Review: Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action!
Distributor: Ignition Entertainment
Release Date: 10/20/05
The early to mid 90s can easily be considered some of the best years for cartoons ever to grace our television sets. I can remember coming home from high school, making myself a bowl of popcorn, and sitting down to watch Batman: The Animated Series, Tiny Toons, and, of course, Animaniacs.
Ahh, Animaniacs. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, the trio of crazy critters living in the water tower on the Warner Bros. lot, and their kooky friends. It’s arguably one of the most entertaining afternoon cartoons ever created, combining slapstick humor, zany situations, and even a little educational material. And you’ve got to love Pinky and the Brain. Between them they have more quotable lines than half of the AFI’s top 100 movie list.
But we’re not here to reminisce about the old cartoons (although I’d be remiss in not mentioning how much I want them to come out on DVD). No, we’re here to discuss the new video game for the Game Boy Advance, which isn’t even due out until October! However, your friends here at IP have gotten their hands on an advanced copy, and it’s up to us to let you know whether it will be worth your time and money. So, is it?
If you were a fan of the cartoons, you know that the Animaniacs were always getting into trouble with the Warner Bros. studio. Well, things certainly haven’t changed. And now the trio, along with Pinky and the Brain, owe the studio one zillion dollars. And if they don’t manage to help pay it back, they’ll be locked in the water tower for good!
In order to raise the necessary funds, the studio hires a director who is responsible for putting together three feature length films at one time with the five delinquents as the stars (I could be wrong, but I don’t think even the Lord of the Rings trilogy managed to score one zillion dollars at the box office). But if they mess up at any point during the filming, the production will be canceled.
The premise is amusing, even if it’s just to give you a reason to be playing the game, and it sounds like it could easily have been an actual episode of the TV series. However, beyond the initial bit of exposition, there isn’t much in the way of plot development. It’s cute, but hardly much of a story.
Story Rating: 4/10
The graphics for Animaniacs will certainly make you feel like you are playing through a cartoon, even if they aren’t the best that the GBA has to offer. The characters are well detailed, and the colors are all bright and vibrant. Unfortunately there are a number of objects and areas that look heavily pixilated, but overall it looks pretty good.
The game itself is divided up into three different areas, and each area has its own unique look and feel. The level designs are pretty solid, and all of the backgrounds, walls, and floors compliment the theme of each area very well.
The camera’s isometric view is a bit odd at first, but after a while you won’t notice it too much. And it helps to add a sense of depth to the game that might not have been there otherwise.
On the whole, the graphics are nothing special, but they do succeed in making you feel like you are inside an actual episode of the series and are more than serviceable for the game.
Graphics Rating: 6/10
Again, the games sound effects and music aren’t the best you’ll find on the system, but they are perfectly acceptable for the game. Although I must admit to being a tad bit disappointed that I didn’t hear the main Animaniacs theme song playing at the menu screen when I started up the game for the first time. Ah well.
Between the sound effects and the music, the music is definitely the better of the two. It’s nothing that you’ll be humming to yourself as you walk down the street in a few days, but it’s enjoyable to listen to and helps to add to the atmosphere of each area. It can get a little repetitive at times, especially in longer levels, but it never reaches the point of being annoying.
The sound effects, on the other hand, are pretty average all around. There’s nothing to really grab your attention or impress you. Instead, it’s all a blend of various beeps and boops with an occasional splat or clang. It’s serviceable, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Overall, I guess you could say that the sound is average. Nothing special, nothing memorable, but nothing completely terrible either. It’s just sort of there.
Sound Rating: 5/10
4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
And now we get down to the meat of the game. While the gameplay is decently enjoyable, the actual controls are pretty terrible.
Remember how I mentioned that the view of the game is isometric? Well, the control scheme reflects that as well. Instead of pressing up to move up, you go flying off at a 45 degree angle to the right. It’s a bit tricky to get used to, and it never really felt comfortable to me. On the other hand, the options do give you the ability to change the directions to normal, but because of the way the levels are set up, this will cause more confusion and make moving around even harder. The remainder of the controls are pretty basic. You use the two buttons to jump or throw items, and the shoulder buttons to help you move the camera to see more of the level.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the controls and gameplay is when you need to aim at an enemy character, especially in later levels where the enemies become quicker. It’s nearly impossible to quickly line up a shot and fire due to the odd view. And many times when you think you have a shot lined up perfectly you’ll find that it completely misses the target. This can become incredibly frustrating and annoying as the game progresses, and is one of the biggest strikes against the gameplay in general. When half of the game involves throwing objects at enemies that you can barely hit, there is an issue.
The other half of the game involves some minor puzzle solving. Mostly this has you running around until you find a key, then opening a door, or triggering a sequence of switches and navigating a series of moving platforms. None of the puzzles in the game are overly difficult, although you’ll have to make sure you have the right character for the job handy.
Throughout the course of each area you’ll be able to switch between the five main characters, each of which has their own special abilities. For example, Dot can jump great distances by using her skirt as a parasail, while Brain can use his intellect to work complex switch mechanisms. However, switching between characters means you must first find a special red door, then complete a miniature game of Dance Dance Revolution where you need to hit the proper sequence of buttons at the right time in order to switch characters. For the most part, finding a door when you need to isn’t much of a problem, although in later stages they become fewer and far between.
