Review: Curious George (PS2)

Curious George
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Monkey Bar Games
Publisher: Namco
Release Date: 2/1/06

I’d go into the whole “Curious George” as a character in literature ordeal, but hey, if you’re like me, your parents read his books to you when you were growing up, so you know who he is. For me, as a character, George was as important to me as Paddington Bear, Winnie the Pooh, and the Cat in the Hat, and if (god forbid) I ever have children, you can bet your… lemme keep this one clean, yeah… appropriate hind parts that I’ll be reading those books to my kids. George’s stories always told the same story; George is curious about whatever, breaks something, then with the help of the Man in the Yellow Hat, manages to fix the problem and be a hero once again. It’s a simple set of messages, really… don’t touch stuff that isn’t yours, and always work to fix your mistakes. More people could stand to learn from such messages, but never mind about that.

The announced Curious George movie did nothing for me (I’m not a fan of “modernizing” anything but Spider-Man, kay thanks), especially in light of other childhood icons and their movie debuts (The Grinch, The aforementioned Cat in the Hat), but I WAS happy to hear about a video game based on the character. I mean, aside from more than a few edutainment titles for the PC, George has never seen a console or handheld game… EVER, actually. I’m half surprised about this (I had to look it up to be sure; he had one game planned for the GBC before it was cancelled, nothing else), and half surprised MS Word recognized edutainment as a viable word. No joke there folks, sorry.

Anyway, I didn’t much care that the game was based on the movie; the character deserves a console game after all of this time, regardless of the basis of the game. And even though Namco has a spotty record regarding 3D games not named Ace Combat and Tekken, and even though Monkey Bar games has made nothing else, ever, I was still pretty interested. I figured the game would be a game for kids walking in, so I was prepared to find what would hopefully be a simple, fun game designed for kids, but with enough content to interest an old George fan like myself. Did I find that? Let’s take a look.


1. STORY

When dealing with video games based on licensed properties, most developers will go with one of four tactics to deal with storytelling:
1.) Create an entirely new storyline that doesn’t directly impugn upon the storyline of the property in question, or may even be considered continuity (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Chronicles of Riddick, etc),
2.) Tell the story of the property in question, but change certain elements so as to provide a surprise to those who play the game when they see the licensed property in question (both Spider-Man movie games did this, for example),
3.) Tell the story as provided, with no changes or modifications (lots of licensed titles in the 90’s did this, including Maximum Carnage and the first Batman movie title, for example), or
4.) Strip any and all narrative elements from the story and just leave enough behind to tell some kind of story, regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Curious George falls squarely into the last category.

The basic story of the game is simple enough: Ted (The Man in the Yellow Hat… or more specifically, the Man in the Yellow EVERYTHING) is on an expedition in Africa to find a red shiny monkey idol. One would presume it’s made of some sort of rare gemstone, but the game never explains this. Ted, unfortunately, finds that the idol is somewhat… less than he expected, and he returns home dejected, and sans hat. His hat, you see, was stolen by one Curious George, who decides to follow Ted home to America. Wacky stuff ensues.

The game features cinematic clips from the movie, but they are of minimal context and tell very little of an actual story. Aside from the cinematics themselves, there is next to no storytelling in the actual game; what little dialogue occurs between characters and George is there purely for the purposes of establishing goals or objectives. Entire sections of the plot (Ted’s romantic subplot, for instance) are excised, and the story of the game basically follows the exploits of George and Ted. This would be fine on its own, except that we’re never really given any reasons for things happening as they do, as we would have while watching the film. For instance:

– Why would Ted bother to try and rescue George from being shipped home? George got him evicted from his apartment and messed up his museum, shouldn’t Ted be upset about this? What, did he just decide to run off on some sort of spontaneous adventure for the sake of this life ruining monkey?
– How does Ted figure out what the purpose of the small idol is? We just see him using it without being shown a point where we would actually know WHY he knows how to use it.
– How does Ted manage to get a group together to hunt down the treasure on his second attempt? Did the museum fund this? Did he fib his way through it? No clue.

Yes, I’m aware that this is a kid’s game, and yes, I’m aware that telling too much of the story would ruin the movie for people. But then, if the game is so concerned with keeping the story vague, why show part of the movie ending as the game ending?

Bottom line, the story, such as it is, isn’t very good. Even as a kids game, it’s lacking and utterly shallow. If you want a story, go see the movie instead, you’ll be better for it.

Story Rating: 4/10


2. GRAPHICS

The graphics are acceptable for the most part; George looks like he should, as does Ted (when you see him). The environments are all above average, though not terribly spectacular. The game features a “sort of” cell shaded look, which is neither as overly dramatic as most, but isn’t terribly impressive. It looks reasonable, though everything is largely flat and uninspired. There’s no noticeable slowdown or graphical glitches, though clipping is common throughout the game.

