Review: Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Amaze Entertainment
Publisher: Majesco
Release Date: 05/05/2009

After the first Night at the Museum movie was successful, the studio quickly went to work making a sequel. For the sequel they weren’t going to miss out on merchandising opportunities such as a video game tie-in. However in the short history of video games, there are very few games that are based off of a movie that are actually fun to play. Also, when you consider that the main character in the game is a security guard for a museum, it’s hard to imagine creating an exciting video game experience.

Is Night at the Museum: Battle for The Smithsonian as fun as a trip to the museum? Read on.

While the original movie wasn’t really aimed at my age group, I actually enjoyed it. It wasn’t a great movie by any means, but it was fun and it inspired some children to go out to their local museums. Of course, once there they were probably disappointed when the T-Rex didn’t start walking around like it did in the movie, but some of those kids ended up leaving those museums learning a few new things. I haven’t had the chance to see the sequel yet, but if the story in the video game is any indication, then I’m going to be horribly disappointed.

The story is set after the events of the first film, and there might be spoilers below if the game and the movie are alike so be warned. The main character of the game is the star of both of the movies, Larry Daley. Larry is voiced here by Ben Stiller, which adds a lot to the setting of the game. In the game the American Museum of Natural History is doing renovations and will use holograms instead of wax figures. During this time, many of the exhibits are being transferred to The Smithsonian for safekeeping. Thanks to some mischief from the monkey Dexter, the tablet of Ahkmenrah ends up at The Smithsonian where Kamunrah, Ahkmenrah’s evil brother, gets animated and teams up with some other historical bad guys to take over the museum and raise an army of undead. Larry Daley rushes off to The Smithsonian and sneaks in to try and put a stop to all of it.

The main thing to do in the game is collect different pieces of the tablet, which will grant Larry different abilities. Some of those abilities will be different platform abilities or different ways of interacting with the environment around him. As the game progresses, he meets different characters and enemies. This is one area where the story of the game falls apart. There are a bunch of different goofy allies and enemies, but it feels like they’re all sort of crammed into the story instead of a natural part of it.

Then there’s a problem with characterization of some of the famous people. The game contradicts itself about Napoleon’s height, has General Custer among the good guys, and Amelia Earhart doesn’t know North from South. In the game, there are audio sections on some of the character statues that reveal the correct information about them, and there is a completely different section of the game that has a lot of different facts about exhibits in the museum. All of that has to be unlocked though, and I doubt a lot of kids are going to be reading that information. Portraying Amelia Earhart as someone who doesn’t know North from South isn’t even a good joke, and not a good way of introducing a historical figure to kids who might actually believe it. Custer is more of a nitpicking point and whether he was a good person or a villain depends on your view of the Indian Wars.

Compared to the original movie, the plot of the video game seems tacky and filled with a lot of cheap jokes. Napoleon is short! The statue of Lincoln hates pigeons! I hope the movie isn’t like this.

Graphically the game uses an exaggerated cartoonish style. Everything is done using bright colors and while there isn’t a high amount of detail to the background or characters, it works with the art style used in the game. It’s not going to amaze anyone but there are also no real eyesores in the game.

Audio benefits from having Stiller do the voice work of the main character, and it’s sad that they couldn’t have had more actors lend voice work to their characters. The voice actors who stepped in are decent enough, but there are some voices that just fall flat or sound nothing like the character from the movie.

The gameplay is surprisingly decent. The game focuses more on light puzzle solving than the usual platform puzzles of movie based games. As you gather more of the pieces of the tablet, you gain additional powers to use. It’s figuring out how to use those powers that is the key to advancing in the game. Since Larry is a security guard the powers transfer to his tools of office, namely his flashlight and extendible keychain. One power will let him use his keychain as a whip to grab onto certain areas and swing from them. Another power allows Larry to use his flashlight to animate paintings, or fix broken objects. There are some really good situations where the game requires the use of different powers in order to cross an area. There are also a couple of vehicle based missions, like riding a T-rex, flying a plane or cruising around with the lunar lander, that aren’t as well done as the rest of the game but provide for some interesting variety.

The whole game controls exceptionally well. Since the game relies more on problem solving that quick reactions, there aren’t too many moments where you’ll try to make a jump, fall, and then have to restart the whole area. There is one section of the game where that is an issue, but it is brief. Overall the game is far less frustrating than many other movie based games where the platforming sequences are poorly done. The puzzles are aimed at a younger demographics and shouldn’t be a problem for older gamers. If a younger player does get stuck with a particular area the Y button will prompt the game to give the player an audible clue on how to proceed.

Overall the gameplay is pretty decent; what there is of it. The main problem with the game is the fact that it can be beaten in around three hours. Even a younger player that isn’t rushing through the game and who might require longer to solve the puzzles in the game shouldn’t have a problem in beating the game at around five hours. There are some different items, such as pennies, audio tours, or level specific items, to collect but it isn’t as if there is a vast area in the game to explore. It’s mainly narrow corridors, so many items to collect will be found on the first time you play the game.

There are some additional modes, like a trivia modes and variations of two different puzzles that you come across during the game. There is an area for unlockable content, which includes different art from the game and the CGI movies. There is also a bunch of information on exhibits from The Smithsonian, which is a nice addition. None of these extend the length of the game very much, and the trivia gets repetitive.

There are some interesting gameplay ideas in the game, but they don’t ever get fully developed and just when it seems like the puzzles in different levels are starting to get interesting, the game is over. The game is certainly above most movie based games, and if you have a younger gamer who liked the movie, than Night at the Museum: Battle for The Smithsonian is something they’ll likely enjoy. But at around five hours or less of gameplay, I can’t imagine anyone buying the game over just renting it.

The Scores:
Story: Below Average
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Decent
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Below Average
Final Score: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Night at the Museum: Battle for The Smithsonian has some good ideas and everything in the game is solid enough to make it an average game, but the game is barely longer than the movie, and costs much more than an average movie ticket.



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