As you progress through the game, the director will tell you roughly what you need to do in each area, although it will be up to you to figure out how to do it. If you are hit by an enemy, you will have to restart that section at the last location where you talked to the director. Each level also has a time limit. You can extend your time by finding reels of film throughout the areas, but if you run out, your game is over. There are other items to find and collect, including various fruit and cakes that will help give your movie a higher star rating, and stunt doubles which allow you to take an extra hit before being sent back to the director.
Lastly, the game uses a password system to save after each area. This can be a bit annoying to say the least, as you need to make sure that you have a pencil and paper ready, or a really good memory. Passwords are formed by inputting the correct sequence of Animaniac’s characters rather than using a word or phrase, but fortunately these are only 5 characters long. Still, in a day and age where battery backups and saves are in practically every game on the market, this is pretty annoying, especially for a portable game.
Overall, the game is pretty average, but is hurt by the generally bad control scheme and odd camera angle. The various puzzles and tasks tend to get repetitive after a while as well, and the game uses the same three themed areas over the course of its fifteen levels, so the variety of enemies and areas starts to run thin. And having to worry about writing down a password is definitely irritating.
Control and Gameplay Score: 3/10
Animaniacs doesn’t have much in the way of replayability once you have completed the game for the first time. Sure, you can always go back and try for perfect movie ratings, but it doesn’t change much in the end.
There are also a few hidden characters to locate, but they aren’t really worth replaying the game for either. For that matter, after fighting with the control scheme and the poor aiming for fifteen levels, I can’t see any reason to come back to the game after one play through. I suppose the potential is there, even if only a little bit, but I certainly don’t have the desire.
Replayability Score: 2/10
It’s not that the game is hard. For that matter, the game is surprisingly easy. The puzzles are pretty straight forward, the levels are fairly linear, and even the bosses don’t offer much in the way of challenge. But the damned controls…
If it wasn’t for the annoying controls, the game would be a breeze. We’re talking two to three hours max to sit down and play through the game from start to finish, and maybe less than that if you are all ready familiar with the levels and what you need to do to complete the puzzles. But due to the difficulty of moving around and aiming at enemies, the game takes on the illusion of being hard when really it’s not. It’s just poor controls making a game tougher than it is.
But then this game is geared towards a younger audience, and you don’t want to make things too hard for a kid. On the other hand, I grew up playing games like Gradius and Contra on the Nintendo, and no one held my hand.
Balance Score: 1/10
If nothing else, the game gets a few points here just for being Animaniacs. Sure, there have been a few titles previously made for other systems, but not that many when you count them up and take into account the ones that were on multiple platforms.
However, beyond that, the game is only moderately original. The idea of needing to film three movies quickly and having a director tell you what to do is an interesting enough premise, but the gameplay itself is nothing new. Run around, throw some levers, jump some steps, and throw things at the bad guys. Sounds like any number of platformers out there, and most of them have better gameplay and controls.
Although I also have to give some credit for being able to switch characters in the middle of the level in order to complete different tasks. Again, not an entirely new concept, but one that you don’t see utilized in such a way very often. Most games allow you to pick a character, and then you are stuck with them for the whole game, or at least the entire level. Switching in the middle of play is a bit rarer.
Originality Score: 5/10
I really wanted to like this game. It’s Animaniacs for crying out loud! I love them! Sadly, this game doesn’t do the original cartoon justice. It lures you in with the license, and then gives you a swift kick in the nuts.
The first level is easy enough, and the controls aren’t that much of an issue since all the enemies are really slow and not much of a threat. You figure that you just need to get used to the control scheme, and everything will be fine by the second or third level. Sorry friend, it just doesn’t work that way. You will be constantly fighting with the controls and by the time you are on the fourth or fifth level, you’ll probably be tempted to throw your hands up in disgust.
Addicting? Maybe for fifteen or twenty minutes. It’s all down hill after that.
9. APPEAL FACTOR
This is actually an interesting area to consider. Technically speaking, this game is being marketed as a kid’s game. Yet Animaniacs has been off the air since the late 90s, meaning most who watched the series in its prime are either late teenagers, or in their 20s at this point. So I’m guessing that the target audience won’t even be that interested in the game, unless they are given it by an older sibling or a parent who remembers the show fondly.
Or you might be like me. You’re in your 20s, wandering around the store, suddenly see the Animaniacs logo and start having flashbacks. In which case there is a good chance you will pick up the game for nostalgic reasons.
At any rate, the potential for a decent amount of appeal is there, but not so much for the game’s target audience. Unfortunately, even those who want to try the game probably won’t enjoy it.
Appeal Factor Score: 4/10
What can I say? I went into this game hoping to find a gem and instead came up with a giant piece of coal. As far as video games go, this is definitely a below average effort that can’t be salvaged by its license. I love Animaniacs, but even my adoration for the characters can’t encourage me to keep playing.
The only redeeming factor about the game is some of the humor injected into it. Every now and then you’ll run into some of the other Animaniacs characters and have an amusing little conversation, or some event will occur that seems like its right out of the cartoon. If nothing else, the developers did a pretty decent job of bringing the spirit of the series into the game. Oh, and if you do happen to pick this game up, try making Brain jump. Some of the responses are hysterical.
In the end, do yourself a favor and avoid this game, even if you love Animaniacs as much as I do. And if for some reason you’re convinced that my reviews are way off base and that I’m full of shit, then please go for a rental first and save yourself some cash. Better to spend just a few bucks as opposed to a full twenty.
Miscellaneous Score: 3/10
Appeal Factor: 4
Final Score: 3.5 (Bad)