Developer: Nikitova Games
Publisher: Zoo Games
Release Date: 11/12/2008
As I sit here, about two comfortable yards away from the Wii that housed a once happily-spinning disc with the name M&Ms Adventure emblazoned on it, I’m compelled by a sense of bittersweet regret. I also write with a sense of trepidation, as I fear that if there’s anything I can really say in favor of a game that I really – no, so desperately wanted to enjoy. At this point, I fear that sole element of the game playing experience that allows me to type this with a writer’s equivalent of a “straight face” is my undying love of the M&M characters that I’ve grown to love. Unfortunately, M&Ms Adventure is nowhere near as enjoyable as the commercials that Red, Green and Yellow star in, or as defensible as “it melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” Despite all of this, there is one upside that stems from the entire experience: writing this review might be the most personally cathartic endeavor that this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
And as far as experiences go, M&Ms Adventure had many, many different ways to be awesome. Think about it: across their life in computer animated commercials from the past 25 years, the M&Ms – or specifically Red and Green, voiced by Billy West (of Futurama fame) and J.K Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies) – have been casually entertaining millions with their inoffensive brand of situational humor across 30 second spots during everything from play time to prime time. Basing my optimism on these commercials, and the lively voice-over work that West and Simmons deliver, I jumped at the chance to try out M&Ms Adventure. “What could this adventure be?” I thought. Maybe something akin to the great LEGO-based games of late? Maybe Red and Green find themselves in some kind of crazy and wacky situation? Or maybe they have to escape from a land of tyrannical candy bar characters? Or perhaps it would be something completely out of left field – like Yellow gets framed for selling MilkyWay bars in a country where chocolate is illegal, and you play as Red in a zany “Contra meets Prison Break” type of adventure. Alas, I was to find that my faith in Mars’ choice of Nikitova Games as the game’s developer was far, far too high of an expectation of any situation that clever. Or, for that matter, my faith was too high to even expect a story that could sufficiently intrigue an 8-year old.
No, none of what I expected was to be found. Heck- I was so irritated by my experience, I may as well type out what will be the main idea of the Short Attention Span Summary right now: M&Ms Adventure is, at best, an unpolished Nintendo 64 title from an era when licenses were used solely to move products, and nothing more. If this doesn’t do it for you, then you’re welcome to read on.
M&Ms Adventure begins humbly and earnestly enough, and, quite charmingly, takes place in the M&M factory on Christmas Eve. Just before Green, the secretary of the factory, is about to sign off on the last shipment before everyone can go home, a bit of a mishap occurs and a number of M&Ms – presumably non-sentient – are now missing. Sounds like a decent enough plot, right? Of course. And such lovable protagonists as the M&Ms to save the day? Delightful. And antagonists that include takes on US holidays like Valentine’s Day and Independence Day, in 6 levels of holiday-themed action and fun? Well, I would probably agree that this won’t woo those who play God of War or any of the Madden games. But for a fan or a child, doesn’t this sound like a decent enough idea?
Yes. But even the best ideas are just ideas without the necessary elbow grease and fine attention. That attention should go not only to details, but to the bigger picture as well. And while I don’t know whether to point the finger at the developer Nikitova, the publisher Zoo Games, or Mars Co. for giving both of them consent to deliver this shelf filler, I do know that someone missed the boat when M&Ms Adventure was cleared to disembark. It’s also very sad to note that it is not one single element that brings the game down, but rather a combination of apparently C+ attempts to get a deliverable product to the market without any attention to consumer enjoyment after purchasing the game. This makes it very hard to be critical in a narrative fashion, as I can’t comfortably discuss a single element without mentioning another. But, just as I’m sure that someone in the previously mentioned organizations probably thought at one time or another about delivering a quality product, “I’m going to try.”
For starters, the level design of M&Ms Adventure is hard to pin down. While Nikitova can’t be held guilty for giving the player drab color pallets or repetitive level design, the levels are all something you’ve seen before if you’ve ever picked up any 3D platforming game in the past 18 years. This is no exaggeration. My first impression was “The presentation is like an unpolished Crash Bandicoot or an extremely jaggy and epilepsy-inducing Croc game. Except with Red, Yellow and Green M&Ms.” As with any good design, the levels are made with their character’s gameplay options in mind, and they do fit their motif; that is, the holiday themes of their respective levels are respected. But the bottom line is you’ve played it all before. There’s nothing unique to come away with, other than “the M&M factory is a colorful yet unremarkable place.” Also, and this could be chalked up to pure speculation, but am I seriously supposed to believe that the Mars Corporation has as many dangerous explosives lying around as the game suggests? And a conveyor belt network that is so inefficient that it makes Los Angeles International Airport a paradigm for logistic perfection? I’ve heard of creative license, but this borders on ridiculous.
