Review: The Smurfs 2 (Wii U)

La la la-la-la lame

With Papa Smurf and the rest of the Smurf clan making their way back to theaters this summer in The Smurfs 2, it’s no surprise that a video game of the same name is arriving alongside its movie counterpart. Generally, expectations are low for such licensed fare, but when we heard that the good people at WayForward were behind the latest Smurf-venture, we wondered if this would be an exception to the rule; especially considering the developer’s fantastic work within the platforming genre. So, is Smurfs 2 as “smurftastic” as advertised, or did it leave us turning blue with boredom?

The story begins with Smurfette being kidnapped by new, dirty-looking Smurfs called the Naughties. It seems that Gargamel is commanding them and, additionally, has cast a spell on the critters of the forest, turning them against you and your Smurf friends. As you teleport via portals in the game’s 3D hub menu, you’ll chase after the captors and frequently run into Gargamel, who communicates through a foggy portal, himself. Chunks of story are presented between worlds in the form of cartoon still-frame images with a narrative overlay, and these feature a hand-drawn art style that is more a reflection of the original television show than it is of the movie or actual game.

As a side-scrolling platformer, The Smurfs 2 is as traditional as they come; make it from the beginning to the end of each level by bouncing off the heads of enemies and avoiding any hazardous pits; there are also smurfberries, coins, and other random items to collect along the way. But platforming purists shouldn’t get too excited just yet, as the level design is largely uninspired, lending to some extremely mundane platforming with few, if any, surprises along the way. Actually, sometimes the layouts can be overly generic, almost as if randomly materialized by a level generator; there are few memorable areas and most locations blend right into the next. And that’s not the only thing that holds the gameplay down.

It brings to mind Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion for the 3DS, as Mickey trudged slowly along through the environments due to an almost devastating lack of a run function. Smurfs 2 shares a similar pacing that will immediately turn off many gamers – even the kids that participated in our multiplayer testing made comments about this, without our influence. Assuredly, this lack of speed will be beneficial to inexperienced players looking to familiarize themselves with platforming antics, though it would’ve been nice to have the option to run for those of us who’ve been around the block a few times.

There are six different locations to visit, and while most look relatively good – especially the lush, detailed backgrounds – they all feel similar to one another; so really it feels like you’re limited to forests and cities, with the inclusion of an obligatory snow world. Each of these is comprised of 5 levels rounded out by a boss battle, which pits you against either familiar Smurf baddies or common, yet extra angry, forest creatures. That’s 30 standard levels and 6 boss battles, which isn’t much, so it’s definitely not a long game; although there are reasons to continue playing beyond a single playthrough. For example, each level has three “achievements” tied to it – from collecting a set amount of berries in a single turn to completing the level with a specified character – plus, for every 5 coins collected, the player will unlock new characters; up to 20 extra are available, in all.

Each Smurf has a special move that generally correlates with their distinct personality type. We enjoyed being able to choose between a plethora characters, and it was nice trying to figure out which Smurf would perform more admirably given the design of each individual level; Hefty can crumble blocks that encase a collectable or secret area, Brainy uses his calculations to jump higher than the other characters, and Clumsy – our personal favourite – can perform a roll much like in the Donkey Kong Country series, which injects a bit more speed into the proceedings. The biggest problem though, is that all of the Smurfs – outside Papa and Smurfette – look nearly identical, lending to a mass of confusion during multiplayer sessions.

To be as fair to the game as possible, we invited a couple of children and inexperienced gamers to take part in the action and get their opinions, in an effort to reflect the game's core demographic. It was at this point that we found things slightly more enjoyable. The slow speed works better with numerous players on the screen, and the bland levels better accommodated the hectic action that comes with multiplayer platforming. Things are still sort of effortless, but goofing around with others added a much needed sense of life. Additionally, using the GamePad allowed us to control Clockwork Smurf, who flies around by using the stylus and touch-screen, dropping items to help other players. It’s an extremely boring proposition, and this might be the one game where kids don’t fight for their turn with the GamePad.

All in all, the small amounts of multiplayer fun weren’t enough to salvage our overall opinion of The Smurfs 2, and even younger gamers lost interest after a short time. So if your children have already proven that they can handle a game like New Super Mario Bros. or Donkey Kong Country Returns, this one may be insulting to their level of talents, and they’ll more than likely find it to be rather uneventful. However, if they aren’t yet familiar with the platforming genre, and adore the Smurfs flicks, this may be one to rent or pickup for a bargain price; as bland as it can be, it’s a quite harmless experience that should still be accessible for the younger crowd.

Conclusion

Don’t let the fact that the game is developed by WayForward fool you; The Smurfs 2 is mostly lackluster licensed fluff. While it is nice that it isn't as disjointed as other games of its type, it’s hard to recommend something this uninspired. If you’re thirsting for a kid-friendly platformer, you’d probably be better off keeping your smurfberries in your wallet and waiting for alternatives in the coming weeks and months. But if you have very young children who are obsessed with The Smurfs movies, this may be a solid way to introduce them to the genre, thanks to low difficulty and the straight-forward, forgiving gameplay.

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