A humorous ensemble film about self-discovery turns into an unoriginal two-character action game with nothing to say in “Bolt,” Disney’s competent but uninspired adaptation of the new toon. All but erased are the film’s comedy, its best supporting characters — and even the titular canine’s ability to talk. In its place is a hybrid of “God of War” and “Tomb Raider” that’s simultaneously too difficult and too lacking in key elements from its bigscreen inspiration to get the target kiddie aud panting.
It’s to Disney’s credit that it avoided a note-for-note rehash of the movie’s plot. But “Bolt” strays way too far, failing to come within even barking distance of the movie’s trek-across-America storyline or its themes of finding the hero within oneself. Rather than taking on the admittedly difficult challenge of addressing the movie’s story of a dog who discovers his life as a superhero is just a show, the game embraces that show, sending Bolt on a globe-hopping adventure in which he can shoot laser beams from his eyes, rip through steel with his jaws, and blast bad guys with a supersonic bark. It’s like making a “Superman” videogame in which Kal-El never leaves Krypton.
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For a movie that plays so well as an ensemble, one could never guess from the game that it’s about anyone but a dog and his owner. Key characters like Rhino, the manic hamster in a ball, and the wisecracking trio of pigeons play little or no role. What’s more, since the game takes place inside the fiction of Bolt as an action star, he doesn’t even speak. This robs the game of a lot of the movie’s charm and will disappoint children looking for more of their favorite bigscreen personalities.
Gameplay is divided between Bolt and his owner, Penny. The Bolt portions of the game are mostly combat arenas inspired by the action game “God of War.” Fighting is based on button combos, special attacks and plenty of deft fingerwork. These brawls quickly get repetitive, and they’ll be far too frustrating for younger kids or casual players. It also borders on inappropriately violent for younger fans of the PG-rated toon. The action is very cartoony, but there’s no mistaking that bad guys are perishing, some in rather gruesome ways.
Penny avoids action in favor of sneaking past bad guys, tossing sleeping gas bombs and hacking into computers, which is represented by a sloppy arcade game obviously modeled after downloadable hit “Geometry Wars.” The inspiration for most of the Penny sections is clearly “Tomb Raider,” complete with switches, sliding platforms, rotating platforms, perilous jumps and various other things players have seen before in better games.
“Bolt” looks quite good, with vividly animated characters, vibrant locations and lots of stuff that blows up when the heroic canine lets loose. Unfortunately, many of the levels simply repeat entire areas to pad out the playing time. The conceit of an episodic TV show is all but wasted after it’s introduced. Rather than framing the action with episodes, as was done in Ubisoft’s “Lost” videogame, “Bolt” plays like any old adventure game, with one obligatory level after the other until it ends with an whimper.