Disney might have made an amazing game — a game worthy of the attention it was sure to receive thanks to the mind-boggling measure of success the eponymous animated picture received. They didn’t. The brilliance of the movie lay beyond the mundane of underwater, animated majesty, and much closer to the remarkable across-the-board accessibility of the story being told. In the carefully selected cast, we could all find an on-screen vessel. There is Marlin, the over-protective, worrying single father; there is Nemo, the only slightly physically challenged son whose one weak fin is more than compensated for by his guts. And who could forget the show-stealing Dory, whose heart champions the film, if her addled brain provides its comic relief.
I’m not sure what I expected. Certainly the fact that the game follows the movie’s events to a tee is not surprising, nor is the direct implementation of scenes from the film, nor are the game’s beautiful and mood-setting backdrops. Perhaps I imagined that the end result would capture much of the animated feature’s message, its attitude, its personality. It does none of these things.
Finding Nemo alternates between being boring and bad. Lest you conclude simply that I was not the intended target market, consider two things: firstly, the movie managed the enviable task of capturing the attention and imaginations of children and adults alike. And secondly, my young nephew was as bored with the proceedings as I was, turning quickly to his Gameboy Advance to play some of his old games. Kids like new. Finding Nemo’s inability to engage cannot be understated.
It is a collection of chase scenes, side-scrolling sequences and horrible puzzles. We’ll examine the best first, and work our way to the inane. The levels that feature your fish (the game’s allegiance to the story has you controlling each of the three main characters at different points) chasing down a shark or what have you — those are the game’s shining moments. You have to be considerably adroit with the control stick as you swim hurriedly ‘into the screen’, dashing through speed hoops so you can gain on your quarry. Missed hoops mean missed opportunities to close the gap, and inevitably, you’ll fall behind and fail the mission. Some levels string several ‘legs’ of the chase together, so that failure on leg two does not necessitate starting at the beginning of the level. So there, you’ve caught whoever you were chasing! Save your progress and move on to the next level. That’s as good as it gets.
Regrettably, it gets much, much worse. When the fish in your control is the quarry, banality picks up in a hurry. When Bruce the shark comes bearing down on you, exclamation marks will be your cues to either climb or dive steeply to avoid his sporadic charges. It’s really not very exciting. And yet I’d gladly take ten more of those stages to the puzzley bits that pervade the otherwise enjoyable, if pedestrian side-scrolling stages.
In these levels, things are decidedly old school platformy, and that means scooting along collecting points and encapsulating foes in bubbles before popping them, but generally just avoiding sea creatures, ubiquitous and harmful as they are. Some puzzles are alright, like the ones that involve Dory and Marlin taking turns using their differences to your advantage (Dory’s strength, Marlin’s small size), so that they can navigate a series of pipes. Truth be told, it’s not great fun, all the tagging up to complete such simple tasks in the name of progress through that stretch of murky, uninteresting deep, but it’s better than what comes next.
What comes next is slide puzzles. Yes. You know those nine-slot puzzles covered by eight pieces? Right. And you had to move the pieces around, the blank slot as utility, to create a picture? These puzzles are in Finding Nemo. And dear god, not just once. There are all sorts of problems with this. The puzzles are difficult enough to immediately alienate Disney’s younger crowd. The puzzles are so incredibly out-of-place as to put off older gamers. Can you picture it? “Yes, so I’m swimming along — the game doesn’t seem so great, but yes it’s not bad — and wow, what’s this? A slide puzzle? But… why?”
We don’t play action games for our daily dose of Rubik’s Cube-esque frustration. Sadly, there are enough absolutely jarring occurrences of the slide puzzle rearing its ugly head that what little enjoyment we might have had swimming from Bruce in the darkness, and after Bruce in the minefield, and through fish tanks as Nemo, is effectively annihilated. And, yes, the choice of words there was quite deliberate. It’s not just sour grapes either — I was able to solve the puzzles in fairly short order, but I wasn’t smiling in doing so. If you’re someone who loves his tedious, hard ass puzzles, and dreamed of a day when you might find a colourful Disney game fraught with them, then you’re in heaven with Finding Nemo. The rest of us, well, we can just leave Nemo in the lurch, can’t we?