With respect of actual game play, the entirety of these levels involve using Red, Yellow and Green to retrieve wayward M&Ms in order to restore an outgoing shipment to its correct count. To do this, you’ll be able to traverse the levels using gimmicks found in other 3D platformers: Red can don a pair of wings that he can use to fly, Yellow is given the “Luigi from Super Mario Bros 2“-esque ability to jump higher than the others by virtue of his basketball shoes, and Green has a tennis racket that she can use to hit certain enemies with. As you might be thinking, as I did, this is all well and good. But it’s VERY unoriginal. It’s also horribly uncreative, as it just seems like the project lead or lead designer thought “we need to find a way to differentiate between these characters. Let’s get out the dartboard” and just tacked on a power to whatever power the dart flew to on the board. Thus, with a half intended pun, the game play gimmicks feel VERY tacked onto the M&M characters. Never have I seen Red with any type of wings, or Yellow being able to jump higher. And after a cursory Google search of “green M&M tennis,” I couldn’t find any corroborating sites to support Green and a tennis racket. I’m a fan of consistency and relevance, but M&Ms Adventure is so consistent, you’ve played these characters tens of times before you knew this game existed. And the relevancy wears very thin as Red takes to the air again. On a completely unrelated note, however, I will say that it was very refreshing to see idle animations for the characters. Not since Sonic the Hedgehog have I been that amused by a character’s idle animation.
Another point of massive frustration came from the fact that enemies do not die, explode, or do any variation on expiring. Instead, they can be temporarily disabled from certain attacks. That lasts about 5 seconds, and does not reward the player with points or anything else of value. Not only does this make enemies incredibly annoying, but it also adds no incentive for the player to engage them in any way. This makes their presence ultimately frustrating and insultingly superfluous. If I’m in my late 20s and using words like that to describe my grief, just imagine a 6 year-old kid trying to ask Mom and Dad why the robot just won’t die. Their presence must be post-release scheudenfraude for Nikitova to enjoy at the consumer’s expense. And while this explanation sounds mean, it’s the only one that makes any sense to me.
A last note about control: this game can only be controlled with the Wii remote and the nunchuck attachment. You will notice quickly that you could just as easily control the entirety of the game with an N64 controller. As that thought set in, I realized that this could have easily been an N64 game without any problem whatsoever. Alas, I digress…
The music composition in the game isn’t very memorable at all. Subtle jazz tunes and slightly less mellow pieces help the game put your head in a sense of audio stasis that just might compliment the complacent feeling you’ll have when you realize that you’ve played this game tens of times before under different names. This isn’t an explicit jab against the composer, but rather an opinion of how un-memorable the soundtrack is. With respect to voice work and audio, everything is passable yet, at the risk of redundancy, unremarkable. Sound effects were consistent, and the replacement voices for our characters were fairly decent. However, I noticed that the scripted opening scene shifted from scene to scene without allowing the recorded audio to finish on any given screen. That is, before the audio playback finished on a given scene slide, the scene would shift before the audio playback finished. This issue should have at least been bugged during the QA process. And if it was, it should have been dealt with rather than show up in the gold copy.
Also, there are some shell issues with the game. In each themed world, you’ll have to play around 6 or 7 sub-levels in each world to find the necessary number of M&Ms to move onto the next world. (think stars in Super Mario 64) During this screen, you’ll be treated to some load times. However, there are no messages that say a load time is occurring. If I’m not mistaken, this might be some kind of infraction on Nintendo’s Technical Requirements Checklist, which I would hope requires developers to inform the player that the game is loading, and has not froze. During my first outing with the game, I was left to wonder if the game had indeed frozen. Little did I know that I could have poured a glass of water in the time it took to load. It just would have been nice to know my game wasn’t frozen.
So with all of this in mind, M&Ms Adventure was my personal biggest gaming-related disappointment of 2008. The many choices that Nikitova had with the license were squandered across platformer clichés and unchecked redundancy throughout the development, which translated to blatant game play mediocrity. I wondered aloud, with friends of whom I discussed this with, how Mars trusted the license to Zoo and had any idea of what they would do with it. Other corporate mascots have received better: Cool Spot, based on an old 7-Up promotion, was nothing short of awesome on the NES. And even the Noid – of Domino’s Pizza canon – was shown some courtesy. And from what I hear, Call of Duty: World at War is the best game in a while to star the US Army. Bearing all of this, though, I can’t recommend M&Ms Adventure at all. This goes for people of any age who can discern quality over marketing.
Story/Game Modes: Average
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Below Average
Appeal: Slightly Above Average
Final Score: Below Average Game
Short Attention Span Summary
M&Ms Adventure is, at its best, a horribly unpolished N64 game that relies on the power of its license to move it beyond the bargain bin shelf. It’s a crying shame, as a genuine opportunity to create a fun and creative platformer is buried under nearly two decades of 3D platformer clichés, poor design decisions and spotty attention in the QA process.