Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (3DS)

Blistering barnacles

In the nine months since the 3DS launched, Ubisoft has released no fewer than 12 games for the handheld. Some, like Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars 3D, have been very good. Others — say, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell 3D — haven't. Where does The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn fit in?

Somewhere in the middle, as it happens. It's pleasingly faithful to its HD cousins, with near-identical level design and graphical style, as it tackles the story of Tintin's search for the fabled Unicorn — finding golden crabs along the way to please Belgian buffs — across a mixture of gameplay styles.

Ubisoft invests the vast majority of game time in a simplistic 2D puzzle platformer affair. Tintin is an agile chap with all the moves you'd expect: leaps, wall jumps, rolls and more. He's easily controlled too, with just a few buttons making him tick. It's perfect for platform novices, a fact compounded by frequent checkpoints and a generous difficulty level.

At times, the game feels like a pared-down Prince of Persia, though while Tintin may share many of his moves with the nimble prince, employing them requires far less precision. Combat isn't quite so demanding either, most opponents crumbling with a few punches or a well-aimed throw of a glass jar.

There's something mechanical about the platforming that keeps things motoring without ever really hitting the gas, however; for all his agility, the developers employ Tintin's moves rigidly in levels that offer just one path and puzzles just one solution. It never quite feels as fluid as you'd like; you can see all the parts at work, but they don't quite mesh together.

Breaking up the running and leaping are stylus-based minigames that threaten to take the "fun" out of "functional." Swordfighting is a prime example — swiping to strike and tapping to block sounds good in principle, but in practice it's a sullen affair with neither grace nor poise. The sea stages fare no better, with odd controls — why load five cannonballs at once before firing when there's only one opponent? — but at least they're over quickly.

As you conquer the campaign, extra levels open up in the game's multi-card multiplayer co-op mode, Tintin and Haddock. These additional stages, free from the necessity of narrative, are a little more open with their design ideas and hit the mark more often as a result.

Powering the game is a graphical engine that stays admirably close to the HD versions in models and animation but loses ground when it comes to frame rate, often stuttering below the 20 fps mark when things get going. There are other disappointments too: instead of CG cut scenes to move the story along, 3DS owners get static comic-style interludes taken from the same assets.

Conclusion

The Adventures of Tintin is merely the sum of its parts; decent platforming, good music and a sizeable amount of gameplay don't ever quite gel into a satisfying whole. There's potential for a better game in here, but it'll have to wait until the inevitable sequel.

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