Developer: Papaya Studio Corporation
Release Date: 01/27/2009
Have you ever felt like your parents completely ignore you? That you are unimportant in the grand scheme of things? Have you ever wondered “What if there is a wonderful world just around the next corner?” Coraline takes that question and runs with it. Based on the Neil Gaiman novella of the same name, the title has now been updated to a major motion picture. Where there is a major motion picture, there is, of course, the videogame tie in. Is this game a dark world of horror? Or does the other world of the videogame shine brightly? Let’s find out.
The game begins much as the source material does. Coraline Jones, a young girl from Pontiac, Michigan, moves into a new apartment with her parents. Both writers of gardening catalogs, neither of them have time for their daughter. The building, known as the Pink Palace, houses three other neighbors. Mr. Bobinsky, a Russian circus performer who trains mice, lives upstairs. In the basement, Ms. Spink and Ms. Forcible relive their halcyon days of theater. Nearby lives young Wybie, a strange boy about Coraline’s age.
Just after moving in, Coraline’s parents start giving her tasks. Her father asks her to find all of the “Blue Items” in the house. Her mother asks her to start unpacking her bags. Yay for chores, right? Every time you are given a task, you will be told how to do it. Eventually you will be asked to meet the new neighbors, and they too will provide some entertainment via a minigame or search. It also seems that no one in this world understands that Coraline is not the same thing as Caroline. Your frustration with this will likely mirror Coraline’s in-game frustration, as she eventually gives up trying to correct people.
After a few quests, you will finally enter the Other World, home to Coraline’s Other Mother and Other Father. Identical to your actual parents except for the buttons sewn over their eyes, these parents love you and have time for you. They cook delicious food, play games, and lavish attention on Coraline. Before long, it is time for you to go to bed, and you awake back in the real world. This dichotomy is the heart of Coraline. Will she stay in the real world, a wallflower whose parents don’t even care if she dyes her hair bright blue? Or will she choose to live in the Other World, where all she has to do is let her Other Mother sew buttons over her eyes? Well, once Other Mother turns evil, that question answers itself rather easily, and you must rescue your parents before escaping the Other World forever.
Coraline takes as much as it can from the movie, including the complete opening sequence where a Coraline doll is sewn. Once you leave that scene and start to play the game, you will find a faithfully represented Pink Palace. Coraline and her family are easily recognizable. Each character animates smoothly, and while there are a few clipping problems, nothing is jarringly horrid.
Some things stand out as bad though. While outside, the camera will track Coraline without much trouble. Inside though, most rooms have one specific camera point and getting it to change is impossible. There is one room in the house where you can kick soccer balls into a goal for buttons, the currency of Coraline. If you kick a ball under where the camera floats, you cannot get it back out. Also, if you pick up a crate, Coraline has a shadow, but the crate does not.
Little glitches like that are more annoyances than serious problems though. The game rarely requires pixel perfect control, so a few graphical hiccups aren’t as bad here as they would be in a survival horror title or a fighting game. In fact, the graphics are solid across the board. When in the Other World, most things get a suitably creepy change as well. In the aforementioned soccer room, the balls don’t roll. They sprout spider legs and crawl towards the goal if you kick them. And a real world matching game of Coraline’s toys turns into a game where you move bugs around. Little touches like that make the game more enjoyable than it could have been otherwise.
Musically, Coraline is a little bland. A handful of musical cues will play no matter where you are in the game. Recycling these over and over gets old. Vocally though, things are much better. Many of the voice actors from the movie provide their talent here, as well. If you love listening to Keith David you are in for a treat, as he narrates the game as well as voicing the cat. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Coraline, and having her both in the film and the game is a nice touch. The other voice actors all sound close enough to the movie that you don’t notice any difference.
Sound: Above Average
The gameplay here is a bit of a mixed bag. While Coraline herself moves throughout her environment quite easily, the times when you have to solve puzzles with her stick a bit. For instance, you often have to drag a box over to a position where you can climb up and reach higher areas. When you are dragging, you can only go forward and backward unless you release and move to a different side of the box. There are also a lot of crates that you will be lifting and carrying. This gets a little confusing until you get the hang of it. Normally you run in whatever direction you point the nunchuck stick, changing direction smoothly and easily. When carrying though, you point in the direction you want to go and hold it, while Coraline lags a bit behind and eventually walks in the right direction.
Coraline features nothing that would be considered combat, though she does pick up a life bar in a few sections. There is a segment where you must walk between patches of light, carrying a jar of fireflies. However, if the light runs out, rats with beady red eyes will rush over to nibble at you. If they eat too much of you, you die and start over. Coraline does have a little kick that she can do, but it takes six or seven kicks to put down a rat. You’re not going to be going through here to fight.
Coraline does feature fifty mini-games, and most of them have different control features. You will be given a slingshot at one point, and you aim it with the nunchuck. Slinging a stone is activated with the Z button. Again, most of this is used for dropping apples out of trees or something similar,. Don’t expect to use it on animals or people. A few of your tasks turn into Guitar Hero-esque button pressing, such as when you conduct the Mouse Circus for the Amazing Mr. B.
