Alvin and the Chipmunks

"Alvin and the Chipmunks" was obviously made with the youngest of gamers in mind, but even they will find little to squeak about in this quickie film license. It's a rhythm game without rhythm, a road-to-fame story that goes nowhere, and a toon title short on actual animation.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” was obviously made with the youngest of gamers in mind, but even they will find little to squeak about in this quickie film license. It’s a rhythm game without rhythm, a road-to-fame story that goes nowhere, and a toon title short on actual animation. Though the name alone may generate some initial interest, word will quickly get out that in the burgeoning field of music games, the “Chipmunks” don’t measure up.

The titular rodent-musicians have a relatively diverse array of 40 songs to cover in this first title from movie-to-game specialist Brash Entertainment. Tracks include The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky,” and Smashmouth’s “All Star,” all of which are accurately captured in the trio’s signature squeal.

Players can “quick play” individual songs, watch non-interactive “videos” of Alvin and pals rocking out, or square off against a friend in split-screen mode, but most of the tracks must first be unlocked by completing the game’s story mode.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a story here as the chipmunks try to warble their way to stardom. There’s not even an introductory video. Players simply click “story mode” and have to complete three songs before getting the first cut scene, which is actually just a bunch of static renders that look nothing like the animation in the film, with badly produced voiceovers that literally crackle and pop like an old cassette recorder. At the end, the screen simply fades to black. If there’s one thing kids want, it’s a sense of accomplishment. But Alvin, Simon and Theodore don’t even give thumbs up for a job well done.

Biggest problem with “Alvin and The Chipmunks,” however, is the game’s rhythm mechanics, which continually fall out of sync with a song’s beat. In the Wii version, success hinges on wiggling the remote as stars fired from a center point pass diagonally over any of four “star target” corners. But robbed of a stable rhythmic pulse, players are forced to ignore the beat and focus on capricious visual cues, which wrecks any sense of “rocking out” with the Chipmunks.

Visual layout doesn’t help. Other rhythm games typically employ one or two trigger points close together so the eye doesn’t have to wander, but “Alvin” forces players to track no less than four, spaced far apart, and then crowds the screen with disruptive pyrotechnics. Blocking the view is certainly one way to raise the difficulty in a game that depends on precise timing.

If nothing else, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” does have one of the most bizarrely amusing sequences in any videogame this year, thanks to the inclusion of Collective Soul’s “December.” Nothing’s as surreal as hearing Alvin and his chipper pals belting “turn your head, now baby just spit me out.”

Alvin and the Chipmunks

Production: A Brash Entertainment presentation of a game developed by Sensory Sweep Studios and licensed by 20th Century Fox for the PC, PlayStation 2 and Wii. Reviewed on Wii. Rated E. $20 - $50.

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