52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 42
Monsters vs Aliens
Release Date: March 24, 2009
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
I have come to dread movie tie-in games. The main reason is that this genre of games are normally produced with little development time or effort to coincide with the release of a movie. Since a movie-tie in game does not need any type of critical acclaim to be successful, all movie tie-in games end up being simple platformers or action/adventure clones. I had hoped that Monsters vs. Aliens would be elevated to be something more than just another typical movie tie-in game as it was being developed by Canadian game developer Beenox. Beenox does have a reputation of producing better than average games, even for movie tie-ins. Bee Movie Game is a perfect example that comes to mind. The game was a fun and entertaining. Would they be able to reproduce this winning formula with Monsters vs. Aliens?
The story of Monsters vs. Aliens differs a little from the movie of which it is based. All the main movie scenes and locations are present, but some of the events have changed. All the main characters from the movie have returned for the game. For those who may not have seen the movie, here is a rundown of the main characters. First up is Ginormica (aka Susan), a normal woman who was imbued with an alien radioactive material and few to 50 feet in height and possesses supernatural powers (even for a 50 foot woman). Next we have “The Missing Link”, a 20,000 year old half ape/half fish. The Missing Link has great agility and loves smashing stuff. Insectosaurus is a monster among monsters, standing 350 feet tall this mutated grub packs a wallop. Providing comic relief is an indestructible, and brain deficient, gelatinous mass called Benzoate Ostylezene Bicarbonate or simply BOB. BOB has the capability of fitting in just about anywhere and eating anything. Rounding out the monsters is Dr. Cockroach, a genetically modified mad scientist who fused his DNA with that of a cockroach. The monsters are led by General Warren R. Monger to defend the world from Gallaxhar, an evil alien overlord. Of the entire crew, only Ginormica, The Missing Link and BOB are playable characters (and Dr. Cockroach to some extent) in the Xbox 360 version of the game).
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As I started the game, my first impression was that I had purchase the Xbox version of Monsters vs. Aliens by accident. Well I knew better as there was no Xbox version of this game, but the visually the game appeared to belong on the Xbox console. The game world was void of any real textures resulting in everything looking extremely plain. The characters models all suffer from the same problem as they are all extremely simplistic with very limited animations. It is very obvious that Beenox, who also developed the PS2 and Wii ports of the game, created the visuals and character models to allow adequate performance level on those lower end consoles. This to me is not an acceptable excuse when I am paying “next-gen” prices.
The audio in the game also suffers from the same generic problems as the visuals. The movie benefits of the excellent voice talents of many well know and respected celebrities such as Kiefer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen and even Stephen Colbert. The game actually does make use of most of the same crew, but somehow each voice sounds quite different from the movie. The dialog is also lacking of any fluidity or risqué humour that was present in the movie.
The main problem with the game is that it suffers extremely of repetition. The game features twenty-five levels divided into four chapters. To be honest, the game features three different levels, one for each playable character, repeated over and over again. In the Ginormica (Susan) levels, she dons a pair of trucks on her feet to use as roller skates and proceeds to skate her way to the end of each level. Her only challenge is to jump or ride the walls over openings, avoid low and high obstacles (colour coded red and green for ease of identification) and avoid enemies (some of which she can smash). This recipe does not change in any of the levels that feature Ginormica, most of the times the background does not change either. The same thing occurs for The Missing Link as he is always required to climb into a giant robot till he reaches a certain item that needs to be destroyed (or detached) while smashing everything in the way. Likewise because BOB can stick to wall and ceilings and his gelatinous body will flow through a grate unless he has swallowed an object (be it a cube or an enemy), BOB levels always features mini gravity defying mazes and grate puzzles. I do not understand why Beenox simply did not presented gamers with various challenges then allowed them to choose a monster to solve each puzzle. Allowing players to choose various monsters could also allow new parts of each level to be explored greatly enhancing the game’s replay value.
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While on the subject of replay value, the game attempts to offer some replay value by adding a bunch of content that can be unlocked. During the course of each level, there are numerous little DNA globes layout around just waiting to be collected. These globes can be used to unlock items in the DNA lab. At the completion of each game level, a new branch of the DNA strand will become available. Each branch will contain nodes that can be purchased to provide items such as movie stills, artwork, deleted game scenes, character commentaries and the occasional power-ups. Nodes cannot be purchased till all preceding nodes have been purchased. At various points in the DNA strand a mini-game must be completed before nodes beyond that point can be purchased. These mini-games are basically part of previously played game levels that must be completed with a specific objective. Again there is little variation on the objectives as they all fall into three categories; finish the challenge with a specific score, within a specific time frame or by getting hit no more than twice during the challenge. Each challenge will reward the player with a gold, silver or bronze medal depending on how they perform. These medals have little merit beyond achievements.
The game features local co-op play. Friends can drop in and out of the game at any time to lend a hand. While playing in co-op mode, the second player will play as Dr. Cockroach PhD and will be able to blast enemies with lasers or use a tractor beam (once unlocked) to zap back guys back to outer-space. It is important to note that Dr. Cockroach never appears on the screen as the second player will only sees the crosshairs of Dr. Cockroach’s weapons. Strangely as it may sound, this may be the game’s best features. This feature is perfect to allow advanced gamers to play with inexperienced gamers. It will allow the advanced gamer to zap most, if not all, the enemies before they can become a pain allowing inexperienced gamers to focus mostly on the platforming portion of the game.
Monsters vs. Aliens the movie was a fresh and fun tale of a bunch of misfit monsters that must defend the world from an alien invasion. The movie was quite funny and very enjoyable. By all measures, Monsters vs. Aliens is not a bad game, but a game that never manages to capture the humour or delightfulness of its big screen counterpart.