I think the major issue I take with the graphics, much like everything else here, is the lack of effort put into them. To put into perspective, the game starts in the jungle, then moves to a boat, then to the city streets, then a construction site, then Ted’s apartment, then the museum that Ted works at. From there, you spend two stages in the park before going back to the city streets, then back to the boat, then back to the jungle for the finale. In other words, out of twelve total stages, you spend nine of them in repeated areas. You’ll consistently see the same things repeated ad nauseum throughout the course of the game. The same plants, the same beehives, the same sailors, the same cars… you get the point. In a long, multiple-hour game, this is forgivable; in a three hour kids game, that’s just outright lazy. Add to this the repeated animations (George doing the Hustle over and over again… and how the heck does he even KNOW what the Hustle IS?), and you begin to get the impression someone made half a game, then tried to stretch it out into a full game, with the expected results. Your kids probably won’t care, because hey, George looks like George, but if they get bored before they finish the game, don’t be too surprised; after stage 9, there’s nothing exciting for them to look forward to.

And what the heck is up with all the Dole boxes? Two stages full of nothing but freaking Dole boxes. How much did they dump into product placement? Come on guys, that’s just lame. Seriously.

Graphics Rating: 4/10


3. SOUND

The game music is your standard jungle-sounding beats, which are neither terribly offensive nor terribly impressive. You most likely won’t even notice the music too much, which is good or bad, depending on your take on it. On the sound effect front, things largely sound as they should, though once again, there’s nothing that really stands out (except for the record player sound effect; that’s insanely annoying).

The voice acting in the game is also largely solid, though the performance of one Frank Welker (the voice of George himself) is quite entertaining, as it should be. If you don’t know who Frank Welker is, go look him up; he’s probably voice-acted twenty roles you’ll recognize instantly. Or, even better, ask Eric S. and watch him call you a heathen for not knowing. The game beats his performance into the ground, sadly, but it’s amusing and well done otherwise. The voice of Ted is, unfortunately, not reprised by Will Ferrell, but rather by Keith Ferguson pretending to be Will Ferrell, which, while convincing, isn’t quite the same. The remainder of the voice acting is solid throughout, and while none of it stands out, none of it is really bad either, so you certainly shouldn’t have any problems with it.

Sound Rating: 7/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY

Curious George, if I may venture backward a bit, is a 3D Pitfall, simplified to the point of stupidity. Run, jump, climb, repeat. You are tasked to do little else through the about three hours of gameplay (yes, THREE HOURS), save for the occasional mini-game, which we’ll get to in a bit. There are a couple of stages that task you with specific goals (fly around on your balloons, jump across moving cars, catch fireflies), but these too repeat many, if not all, of the same mechanics you’ll spend most of the rest of the game using, so there’s not much to inspire interest. It’s not that what George does is BAD, per say, but it’s a very flat and one-dimensional experience; there is almost no exploration to speak of, everything is very linear, and George does nothing new throughout the course of the game, at all, so every stage ends up being like the last. Whether you go through the side scrolling or behind the back stages, everything begins to blend together after awhile, leaving you contemplating not what will be next, but rather why you even bother playing.

The mini-games are nothing exciting either; they amount to little more than your standard “DDR style” mini-game. Press this button at this time to succeed, you know the drill. Each of the mini-games repeats this theme, and they all feel like the exact same game, rehashed for the purposes of adding depth to an already shallow product. This is especially (and painfully) true in the second Park stage, where you’re tasked to repeat the exact same mini-game multiple times to progress, which is about as fun as it sounds.

The collection mechanics the game employs (bananas and “Curiosity points”) are also painfully bland; while the bananas really have no choice but to be repetitive, the Curiosity collecting dynamic COULD have been interesting, but is as flat as the remainder of the game. Basically, things that George can interact with sparkle, and if George interacts with them, he gains some Curiosity points while he interacts with the item in question. In theory this is a neat concept; in practice, it’s hard for me to believe that George would still find suitcases interesting after having opened five billion of them.

Collision detection is also faulty here; many times you’ll find George standing in thin air, or falling off of something he quite plainly landed on. This is sloppy, and I can’t honestly understand why it was left in. Not that this will matter too much: the game is incredibly forgiving, so even if the collision detection DOES make you fall to your demise, you’ll pop right back up mere feet from where you lost out, none the worse for wear. There are no lives to speak of in CG, so the most penalty you’ll incur for failure is five minutes of replaying the same section you just went through. The timing on the double-jump seems odd to me, also, though that may be a matter of personal perspective; I thought the timing was too strict, and made certain jumps far harder than they needed to be for what was otherwise an exceedingly easy game. And to round it all out into one nice neat package, the camera is wonky at times; there will be more than a few occasions where the camera will move into disagreeable angles while trying to follow George, or where the camera will lock and be unmovable, thus forcing you to make blind jumps to get to items or locations you can’t see.

