Let’s not talk about video games that are tied-in to major motion picture releases. Let’s not talk about the stigma that comes attached to video game tie-ins that implies they’re all terrible. Let’s not talk about the assumptions we make about video game tie-ins before we play them or before they’re even released. Instead, let’s talk about video games. Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay is not a very good video game.
Following the events of the titular Disney film, Battle in the Bay sees Hiro Hamada, Baymax, and the rest of their merry gang of super-teens fending off a robot invasion in their hometown of San Fransokyo. It’s unclear whether or not – though probably not – this is a canonical progression in the Big Hero 6 story, but fans of the film will definitely love the idea of playing as their new favourite superheroes and latch onto this 3DS release. There’s not much of a plot involved beyond “go and fight the bad guys,” but that’s more than enough to elicit the desired sales.
Battle in the Bay’s gameplay can best be described as that of a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. There is plenty of platforming to do and items to collect, but each stage is so linear — with most of the collectables placed directly in your singular path — that there isn’t much of a challenge or emphasis on exploration. It’s also quite noticeable that enemies don’t flood your path and are usually placed on large flat surfaces, such as a rooftop or stretch of street, that seem to be designated for battle; because of these breaks between platforming and combat the gameplay feels disjointed. Rather than fighting enemies as you go, you’ll instead find yourself platforming, then fighting, then platforming again. On the rare occasion that there are enemies on your path, they can easily be leapt over and circumvented completely. When you do decide to fight, your characters are so overpowered — especially when using special attacks — that there isn’t much of a challenge at all. You also have an unlimited amount of lives, so if you do happen to die the consequences are little more than starting again near where you fell. The low difficulty, repetitive combat, and monotonous platforming all come together to form a game that exercises the cardinal sin of being downright boring.
There are four playable characters, each with their own unique set of skills, but they mostly play the same. For example, Hiro attacks with charges of electricity and GoGo uses her speed and throwing discs, but each character is laced with the same basic jump and attack abilities, making for little true variety from one fighter to the next. There are also special attacks that can be activated via a virtual button on the 3DS’s touchscreen, but all of these are shared by the characters, again taking away from any possibility of variety. Specific characters are assigned to each stage, meaning that you can’t choose who you want to play as, but at least this forces players to experience each character rather than charging through the entire campaign as one. With each character having such unique powers and personalities, it’s unfortunate to see that they weren't used in any significant way.
All of the characters are also controlled using the same basic inputs, adding to the feeling that they are too much alike. The D or Circle Pads control movement while the lettered buttons execute attacks and special moves. Combat isn’t particularly exciting as it mostly consists of mashing on the Y button to attack, but the movement is where the real trouble lies. While it wasn’t a consistent problem throughout the duration of the game, more than once we were faced with issues regarding collision detection; though infrequent, the fact that platforming is a chief aspect of this game makes it a major frustration when landing on a flat surface without falling through is a challenge in itself. Much more frequent were the issues with punching straight through enemies rather than landing blows and dealing damage, but this is more of an inconvenience than a deadly flaw.
As uninspired as the gameplay is, it’s not entirely surprising that the presentation also falls below par — character movement is stiff and is plagued with occasional drops in frame rate. Enemy models are bland and are repeated over and over again, giving very little variety in baddies to fight. The environments, while surprisingly detailed, suffer from over-clutter, often making it difficult to differentiate between background objects and platforms in the foreground. This issue could have been alleviated through the use of the handheld console’s 3D display, but instead everything remains flat even when your 3D slider is turned all the way up. There are also some noticeably jagged edges, but this seems hardly worth mentioning when taking into consideration the plethora of other issues on display.
The soundtrack also leaves much to be desired, cycling through a very limited number of songs that all sound largely the same. Though the songs present are quite catchy, they sound tinny coming through the 3DS’s small speakers. On top of the lackluster soundtrack, none of the dialogue or exposition is spoken, leaving it up to the player to read through blocks of text accompanied by still images of the characters. Overall, the whole project feels lazily thrown together and lacks any amount of charm that would presumably draw players in, even the younger crowd.
Even when considered as a standalone piece that is in no way tied into a major motion picture, Big Hero 6: Battle in the Bay is a bit of a mess. It fits comfortably into the side-scrolling beat ‘em up category, but even in this classic genre it doesn’t do much to make itself worthwhile. Combat is repetitive, the platforming is imprecise and the presentation as a whole leaves too much to be desired. Young players might love the idea of stomping baddies as their favorite Big Hero 6 characters, but be warned that there is nothing even slightly super about this one.