Inside Pulse 12

Review: Monsters Vs. Aliens (Sony PS3)

monsterscoverMonsters Vs Aliens
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Adventure
Released: 03/24/2009


Movie tie-ins. Game reviewers dread these games. They really are the Beer League of videogames. Yes there are nine players on the field, but when most of them are drunk out of their skulls and the others are well on their way to being so, can you really say they are there to do anything other than get drunk? So it is with games based off of movies. These things are thrown together at the last minute with no regard for anything but making a quick buck before the movie leaves theatres. As such, they are almost always a chore. These are the games we review because we get things like GTA IVor whatever for free. It is our covenant with you.

Notice how I said almost always a chore. I mention this because there have been occasions when instead of a Beer League team a movie tie in is actually the Milwaukee Brewers. Or on even more rare occasions, they are the New York Yankees. How about Monsters vs. Aliens, what league does it play in? I’m glad you asked my friend. Let me tell you.

Story:

The US government has been busy capturing and holding Monsters. One such monster is Susan, a woman who is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day. This causes her to grow into an enormous person. Other monsters include B.O.B. (a self aware pile of goo),
Dr Cockroach (human fused with cockroach DNA), Insectosaurus (a giant bug the size of Godzilla born in much the same fashion) and finally The Missing Link (a half ape half fish half breed uncovered and thawed out by the government). These five being constitute your heroes.
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Anyhow, contained in the meteorite that struck Susan is a compound which is very interesting to an alien called Gallaxhar, who has visions of ruling the galaxy. To do this, he invades Earth with a series of robots looking for Susan, whom he somehow knows possesses the element. When humanity’s best fail to defeat the aliens, it’s left up to our intrepid band of Monsters to save the day.

The game is based on the events of the movie, but not having watched the movie I’m going to have to judge the story based on what I did see. It’s pretty basic. There is no Shakespeare hiding here, but what is there is well suited to the target audience, children 10 and up.

Graphics:

On the whole this game probably benefits from being a 3D animated movie more than anything, as all of the characters have already been designed and motion captured. So that leaves level design, which again is already laid out for the level designers as it should be (theoretically) based on the scenes found in the movie. So character designs are obviously quite good, and levels look quite polished. Everything is very colorful, and while some characters are boxier than I would like, it’s obvious they are merely following along with what the movie started.

While the game certainly benefits from being a 3D animated movie, it also suffers as well. The game only outputs to 720p on the PS3, so those of you hoping to see these characters in full HD glory will have to wait until the movie is released on Blu-Ray. As well, the game offers no support for any kind of 3D glasses/screen, so children who watched the movie in a theatre that supported it may be disappointed to not be able to enjoy that option at home as well. Of course 3D televisions are on the bleeding edge of technology so I’m not going to ding the game for not supporting it, but it would have been a very pleasant surprise to see any kind of attempt to incorporate it into the game.

Sound:

The voice cast from the movie returns to voice their characters in game, so Seth Rogen et al are all very recognizable to anyone who watched the movie. This is not a case of the actors mailing in their lines either. All of the characters have fresh dialogue, and they even recorded commentary tracks for levels which can be listened to while playing the levels over again (after being purchased in game with DNA points).

The music, I’m told, comes from the movie, but even if it doesn’t it’s certainly not the worst in-game music I’ve ever heard. In fact, at times it can even be fairly pleasant. I won’t go so far as to say it’s better than Metal Gear Solid or Halo, but it easily rates as competent or better.

There is not a lot of variety when it comes to the sound effects, but what is there is used pretty well. In fact if you’ve paid any attention whatsoever to the cartoons you’ve watched all your life you may even recognize some of them. Lasers and item collection sound effects in particular sounded very familiar to me.

Gameplay/Control:

Throughout the game you will control three (and a half) of the five characters. Susan, The Missing Link and B.O.B. all have levels dedicated to them. There is a minor co-op option which allows a second player (presumably a parent who is playing with their child) to interact with the game in the role of Dr. Cockroach by shooting enemies and gathering collectables but you never actually see him on screen except in cinematics. At any rate, that leaves you to control The Missing Link, B.O.B. and Susan, or Ginormica as she is dubbed in her monster guise.
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Each character has a distinct mission type, and you will play the game as each character as the level demands it. So you may play as Susan then switch to Bob then Missing Link then Bob again etc. Susan is always found on some kind of roller skates, so she is always in motion. You don’t need to make her go, you just need to aim her. Bob on the other hand is barely solid, and so the developers take advantage of that by incorporating lots of metal grates for Bob to pass through, lots of boxes to ingest and then regurgitate at will, and on occasion, a room that requires you to think in three dimensions (floor, walls, ceiling). Missing Link (who is always referred to as THE Missing Link in the game for some reason) is the more standard 3D platformer character, who has a couple of bash attacks and can interact with environmental objects like missile control consoles.