Coraline typically rewards tasks with the presentation of Buttons, which can be used to purchase things. Most of your purchases are going to be pictures and cutscenes from the game. However, you can also buy outfits for Coraline to wear. Each of these will end up on a clothes tree in your room, and you can swap them out very quickly.
On one play through, you’re probably going to end up with about 750 Buttons. The most expensive of three outfits is 1000 Buttons. So yes, there is a reason to play through again. I just don’t think that most people outside of the target audience are going to want to. I like Coraline and I think it’s a cute story, but I don’t feel the need to catch all the outfits.
Aimed squarely at the 8-12 year old crowd, Coraline is a game that is designed to be beaten. Most failures in the mini-games allow you to jump right back in. Should direct repetition fail you, you even have the option to buy your way past them with precious buttons. Most of the games will be beaten on the first or second try though. Some of them don’t really even punish you at all. For instance, in the balance-beam sections, if you fall down, Coraline grabs hold of the beam and you waggle the remotes to get back up.
What does get a little frustrating is the quick-time events near the end of the game. You have no countdown or timer, you just have to hope you hit the buttons in the correct sequence. For some reason, Papaya fell in love with the C button, that awkwardly placed button right at the top of the nunchuck. There’s also a lot of Z or C plus an up or down on the D-pad at the same time. Maybe my hand-eye coordination is a bit stuck, but those sequences were tough. Still, quick continues, and an unlimited amount of them, will get you past even the toughest parts.
I really liked the direction this game went in, despite the fact that it’s a game based on a movie based on a book. What I enjoyed was the fact that this isn’t just a slapped together platformer. Coraline is very much an adventure game in the classic sense. You navigate the environment, pick up items, and use them with other items to accomplish your goals. There is a definite feeling of creepy, impending menace as you play also. I almost felt like it was a Silent Hill or Eternal Darkness for kids.
Now, it isn’t perfect. The game follows the movie very closely, but almost too closely. Aside from a strange bike ride for no reason, and a few segments where you chase after your friend Wybie, there’s not a lot here that isn’t already in the movie. There’s a ton of stuff left in Other World that could have been played with. We could have seen much of how the Other Garden was made, instead of it popping up at the end of the game as a threatening locale. Also, your other mother, who is referred to as a Beldam, has no motivations. I’m not saying we needed one, but you really have to play the game after the movie to really get some of the things. That said, the term Beldam is never explained in the movie, either. Researching that will likely lead you to La Belle Dame sans Merci, from a poem by Keats. Think of her as a cross between a spider and a siren, and you’re set.
When you start playing Coraline, you will find yourself hooked very quickly. You have a fun, quirky, accessible title that you know is based on a strong story. However, the more you play, the faster the game wears out. This is because of how open and casually paced the early game is, and how rushed and forced the last quarter is. Once you get to a certain point, you’ll just be playing a series of quick time events and watching the credits.
The mini-games, however, can be a lot of fun. I found myself playing several of them over and over again. The best is probably a turtle shell that works as a Magic 8 Ball. When you pick it up, a text prompt tells you to ask a question in your head. Then you shake the Wiimotes, and you get an answer. Another great one is a version of the game Labrynth, where you use a pair of rollers to guid a marble through a maze. There are also a couple “shell game” versions to play that reward you with, you guessed it, Buttons.
Coraline is a family friendly game that dovetails nicely with the just-released film. It is actually a rather fun way of seeing the story from a different perspective, and it isn’t so hard that you’ll be dropping the controllers in anger. It also isn’t going to break the bank, having a price tag that runs twenty dollars less than most games.
What holds this game back though, is the length. Coraline is only going to take you about five hours to finish. Once you do, there’s not a really compelling reason to go back through even if you missed a mini-game or two. Now, younger kids probably would play through it again, and it really is a good choice for that age group. Solid design, nothing objectionable, and decent fun. If only it went deeper into the story.
I watched the movie, in 3D, midway through playing the game. The movie is great, a real winner in the animated film category. I’m hoping it gets remembered next February as well. The game captures a lot of the charm of the movie, but leaves massive holes as well. For instance (and it’s a 7 year old book, so yes, there are spoilers, but don’t freak out) the game doesn’t even touch upon the three ghost children until you have to get their relics. There’s also no mention of the triangle stone from Spink and Forcible. The game also ends much sooner than the movie and book does. These are disappointing omissions. The game is otherwise very well done aside from a few rough spots. It is still a faithful and fun translation of a wonderful film.
Miscellaneous: Above Average
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Appeal Factor: Enjoyable
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
While it loses points for a lack of depth and wins them for being very faithful to the source material, Coraline ends up just a bit shy of being a very solid game. This is still a fun game for most people, and absolute fans of the story should have no problems about exploring the world of a little blue haired girl. People who demand more than a quick re-hash of the film and some enjoyable minigames should look elsewhere.