IGN Review of Open Season
For whatever reason, children's movies are starting to take a serious plunge lately. Maybe it's the lack of Disney masterpieces like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, or maybe it has to do with the conversion from traditional to 3D animation. But what if maybe - just maybe - it has to do with the fact that today's cinema-epics are amazingly uninspired, insultingly formulaic, and downright pathetic compared to the classics of old. When A Bug's Life hit theaters, Antz was close to follow, emulating the same original concept. Finding Nemo came next, followed by the putrid "vision" Shark's Tale (which was seemingly made up of all the reject characters from Nemo), and it's happening over and over again. This summer's bout: Over the Hedge and Open Season, two movies that have the same furry design, the same racial stereotypes (the skunk is black, so we'll get a black voice actor! Genius
), and the same uninspired character designs we've seen in year's past. Still, when a licensed movie hits the big screen, an interactive counterpart seems to inevitably follow.
Amazingly enough though, we're starting to see that while the designs are formulaic and based on a license that's nothing short of cookie-cutter, a few of these games manage to deliver some awesome gameplay that hits their demographic right on the head. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown delivered some great play during its release, and while Over the Hedge wasn't quite up to Ice Age's level, it still had some solid gameplay elements as well. With Open Season, Ubisoft Montreal (makers of the Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell franchises) attempted to bring a very straightforward design that mixed a bit of exploration, a hint of mini-games, and very minimal platforming for this very straightforward adventure game. While the overall experience isn't breathtaking in any way, the team did manage to deliver an escapade that's sure to keep young gamers busy, while still throwing in a few hints of more mature gameplay mechanics to usher the little tikes into more complex play styles in the future.
Open Season focuses around the two main characters from the movie, Boog the bear and Eliot the deer as they try to traverse the land of Timberline defeating human hunters and eventually ridding the forest of its unnatural threat. The overall story is handled through quick on-screen storyboards, using voice acting at key points only, and while the combination of story and gameplay isn't quite as seemingly mixed as it was in the console versions of the game, there's still an obvious focus on the storytelling aspects of the movie game as well.
To keep things fresh, the game constantly adds new quests for players, having them chase down rabbits and huck them into holes, sneak up on unsuspecting hunters to surprise them with a horrendous roar, or tease the shotgun toting rednecks into running into animal traps. Top it off with a ton of off-the-wall mini adventures such as downhill racing, mine cart roller-coasters, and foot races with competing animals and you've got a game that puts an obvious emphasis in variety and simplicity above all else. For the PSP version, however, the gameplay is very different from the console packs, as players have a more in-depth plethora of moves for Boog, while also using Eliot in more of a tag-team fashion. It isn't uncommon, for example, to switch between the two characters multiple times in a matter of minutes. Like the console versions, Eliot has specific areas that can only be reached by having Boog throw him, so the game remains linear while still allowing both characters to share the spotlight.
Like its console counterparts, it's apparent that Open Season is more concerned with variety than it was overall polish, as many of the in-game challenges seem to sit at about 75% on a control basis. The camera is often very wonky, and the world suffers from a ton of overly conservative collisions, giving off the appearance that there's far more open land to traverse than there really is. We can't tell you how many times we tried to walk between a wall and a tree or step up a ledge only to be stopped abruptly in an awkward animation freeze. There's one main path, and if you aren't hiking down the middle of the road, you may just go insane from the amount of invisible walls that line the more complex landscapes. In addition, a few of the different attacks and abilities in the PSP version are very unpolished. When picking up Eliot and using him as a melee weapon for Boog, for example, the animations are slow and clunky, and while the overall intention is realized (if you're looking to smack a hunter in the butt, you'll hit your target) the animations don't always line up with what action happens, giving off a very unpolished overall feel to the combat.
Even still, the overall experience of the game is still entertaining, and the lighthearted feel is definitely felt. There's no way to fully die in the game, rather you'll become "stunned" after being hit too many times, and must rapidly mash buttons to get up. The amount of on-screen prompts are also very abundant, as players will constantly be receiving instructions (with voice acting, which helps the youngins nicely) and an on-screen controller to help novice gamers get the hang of the next challenge ahead. The gameplay may feel a bit weak compared to the polish of more mature games, but when it comes to simple and entertaining fun, Open Season is validated.
When it comes to the overall presentation, Open Season for PSP manages to trump the console versions almost entirely. Aside from the lack of voice acting in the challenge prompts, the game has a solid look overall and the interface is far more pleasing to the eye than any of the other versions. The mini-games are far better on the whole, adding even more licensed appeal to the game than what is seen in its console counterparts. The game may have a few clunky points, such as the combat and seemingly random skipping in-level (as the game tries to load on the fly), but the general experience of Open Season is definitely displayed stronger on the PSP.
As for in-game graphical appearance, Open Season is very average, showing the basic design of nearly every licensed product before it. Rather than being a 360 downgrade like the other versions, Open Season PSP has a ton of elements that are built from the gound up, so while the game definitely has the look of the PSP rather than a console conversion, it still isn't dazzling by any means. It isn't that Open Season looks bad, it's simply average in nearly every way, and with the exception of the 360 version the game doesn't show off the license as much as it could have. On the side of audio presentation, Open Season runs at a completely average pace as well, using the same soundtrack as the movie but swapping on sound-alikes for the actual in-game dialogue, with even less recorded VO for the PSP versions. Like the graphical elements, the game is good, but not great, and the lack of true character voices is definitely missed as well.
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