Rango does little to change the preconceptions most gamers have toward licensed titles. The game works, makes adequate use of the source material it’s based off of, and could probably deliver several hours of relative enjoyment to the younger, potentially less discerning gamer.
The game kicks off with the self-titled hero retelling the townsfolk of Dirt of his misadventures collecting a series of mysterious meteorite pieces. Each day he recounts, leading up to the present, is represented by one of the game’s stages. The cutscenes, in which Rango tells his tale, are easily the most engaging portion of the ride, as Rango’s unique personality and perspective are put to use – it’s a shame then, that that personality doesn’t translate into gameplay.
Once players are dumped into the Sheriff’s boots it becomes quickly evident that Rango is just another run of the mill, generic 3D platformer. Stages are laid out across the town of Dirt and the various prairies, gullies, mines and other sorts of token Western locales you might imagine. Progression is almost always restricted to a linear, obvious path, which is clearly paved with Sheriff’s coins – the obligatory collectible of the game. The linearity itself isn’t the issue, but rather the complete and total lack of exploration the game allows or even encourages. Throughout the campaign I counted four total times where I briefly deviated from the obvious path to collect a few stray Sheriff’s coins or a health item.
Between its many platforming sequences, Rango essentially becomes a stationary light gun shooter. Enemies spawn from various locations on-screen and either make their way toward the Sheriff for some up close fisticuffs or hold their distance, attacking with a gun or firecracker – the grenade equivalent. Again, like the platforming, Rango’s shootouts are serviceable, but there’s very little variety or excitement from one standoff to the next. With only a handful of enemy types and an equally restrictive amount of attack patterns, there’s very little surprise moving from one gunfight to the next.
Shootouts are further compounded by the unresponsive feel of Rango’s reload animation, which can’t seem to decide if you’re allowed to reload while transitioning from cover, or not. The other issue is your current stock of ammunition is displayed in a six-shooter graphic that surrounds your aiming cursor, and the color of the graphic is easily lost on top of the stage’s dull palette of colors. Combine that with the ‘X’ that fills your cursor in cover – indicating your current inability to fire – and it’s easy to become confused whether you currently have loaded ammunition or not.
To Rango’s credit there is some benefit to collecting the coins scattered throughout every stage. Each coin contributes to a meter that gives the Sheriff both invulnerability and infinite ammo, which can be triggered during the many shootouts. However, most of the gunfights are so easy you’ll likely never need to use it, which effectively negates the motivation to track the suckers down – though younger gamers might enjoy the occasional power trip. Boss battles are the only time you’ll feel compelled to break stock, and even then the meter shows how poorly it was balanced; during the first boss I was able to rail off enough shots to deplete Bad Bill’s health meter well before my timer ran out, all without taking a single ounce of damage.
Despite the niggling issues that plague pretty much all of Rango’s gameplay, the fundamental problem is the overall lack of ambition. The Rango character and license is a totally weird, irreverent property and it’s disappointing more wasn’t done to extend that sort of creativity into the game. Beyond the platforming and rudimentary light gunning, the only other style of gameplay employed is the occasional on-rails shootout, which does little to mix things up; by the time you’ve completed the second stage you’ll have seen the entire scope of Rango’s run-and-then-gun gameplay. And, even on the rare occasion when the bizarre traits of the source material seep into the game, such as running through Hunter S. Thompson’s trailer or being sucked into a hallucinatory, decrepit arcade cabinet, you can still expect to be doing the same old things Rango has always done.
Generally, Rango is a much more disappointing game than it is actually bad. It’s perfectly functional, and maybe even rarely enjoyable, but it fails to truly capitalize on the license and does little to differentiate itself from pretty much any other 3D platformer that’s come before it.
Editor’s Note: Screens are from the HD version of the title found on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. At the time of publishing there were no Wii screens made available to the press.