bumbling around. The responsiveness of his little platform sections that have him jumping onto walls and scooting around levels vertically is more clutzy as the game goes on and the movements get more technical. I can't count the number of times I suffered a cheap fall just because it only looked like B.O.B. was on a solid surface.
Compounding the game's sense of "beating you over the head with the same few mechanics repeatedly" are the challenges found in the DNA Lab, a set of interconnected nodes that serve as unlockables for everything from concept art to movie stills to upgrades for both the main players and the co-op bot the second player can take control of (more on that in a second). In one of the coolest additions, developer Beenox actually included cute little "commentary" tracks, voice-overs for each of the characters that has them recounting their personal experiences during the levels you've already played. Again, it means playing through things yet again and if the bite-sized challenges and the first time you've run through things doesn't wear thin, this certainly will put it over the edge.
The whole DNA Lab setup is actually fairly clever. It not only provides a near-constant string of rewards for the player to spend the Monster DNA they scoop up as a normal part of just playing the game, but it adds a bit more depth to the whole process. It's just a shame that all the Challenges are just repurposed segments from the main game.
It also serves as something of a risk/reward setup when plowing through the main sections, as you'll pick up multipliers that boost the amount of Monster DNA you get with each little glowing symbol, with one very important catch: if you get hit, the multiplier goes down by one. While it's hardly an issue at the beginning, toward the end of the game, it can be incredibly tough to hold even a 2X multiplier at times. There's never really a shortage of DNA for the Lab, but it can be frustrating to lose a bunch of progress to a cheap fall or enemies that hit you when you're otherwise occupied -- something that happens a lot with The Missing Link's later levels.
To help balance this out, a funky little co-op mode was introduced: the second player can hop in at any time and, rather than controlling another character or a palette-swapped version of the main one, they'll instead man a little turret that fires anywhere on the screen. This turret eventually gets upgraded with power-ups and tractor beams, so there's some advancement to be found there, plus it gives parents or younger players something to do while the target audience for the game stomps on through.
With the exception of the requisite controller configurations and some basic waggle bits on the Wii (and, to a smaller extent, the PS3), the game is identical across all of the five main console and PC platforms. Yes, the 360 version ends up looking the best thanks to better texures, effects and some anti-aliasing and the PS2 version is the ugliest of the bunch, but none of them are especially pretty. The HD versions of the game suffer from some weirdly inconsistent texture work -- almost as if some parts were up-ressed from the Wii/PS2 versions -- though the PC edition seems to use higher-res textures most of the time.
The game's aesthetics do a fairly decent job of mimicking the kind of rounded edges and bulbous shapes of 1950s sci-fi found in the big-screen flick, but in a surprising little switch, clips from the movie are rarely used, instead opting for pre-rendered segments that look better than the stuff in-game, but not nearly as good as Dreamworks' own efforts. The sound-alike voices are solid for the most part, but B.O.B.'s Seth Rogan impersonator sounds like he got a little too much John Ratzenberger mixed in there. The music, short-ish little snippets that sound lifted from the more action-oriented bits of the film, provide some aural backing, but they're best ignored.
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