16 Jul, 2006

Over the Hedge Review

PS2 Review | It's woodland critter Christmas! Or not.
With a new animated movie featuring talking animals in cinemas, it’s a safe bet that a platform game conversion aimed at the kiddies is heading straight to PS2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, etc. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what we’ve got here. This time, it’s the wacky characters from Over the Hedge, the latest movie from Dreamworks, as the central figures in what is absolutely the kind of standard children’s platform fare (with basic beat-em up elements) that we’ve all seen countless times before. There’s no challenge, there’s no fun – just mindless repetition and the inevitable boredom that follows. You’d have to be a pretty big fan of the movie to get anything out of this game.

The story is based on the movie, sensibly enough – although, the scenes lifted from the movie haven’t been chosen too wisely (and are rather disjointed too), leaving out an awful lot of detail that is important to the plot of the game. From what we can gather, a bunch of assorted fuzzy forest creatures (hamster, skunk, raccoon and, uh, a turtle) are sitting in a forest minding their own business, when a housing development decides to set up shop nearby. Oh no, the eco-system is RUINED! Or something. Because of this, the woodland critters decide to break into their houses and steal the human’s food. Naturally, this raises the ire of the residents, who set up numerous traps and hire an exterminator to rid themselves of the critters. Not very successfully, though.

Well, that joke is simply too easy.

Well, that joke is simply too easy.
Players control one of the various woodland critters as they go about completing the objectives laid out for them at the start of the level. These are more or less pointless though, as they are generally achieved by running from the start of the level to the end of the level, jumping occasionally and killing everything in between, before heading back to the ‘hedge’ (the game hub) to select your next level. There are also the equally pointless secondary objectives, which consist of finding hidden objects, or complete a mission without being hit or activating a trap. Expect to be opposed by rats, gophers and other assorted bad things on your quest – hammer square long enough, and you will beat them with ease. The critters also have a projectile attack at their disposal – press and hold circle, and you will charge up a golf ball drive. You can also charge up a special attack meter of sorts, which can be unleashed by hitting the triangle button. Not what you’d call a deep combat system, but it does the job well enough.

At all times, there will be two controllable characters – pressing R2 will switch characters. There isn’t really much point in single player, other than allowing you to control the character with more health, as all characters have more or less identical attributes, except for unique special moves. In two-player mode, each player can control their own character, making the action a bit more entertaining (presumably humans won’t get stuck on a wall and vanish until the next cut-scene). There are a few tandem moves that are available (piggy-backing on your partner for twice the golf club power is particularly useful), but, again, this system is pretty basic.

And that’s it, which is basically the biggest problem with Over the Hedge. The main game, while not horrible, is utterly repetitive, and consists of running through levels bashing things with a golf club and occasionally jumping over some obstacles. Over, and over, and over again. And, because of this, it’s absolutely dead boring – regardless of whether or not the target demographic is children. As an example, a few levels into the game the critters will find themselves on a train. You have to battle through each carriage, which follows the pattern of firstly, a room full of boxes and exploding enemies. In the next carriage are rats which you have to shoot from afar. Finally, there’s a carriage which has many obstacles to jump over. Repeat a few times, and that’s the level. Sound fun?

What game isn't complete without cyborg bunnies?

What game isn't complete without cyborg bunnies?
On the plus side, there’s actually a reasonable amount of bonus content in the game. There's lots of short clips to unlock (even if they are just the in-game cut-scenes from a menu), storyboards, concept art, and so on. There are a few mini-games too, which range from mildly entertaining (golf cart demolition derby) to shocking (remote control car racing). The two player mode also manages to make the game somewhat entertaining for a while too, which is a plus.

Over the Hedge isn’t particularly strong visually. While the cut-scenes – obviously – look nice, everything else sort of looks a bit fuzzy and low resolution, and environments all feel the same. All critters from a distance are hard to make out, and often you won’t see an enemy because they were indistinguishable from the background. On the upside, animation is quite good. Each main character moves exactly like you’d expect their real-life equivalents to (the raccoon is slinks about with ease, while the turtle waddles along), and the enemies, while not as good, are still more than acceptable.

However, the biggest problem with the game’s graphics is the camera – or lack of one. For some reason, the game has a fixed camera that usually moves with you, leaving you with no control. At all. The problem with this system is that you NEED to move the camera quite a lot, as there are bonus items hidden just out of view and enemies hidden behind crates. But, most annoyingly, the camera won’t zoom in on the action, making it hard to tell where on the screen your character is. Fixed camera systems can work but they need immaculate level design – something Over the Hedge doesn’t have.

A lot of work has gone into making the game physics engine as realistic as possible.

A lot of work has gone into making the game physics engine as realistic as possible.
Surprisingly, none of the film’s cast was retained to do voiceovers for the game as has been common in recent years – and the audio does suffer as a result. The sound-a-likes range from good to terrible, though most tend to gravitate somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t help that their script wasn’t the greatest to begin with, either – some of the mid-level taunts by the characters are dreadful. Still, things could have been a lot worse.

So, no surprises then. Over the Hedge is exactly what you’d expect from a game conversion of a children’s animated movie – a by the numbers platformer/beat-em up game with zero appeal for older gamers, and only marginal appeal for the target demographic. It’s simplistic, repetitive and boring. Kids who loved the movie will find the two player mode interesting for a few hours, but beyond that, they’ll be looking for something else to play. Unless you’re seven years old and really, really love Over the Hedge, avoid.
The Score
Kids who loved the movie will like the game. Everybody else will be bored to tears. 4
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 years ago
"It's woodland critter Christmas!"

Hail Satan!
7 years ago
It would be best if no one buys E-rated games based on movies.
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