All in all, playing CG is not terribly fun. It’s by no means a hateful experience, but it’s so bland and uninspired that it just honestly has no reason to exist. Small children will probably find mild amusement with the game, but the wonky mechanics will probably sour them on the experience. More experienced players will, of course, find nothing to challenge them here. There’s no real imagination on display, and the experience is ultimately flat and bland. You won’t find much to enjoy here, no matter who you are.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 4/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

You’ll pretty much tear through the game in about three to four hours, and once you’re done, there’s really no reason to go back to it. There are a few unlockables, including a couple of costumes for George (including a Ted hat and a space helmet, just because), concept art, and the mini-games. You can also unlock the in-game movies, as well as movies of the voice actors doing their thing. All of these are unlocked with Curiosity points, of which you will most likely earn enough to unlock everything the game has to offer in one go-through. The game also allows you to go back to previously played stages, in case you happen to miss the required amount of bananas needed to unlock an item you want. Unfortunately, once you’ve played through the game once, as absolutely nothing changes throughout the experience, you most likely won’t feel any reason to go back and play it again. Little kids and hardcore George fans might find a reason to play the game again, but this probably won’t be more than a rental for almost everyone else.

Replayability Rating: 2/10


6. BALANCE

The entire game amounts to George versus the environment, so as long as you time your jumps right you shouldn’t really have a problem getting through it. Some sections are a touch harder than they need to be thanks to the controls (the car jumping stage, for instance), but otherwise, you’ll see a fairly reasonable progression of difficulty throughout the game. For young kids, the game will be of a reasonable challenge, and as it’s designed with them in mind, I don’t think I need to explain that your typical hardcore platformer fan will blow through the game like it was nothing. The game is pretty low on the challenge scale, but for young kids and first time players, it should offer a decent amount of challenge throughout.

Balance Rating: 5/10


7. ORIGINALITY

On one hand, it’s a Curious George game. As a franchise character, he’s not seen very many video games featuring his likeness (I can’t honestly think of any on the consoles, but I imagine the PC has seen some), so it’s pretty cool seeing George in his own game. On the other hand, the game itself is absolutely nothing new or exciting whatsoever. If you’ve ever played any game of this type, and I mean EVER, you’ve pretty much seen everything this has to offer. That this is a licensed title based on a character who hasn’t seen much recognition in the game world is worth a few points; that this is also one of the most generic games ever created knocks those points off and devalues the rating far lower than it should have to go.

Originality Rating: 2/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

CG is about as addictive as a Michael Bay movie: The first half an hour is kind of neat, but once you realize that you’ve really seen everything you’re going to see, you lose interest fast.

Oh, come on, tell me you could sit through Bad Boys 2. Please.

Anyway, CG does the same three things over and over again with no variation. The mini-games are all essentially identical to one another, the stages are all essentially identical to one another, everything just kind of comes together into an experience that can be completely encompassed by the word “blah”. You won’t find anything to keep you coming back for more, because after about three stages, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, that is to say, a wholly forgettable experience.

Addictiveness Rating: 2/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Let’s see. Curious George is a multi-generation fictional character that has entertained children for decades upon decades. George also, by no small amount of luck, happens to have a movie presently in theatres across the country with his name all over it. Said game just happens to be based on said movie, thus increasing the tie-in value even further.

I don’t need to spell it out, do I? George fans and young kids will be all over this, period. Anyone over the age of twelve will probably turn up their nose at it, if they’re not a George fan (but really, if you’re not a George fan, you’ve got to be some kind of sad human being, seriously). Otherwise, there’s definitely major appeal here for a whole lot of people.

Appeal Rating: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

Sigh.

I have nothing to say here. This was a heart-breaking experience, period. Shame on Namco for publishing it. Shame on Monkey Bar for developing it.

Oh, and guys? Namco? I’ve been wanting you guys to make a modern update of Splatterhouse for a while now… but… after this, Death By Degrees, Spawn, and Dead to Rights, I’m now officially requesting you never touch the franchise again. Please. Let Rick rest in peace.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story: 4/10
Graphics: 4/10
Sound: 7/10
Control/Gameplay: 4/10
Replayability: 2/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 2/10
Appeal: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10

Overall Score: 3.9/10
Final Score: 4.0 (POOR).

Short Attention Span Summary
Curious George, the curious little monkey, it’s a shame his game’s kind of beat. George fans may find something to amuse themselves with, and little kids will probably find amusement in some fashion, but between the tedious and bland level design, the lack of replay, and the incredibly short amount of time the game takes to complete, pass on this one for anything but a rental. Please.