Despicable Me: The Game Review
Posted by Zach Kaplan
When you wish upon a moon
Ever since George Bailey promised Mary in It's A Wonderful Life that if she said the word, he'd throw a lasso around the moon, people have plotted to steal that thing. Despicable Me: The Game tells the tale of one such dreamer, Gru, as he heists parts to build a combination rocketship/shrink ray. It's up to you to guide him, with the help of his endless army of loyal, stumpy minions.
There are a lot of ways that a licensed game can go wrong, the most prevalent of which may be either rushing development to get it to store shelves by the time that the film hits theatres or trying too hard to match the events of the movie. Luckily, this title only succumbs to the former, as your assistant Dr. Nefario tells you. "Unfortunately," he explains, "our time – and budget – only allowed us to create one set of voiceovers for the tutorial level." It may be somewhat oblique, but this statement suggests a frustrated developer that really wanted to make a good game.
Sadly, the said lack of resourses shows. Interesting ideas succumb to repetition or fail to realise their full potential, everything feels unpolished and at 11 levels, it's just too short. The individual components may hold enough entertainment value for some and there's nothing broken about it, but it makes about as many strides forward as it does back.
The levels' setup basically never varies from a prescribed formula, the predictability of which can seriously hamper the player's enjoyment. Stages are comprised of three basic components: the obstacle course, the puzzle section and the despicable bit. The first has Gru travel through some dangerous territory with the help of his trusty ray guns, all four of which you unlock in short order. They are the Freeze Ray, Air Gun, Web Gun and Magnet Gun, which you switch between using the control pad. Almost every obstacle can be conquered through their judicious use, whether it be a fiery hot platform or one that won't stop moving until you web it up. The last of the four you'll mostly put to use by magnetising the walls themselves, pulling the platform on which you stand this way and that. Much of it amounts to immobilising threats, but when such undefeatable obstacles as gaps, sharp saw blades and slicing lasers come at you at once, things can get a bit tricky and all the more entertaining. However, you'll see the same things over and over again, only a few new and interesting ones ever popping up to add some variation.
The puzzle sections are perhaps the most entertaining part of the game, a good portion of them proving moderately difficult to downright headache inducing. Something that's frustrating due to the complex thought involved is a million times more rewarding than one that produces the same effect because of shoddy design, and here you'll experience a good deal of the former. You utilise the minions – switching to first-person mode to launch them about the level – in three different formations, and then zap them with your rays. This means that there's 15 unique combinations, but you'll end up using some very often while others rarely come into play. Your diminutive warriors can stand alone, stack themselves into a five-minion tower or form a ring. You can then use your arsenal to send them floating, form a trampoline, or become icy stepping stones, just to name a few options. Sometimes your steps are overly obvious, however, especially when the magnet gun comes into play – using a charged minion as a battery or a ring of them as a metal gear requires almost no thought and feels kind of pointless. There's a limited number of your little friends at your disposal, which sometimes comes into play as well and adds to the challenge.
Finally, each level contains a room of timid guards, paintings and statues at which you're to try your despicable hand. You'll zap the defenceless foes and graffiti the objects, each act filling your Despicable Meter by a seemingly arbitrary amount and getting you closer to a costume for Gru or the minions. This is the least satisfying of the level segments and feels like a poor attempt to channel the film's sense of humour. Perhaps this is because your acts are so uninspired, too often amounting to, say, airbrushing the ice cream out of a painting of a cone or turning a thing that resembles a minion into a replica of one. When despicable opportunities pop up mid-level, they're a lot more fun, one of our favourites being a minion playing dress-up at whom Gru simply condescendingly chuckles, but these moments are extremely rare. If only level designs blended elements more effectively, as in these instances, this could have been a much better game.
