Review by SneakTheSnake
"The game will Gru on you, but it may not Gru on your kids."
It's a tradition, really, these movie-licensed games. For just about every animated movie - or any flick appealing to kids or young teens, really - there's an adaptation on a game disc or cartridge. These don't really run the gambit from excellent to poor; more like god-awful to moderately tolerable. With ET bucking the trend, there are very few exceptions to the "movie-licensed games are shoddy, quick-fix productions on a rushed programming schedule to meet a quick deadline with little talent or input from the films' staff, testing time or bug fixing involved" rule. This game may not be a Spider-Man 2, but it is a delightful game... for adults. This game, though, is far too difficult and challenging for its target audience, so I'd recommend just waiting for the movie to come out on video to get more Gru in your life unless you're buying it for yourself.
The game's plot is a fine accompaniment to the film. Gru wants to steal the moon, but he must first build a rocket so he can fly himself up to it, shrink it with his shrink ray and keep it for his own. What we have here is a side-story that takes place after Gru is denied a loan from the Bank of Evil and just before he adopts the three orphan girls (who are foreshadowed in the game but do not appear). What was accomplished in a two-minute montage in the film is presented here as the three-hour game in question: Gru, with the help of his minions, must pilfer eleven parts for the rocket, all hidden within either Vector's lair or the Bank of Evil.
Essentially, we have a 2.5D puzzle platformer, quite similar to Pandemonium! or Klonoa. Each mission is broken up into mini-sections with three different objectives: either one must (a) navigate Gru through a series of moving platforms, lasers and enemies to get from checkpoint to checkpoint, (b) use Gru's minions as tools for accomplishing complicated puzzles much akin to Lemmings or Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 or (c) go through a aerial dogfight. The exception to the 2.5D perspective would be the flying sections, which I'll go into later.
The gimmick is that, like Mega Man, Gru has a variety of weapons at his disposal for the non-dogfight portions of the game, four to be precise, that he earns throughout his adventure. He starts off with an air gun, letting him blast puffs of compressed air to move around his minions or do a double jump, and a freeze ray, which, well, freezes platforms and minions. He later gets a magnet gun, shooting off rays of magnetic energy to power up machines or move magnetic platforms, and lastly obtains a "sticky" web gun, stopping certain platforms in their tracks.
The control in this game is better than most, but certainly not spot-on. Unusually, the right analog stick isn't used at all; there is no camera perspective to manipulate here, since it's on a fixed plane, but I would have liked to used it another way: to control Gru's aiming. The left analog stick controls Gru's left-to-right movements as well as the aim of his guns. This makes it very hard to run and gun, which occurs often within the game but not enough to completely shun the controls. Granted, there are not many enemies to shoot at in the game, but many puzzles and platforming sections require precision aiming - to move a minion, to freeze a platform - and it can be frustrating to try and aim a bit too far down and have Gru walk off an edge because the game triggered it as him moving right. Also, the double-jumping is a little off. There's only a certain pocket of time in which Gru can jump a second time in the air; if you try to double jump while he's falling back to the ground, the game won't register the jump.
The 2D portions have their certain charms. The platforming sections remind me of the dayes of olde, so to speak, when challenging old-school platformers rocked my childhood. I can tell you, though, that certain platforming sections of this game are downright dastardly. Fortunately, there are infinite lives and checkpoints every hundred feet or so, but this game will be no easy feat for children, even with those amenities.
This counts even more so for the puzzles, which are positively intense at times. Interspersed between the platforming and the flying are sections in which you must solve five or six miniature "get to the exit" puzzles per mission. Gru must use his four guns - and a select, pre-determined amount of minions per puzzle - to turn on machines, press buttons and occasionally defeat enemies to get to the exit door.
Can't reach a button? Inflate a minion to have him float to the ceiling and press it. Can't power up a machine? Turn the minions into electrical current by magnetizing them. Can't press two buttons at the same time? Freeze one of the minions on top of a button for him to hold it down for you. These miniature conundrums combine to make these involved and complicated puzzles. Nearly every puzzle introduces a new obstacle, such as pulleys, weights, magnets or money-bag-eating robots. The hint system is plentiful, though, just in case. This is clearly the most thought-out and rewarding part of the game, these can be head-scratching ordeals.
Honestly, I can take or leave the aerial sections of the game. Crimson Skies it ain't, but it works more or less. The mini-missions involve either following a minion through a series of checkpoints, blasting any oncoming enemies and ensuring the minion's safety or defeating a mini-boss. The controls work well enough, and you can do a 360-turnaround, barrel rolls, speed up and even lock on to multiple enemies / projectiles at once. Fortunately, they're just in small doses.
Graphically, the game is a bit of a snooze. It would be difficult to imitate the look of a multi-million-dollar animated film on a PS2 console, as the developer tried so hard to do, but the textures end up looking bland, and the cutscenes are tough to watch. The game is colorful and probably quite alluring for children, but especially during the dogfights will it become clear how much more attention could have been paid to the graphics.
I did enjoy the soundtrack, though. Steve Carrell (Gru) and Russell Brand (Dr. Nefario) reprise their roles from the movie here, and I'm greatly fond of their voicework. Gru and Nefario have some witty banter during mission briefings, and Gru tends to complain after each death, with comments like, "So, how long have you been playing games?" or "Maybe I should just adopt some kids and settle down." The music doesn't provide too much of a distraction, but, because of the occasional trial-and-error gameplay, you'll probably hear Gru talk... a lot.
Despite a few irregularities in the presentation (general lack of rewarding special features, only three environments to explore in the eleven missions), Despicable Me: The Game stands up well on its own. Because of the difficult puzzles and tricky platforming, however, this game would most likely be far to frustrating for children to play on their own. The developers knew the game's target demographic - it is clear in the game's look and usually-feeble attempts at humor - but I can imagine a child becoming pretty flustered. The difficulty, though, makes this anomalous among game adaptations for CGI films, and it serves as an unusual - yet, for the more seasoned gamer, ultimately rewarding - companion to the movie.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 07/22/10
Game Release: Despicable Me: The Game (US, 07/06/10)
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