Practically no-one didnít like last yearís Finding Nemo, but the quality of movie-to-game tie-ins is always less certain. Coming from Disney game veterans Travellerís Tales, expectations were set moderately high for this, and while the game is not fantastic, it is certainly up to scratch. Of note simply because it isnít a platformer, it utilises a variety of gaming conventions from the into the screen chase sequences to the side-scrolling swimming action that became popular when it appeared in Cash Bandicoot 3.
Of course the gameplay wasnít going to be the main draw here, for most people the exciting prospect would be seeing the characters, locales and events from the film being recreated in interactive form. On that front this probably delivers more than any other Disney tie-in I can think of, with various characters being playable and the bottom of the ocean looking almost as magnificent as it did in the film. The story, represented by some clips from the film, involves young clownfish Nemo being taken from his father by a scuba-diving dentist. The father, Marlon, sets out to rescue his son with his new, forgetful friend Dory while Nemo must integrate himself into the society of a new fish tank.
The game has far more levels than I would have expected, some lasting around twenty minutes, and some only one or two. The inconsistent pace of the game is probably more attention-grabbing than it is unsettling, and to have the style of play constantly changing is almost exciting. It is certainly a lot more fun not knowing what youíll be faced with next than it is to plough through endless identikit platforming levels. There are various skills available to our two fish characters including picking up pebbles from the ocean and moving them around, darting around lines of bubbles in order to trap enemies and picking up speed bursts from coloured bubble rings. It doesnít sound like a lot, but when you are just a fish it is quite an impressive array.
Most of the gameís fun comes from the fluidity with which it moves. It is often quite mesmerising to just swim around the levels (which are all 2D, so donít expect some kind of sprawling exploration quest) and mess with the scenery and wildlife. Puzzles are simple and involve putting coloured pebbles on matching switches, so it is the sheer momentum of the game that keeps it fresh. There is an emphasis on moving fast in all of the levels, picking up speed rings, racing other characters, escaping from sharks, and it is not at all the plodding puzzler than I expected. The technique for killing baddies, zipping around a curve of bubbles in order to create a massive bubble to trap them, encourages you to improve your dexterity with simple movement. This is more a game about simple intuitions and reactions than anything else. The game’s vivid personality, lifted from the film, helps things along as well. For instance when playing as Dory you’ll have to perform tasks within time limits before your short term memory resets and you forget them!
To keep things orderly, the levels are organised into quests each of which will reward you with a sort of ëquest pointí (Iím not sure the reward is ever given a name in the game). You must go through all of the rings, kill all of the enemies, place all the pebbles on the switches, win any races and bounce on all bouncy objects, depending on the level. This adds a sense of purpose and pleasant routine to what is otherwise a reasonably formless game. The only problem with this system is that sometimes extra quests are shoved into levels that do not need them. For instance the excellent chasing levels are always populated by unnecessary and tedious rock bouncing or pebble carrying sections. Not only are they pretty dull in themselves, but they break up the rhythm of some of the best levels in the game.
My only other significant complaint is that the game features those horrible sliding tile puzzles so prominently to the point where you know they will turn up at least once in every level. You know the kind, where there is a grid with a jumbled up picture split into cubes, and one cube space is missing, so you must shuffle them around to create the original picture. This is not gaming! Games do not simply give you a rubix cube to solve in every level, because that would be unbearable, and the use of these puzzles is only mildly less unbearable. I must admit I have always been terrible at these things, so if you are the type who find them to be no problem then you will probably whiz through these sections, but they are still stupid fundamentally. In a couple of instances they work but most of the time they act as a lazy substitute for what should be an actual designed bit of action, like going through pipes!
The graphics are certainly a high point of the game. The undersea environment is created with as much atmosphere and colour as the film itself, although the level of technical excellence is obviously lower. The characters are excellently animated, especially for fish, and are pretty much indistinguishable from their film counterparts. Mostly it is the lighting detail, which ranges from the idyllic filtered sunrays in most levels to the searing, fiery colours of the volcano-lit level. There is an attention to detail and high production values on all aspects of the game, so it looks mostly excellent, if not as epic and varied as many of the children-targeted games being released today.
The sound keeps up the quality as well with probably the busiest sound effect track for background ambience Iíve ever heard in a game. Lots of atmospheric splashing, popping and lapping makes sure that the game world is as convincing as a cartoon fish world can be. The voice acting comes mostly from soundalikes, rather than the real actors from the film, but they sound similar enough to keep it from being jarring and awkward, and the writing is generally funny too. I really liked the music, which came from Travellerís Tales regular collaborator Swallow Studios, which was quite bombastic and catchy, and surprisingly never annoying for music that decides to dictate the action rather than keeping in the background.
There is plenty to seek out in the game in terms of replayability, with a wealth of production art and 3D models as rewards. Although I admit that this extra stuff wasnít terribly interesting, the quests are a fun enough incentive to go for full completion anyway. Itís not a terribly memorable game I suppose, but itís fun while it lasts and it lasts slightly longer than the average Disney tie-in. Iíd say this is perfect for kids and diverting enough for any adults that enjoyed the film and donít mind playing something more brightly coloured.