Review: Up (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Up
Developer: THQ
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 05/26/09

Ahh, the ubiquitous movie tie-in. Sometimes, you get Riddick. But we all know, most of the time, you get E.T.. Movie tie-ins are notoriously awful, generally speaking, and Pixar’s Up has been getting some…well, some decent reviews, which is unusually bad for them. So, less than usually stellar reviews, and a gaming genre known for producing the crap de la crap. How does Up hold…uh…up?

Read on to find out.

Story/Modes
Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I have no idea how well this thing follows it. Honestly, I’ve only seen one Pixar movie, but I dug it, and this one looked pretty good to me. Curmudgeonly old dude in a balloon-hoisted house? Sounds good to me! Again, I don’t know how the movie unfolds, but the game version plays out like a bit of a buddy/road movie about Carl (the aforementioned old dude) and Russell, a young boy scout type who haplessly winds up with him. The mismatched pair is making its way to Carl’s dream destination: Paradise Falls (a stand in for Angel Falls, Venezuela.) There really isn’t all that much, plot-wise. Two guys are heading to the Falls, and then there’s some old Aviator (Charles Muntz) who wants to stop them and get Kevin, a (female) bird Carl and Russell befriended along the way. On a complexity scale, this is somewhere just above “Mr. X kidnaps girlfriend,” but it services the gameplay well enough. The one thing that bugged me a bit, though, was when they finally defeat Muntz and reach the Falls, they…turn around and go home. Hopefully there is more in the movie to explain this change in behavior, coz I didn’t get it…

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

Graphics
01This game looks very good for a PS2 game. Unfortunately, this is a 360 port, not a PS2 title. I did not notice any choppiness or graphics slowdown, but the game is missing that Pixar graphics magic I would expect from a game based on one of their movies. Cut scenes are done with the game engine, so there is no real graphics bang at any point in the game. This is, of course, a straightforward platformer, so there is no real need for Call of Duty level detail, but a bit more polish would have been welcome.

Graphics Rating: Below Average

Sound
As far as I can tell, all the original voice cast do their voiceover here, and that’s awesome. The soundtrack score is serviceably well done, but not outstanding. There are quite a few funny bits of dialog, mostly from Dug, your technologically enhanced canine partner. (“I am just a simple dog” made me giggle a bit) The game even has some in-game dialog to offer some hints as, after all, this is a family game. HOWEVER, I don’t think I caught a single one being used at the right time. There was an odd and often long delay between action and related sound. “Maybe this rope will help!” says Russell. “Really?” says I, “that rope I used 20 seconds ago?” This horrible mistiming turns what should be helpful hints into mere distractions. I’m not entirely certain why its just these hints, either. When you squash a bug, it makes a bug squash noise, everything is a-ok, and then the character dialog is operating on some other clock. Some clock based 20 seconds in the future, for some reason.

Sound Rating: Poor

Control and Gameplay

And speaking of timing issues….

02The control scheme on the game is pretty simple. You can move around with an analog stick, move the camera with the other, jump and attack with two buttons and use the D-pad for special attacks (balloon animal, hearing aid, first aid, etc.). All of this reminded me (and apparently our man Asche) of the Lego platformer games. You do a fair amount of teamwork-based puzzle solving. Carl can use his cane to climb up rocks, but Russell needs to be hoisted. The two characters (and, during a few portions, Dug) have different abilities that need to be used together in order to solve the puzzles and venture on. There are also a couple different modes, such as fighter plane modes, water slides, and floating through the air attached to the house. Overall, not bad, not bad.

The biggest problem I had was the boss levels. There are two mini-bosses, a snake and a crocodile. Both are set up similarly, where you trick the baddie into attacking you and dodge out of the way at just the right time. The problem is, I had no way of knowing when, exactly that right time was. There is no feedback mechanism to let you know if your timing is too quick or too slow, and the inter-cut graphics are identical either way. Did you move too soon? It looks like you made it ok! Did you move too late? It STILL looks like the snake missed you for some reason! I found it immensely frustraiting and only won those levels on pure luck. The dog attacks, sprinkled throughout the game, suffer from similar timing issues as well, but with those, I found button-mashing works just fine.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Bad

Replayability
There is one main mechanism Up uses for replayability, and it should be familiar to anyone who has played any games made in the past 10 years: collectables. Most levels (excluding boss and flying levels) have three collectable trophies plus one piece of memorabilia from the house. Finding all of these is not particularly difficult. I only played through the game once, and I found all but 3 collectables. Collecting these unlocks video and production stills of the game in progress, which are, at best, minimally interesting. The one minor plus is, this being a short game, you can get an easy 1000 points on your gamerscore. Without anything else in the way of replayability, Up sorely lacks in the “wanting another try” category.

Replayability Rating: Very Bad

Balance
This is a very, very easy game. I think I spent a total of four to five hours beating everything, and I had nearly all the collectables and additional content. There are no options to increase difficulty or unlock harder levels. As such, there is absolutely no balance to this game. It is firmly entrenched in the shallow end of the pool.

Balance Rating: Worthless

Originality
03A movie tie-in that plays like the Lego platformers? About as original as a post-Jackson Five boy band. If you close your eyes and imagine a simple platformer based on a movie, you would come up with this game. Although the flying levels are a minor switcharoo, I suppose.

Originality Rating: Very Bad

Addictiveness
There was one thing that had be keeping at this game until I got it done: wanting to finish so I could trade it in and go buy Ghostbusters. As with any simple platformer, regardless, I suppose, of poor gameplay, there is a modicum of addiction in the desire to complete a level. I found this true mostly on the final level, where you take out a dirigible with a bi-plane.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

Appeal Factor
As a simple platformer based on what is, essentially, a kids’ movie, this is going to appeal to children and, perhaps, pederasts. Beyond that reasonably large market, and self-described hard-core gamers are going to avoid this thing like they avoid girlfriends.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

Miscellaneous
One random addition to the game load screen I enjoyed was interspaced facts about Venezuela and Angel falls, specifically about the Tepuis and local flora and fauna. It was definitely a cool touch to have the facts laid out on loading screens, but I think there could have been a lot more variety – as I stated, I only played through the game once and I saw the same few facts repeated a lot. A bit more padding out of these would have definitely satisfied my inner geography geek.

Miscellaneous Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Below Average
Sound: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Very Bad
Balance: Worthless
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: PRETTY POOR GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
We’ve all come to expect movie tie-ins to be, at best, mediocre and, at worst, complete steaming piles. Up is somewhere in between. Not the worst movie based game out there, and certainly not the best (hello, Ghostbusters!). It is a slightly sub-par platformer made for wee children. If you’re looking for a lure to your creepy van, stick with candy.