After you're thoroughly used to this standard pattern, the game throws a curveball at you as you suddenly and without explanation find yourself piloting a plane and shooting at UFOs. Apparently this has something to do with your arch-nemesis Vector, but the game never really makes this clear. Once you adapt to this odd feature, the main issue is its underwhelming genericness. Each level has you shoot at the most commonplace flying saucers and floating mines as you cruise along your pre-set course, following the minion ship as you get from one destination to the next and picking up an assortment of standard power-ups along the way. You'll usually come to a flying fortress that you're to circle and destroy, the hardest part of which is turning around before you run into it. If you do this here or to any other obstacle and don't move away quickly, instead remaining in contact, you'll lose all your health almost immediately. Overall, these sections are unchallenging, bland and not much fun.
One feature that works about half the time is the lack of a health bar for the game's main areas. In the obstacle bits it heightens the challenge and generally makes things more interesting, but as for puzzle section it just makes things frustrating. Imagine setting up a huge chain reaction involving minion weight distribution and strategic timing when you accidentally collide with a laser that you just didn't see beforehand. One fatal misstep, which can be as much of the fixed camera's fault as your own lack of observation, can heartbreakingly reset everything to where it began.
The difficulty is fair and level, though some of it might be too challenging for the youngest fans of the film. Luckily, the obstacle sections lets you skip to the next checkpoint – and there are a lot of checkpoints – if you repeatedly fail, while the puzzles allow you to use hints that you effortlessly collect along the way.
Everything controls smoothly, employing a simple scheme appropriate to a platformer that uses the Nunchuck and Remote, but there's no support for alternate methods. The only major flaw is in aiming your weapon; each level is of a 2D sidescrolling format, and you both point your gun and move Gru with the control stick, so it's not hard to walk off of the edge of a platform when you're trying to point up at a target. It's easy to switch ray gun selection, though when it comes to minions it's a bit more tricky, requiring you to hold B or C to choose a formation, aim and launch them or remove them from the playing field. While in flight mode, controlling your ship generally feels a bit stiff, though impressively you're able to roll left and right with the control pad and to make a u-turn with A. Z boosts your ship forward, pressing B fires and holding the same button down targets. Though you'll practically never have to utilise some of these in single player mode, they're a nice addition all the same.
The two-person multiplayer mode puts the flight function to much better use, and the steering feels less rigid now that you're not on a guided track. There's four ways to play: Dogfight, Floating Fortress, Amass Minions and Ring Quest. The first is a simple battle mode; the second adds a layer of complexity as you're to destroy your opponent's base before he or she takes out yours, neither of which ever stray too far apart. The third mode has you fly around and pick parachuting minions out of the sky, and if you're shot down it reduces your collection by half and gives your opponent a chance to grab them. The last type has you fly through floating rings and turn them to your colour, while your friend can change them to theirs. In each except Flying Fortress you have just one goal – to get the most kills, capture the most minions or claim the most floating rings – and each can be a lot of fun.
Graphically and musically the game fails to either impress or appal. In the main mode you'll navigate different sections of the same three areas repeatedly, so you'll have to get used to the same relatively undetailed background designs. There's also some wonky camera angles in puzzle mode that can be a minor hassle. Otherwise, the colours are bright and the character models are fairly attractive, but the animations are limited and overall unimpressive. The environments for flight mode are a mixed bag, ranging from a relatively impressive forested area to one downright ugly city. The soundtrack is comprised of the brass instruments and xylophones that call to mind cartoonish, tactical adventures. Gru speaks, but mostly when he's annoyingly admonishing you for dying. His voiceover and those of Dr. Nefario and the minions are fine and somewhat comically performed, but they haven't got a lot of good material with which to work. There's also a lot of unpolished bits scattered throughout the game, including the way that Nefario turns his back to the screen whenever he talks and the pointless news bulletins that seem to have been filmed in a big empty garage.
While its main components aren't bad, the whole thing's repetitive and ends up evening out with about as many flaws as it has positive features. It'll also likely take the average player, no matter the age, an afternoon or two to complete. It's clear that the designers wanted to do something interesting here, but their lack of time and funding has undeniably hampered their efforts.