The game starts off really strongly. The Bob missions in particular early on were downright inspired, and made me want more. I don’t think I’ve played a game where I had to look at the entire room as a puzzle. Well, not since Portal anyway. Both Missing Link and Susan were also quite entertaining. The levels were quick and you weren’t doing any one thing for very long.

Sadly, as you get deeper into the game, you get you soon realize that the developers apparently ran out of ideas. The awesome Bob levels dried up, and were replaced by maze after maze. Don’t get me wrong, I dig me a good maze, but I was starting to think I was in Iowa. One mission in particular had you complete four mazes in a row, no stopping, no resting (aside from pausing the game). It felt excessive, and I can only imagine that parents would ask the same question I am now: What the #$*#?

Even worse were the Missing Link levels, which were all the same. I mean yes, they added a new wrinkle every so often, like turrets, or shielded turrets, or mortars, but they all played out the same. Knock out the turrets in the pattern indicated by the power lines, then move on to the button that was inaccessible at the beginning of the level and move on to the next room. Rinse and repeat. I don’t know if they were trying to make a kids game and were thus trying to let the kids understand that there was a pattern, but the levels felt like exact duplicates of one another at times.

Susan levels were also just repeated one after the other. Maybe they did it to get the game done quickly; maybe they really did do it for the children. I don’t know and I’m not sure I want to know. Whatever the case might be, the game started off very enjoyable and wound up being more difficult than it needed to be and more repetitive than it deserved to be.

Replayability:

For the parent who buys this game for their kids, there is not a lot of replay to be found in the basic game. Yes, you can unlock the character commentaries for the various levels, but aside from that you are limited to the monster challenges found in the unlocking screen. This is also where you can buy upgrades for your various characters and nifty extras like movie stills and concept drawings from the games various levels.

Balance:

This appears to me to be a game that can’t make up its mind. On the one hand it’s quite clearly aimed at kids. On the other hand the difficulty can get a little absurd the deeper into the game you get. There is nothing so outrageous that a determined kid couldn’t get through it, but there really should be no need for it either.

Originality:

The Bob levels at the beginning of the game are very enjoyable, and very few games have made me think outside the box like this one did early on. Actually I think I’m more in love with what these levels could have become more than what they actually are in game. Having to transfer to the roof or the wall when there is no floor; ingesting crates or people to cross sewer grates which you don’t have the consistency to cross alone, these are all things which could make for a fantastic game on their own right, but instead all I’m given is a sniff of what could be.
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Also worthy of praise is the inclusion of character commentaries. They didn’t skimp on the voice acting budget, that’s for sure. I just wish they were longer, encompassing the entire level, instead of just a few lines at the beginning of whatever level you’re playing.

Addictiveness:

To put it bluntly, not very. I’ll give you an example of why. Toward the end of the game, but before the mazes began to get tiresome, Bob gets on a flying saucer like device and flies to another level after shooting whatever it was he was to shoot. It doesn’t matter what. Anyway, he flies away to the next level. And what does he do when he gets there? Why he lands and gets off of course. And what is the objective of this level? To navigate a series of mazes which have vast open ceilings and then get on another flying saucer, naturally! I realize the character isn’t that bright, but that’s just sloppy. At least give me a reason. The old one was damaged, something, anything.

Appeal:

This game will apply to you if you meet the following conditions. You watched the movie. You have children who watched the movie. You have children who are bored on a cold winter day who don’t want to watch Dora the Explorer anymore.

Miscellaneous:

The sound designers threw me for a loop in this one. When you pause the game and leave it there for any length of time the good Doctor Cockroach will start to berate you for leaving the game while there are important matters like saving the world to be attended to. I almost missed this, and I’m glad I didn’t because I found it very amusing and not a little bit endearing. Clearly these people cared about making this game.

Lastly, how very disappointing to not be given any chance to play the game as Insectosaurus. I don’t know why or how he was left on the cutting room floor, but I know for a fact that even just one level controlling him would have bumped up the score of this game quite a bit.

The Scores:
Story: Decent
Graphics: Good
Sound: Very Good
Control/Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Poor
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Pretty Poor
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Final Score: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
In the end, Monsters Vs. Aliens winds up suffering the same problems as most movie games: not enough time in the oven. This could have been a great game. Not just a great movie game but a great game regardless. Instead, due to rushing the game out and cutting corners, it only manages to be decent.