“Monster vs. Aliens” encapsulates virtually every stereotype about bad videogame movie adaptations in one package. Derivative, repetitive and not so much inspired by the DreamWorks toon as a weak attempt to mimic it, the game seems built to appeal only to young kids with short attention spans and minimal skills. After the pic’s boffo opening, some tykes might be drawn to the game as a way to relive the film until the DVD release, but players of any age looking for an engaging videogame will be sorely disappointed.
The “Monsters vs. Aliens” film, like most DreamWorks Animated features, is full of jokes and allusions meant to appeal to adults. But Activision’s game has no such pretensions. Within the first 20 minutes, there are two belches and a fart. There’s no remotely challenging gameplay, as it cruises easily down the path of the movie’s events.
Players alternate among three styles of playing, each associated with one of the monsters. Susan (aka Ginormica, a fifty-foot tall woman) dons a pair of cars as roller-skates and hurtles down roads and corridors with minimal wriggling room. The Missing Link, a cross between an ape and a fish, smashes and bashes his way through robot enemies. And B.O.B., a blob, gets saddled with the platforming action, which includes a few minor puzzle challenges, the occasional turret shooting gallery, and some moderately clever gravity-bending levels.
There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done better in numerous other games. When the “God of War”-style button-pressing sequences, in which players just occasionally press buttons while watching a cutscene borrowed from the film, appear, it’s clear the developers have run out of ideas.
To its credit, “Monsters vs. Aliens” moves quickly. Though there’s not much variety (it’s probably not a good idea to have one of the characters regularly comment on how repetitive the game is), and it’s chopped into short alternating segments that might distract a child from noticing he or she is essentially replaying the same bits, but with a slightly different background.
Game follows the basic outline of the film, with a setpiece on the Golden Gate Bridge for instance, but none of the particulars. It seems like the developers at Beenox were given a cast of characters, a list of locations that had to be visited in order, and little else. Unlike the film, the humor here is mostly flat. In a clever idea to extend gameplay, each character has a “director’s commentary” — a set of alternate jokes the player will only hear when replaying a level.
There are plenty of unlockables in the “DNA lab,” which consists of a set of branching paths supposedly resembling a DNA strand (which it absolutely doesn’t). Here players are invited to spend their easily earned points unlocking concept art, character improvements and levels they’re already played that are repurposed as score-based challenges.
The cooperative multiplayer game is based on the system in “Super Mario Galaxy,” allowing a second player to move a cursor around the screen zapping bad guys. It’s a smart way to let very young kids watch and participate without having to learn to play the game proper.
Graphics are passable, recalling nicely the look and movements of the movie. Most of the movie’s voice talents are on hand and do solid work, including Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Will Arnett and Rainn Wilson. Since Hugh Laurie didn’t sound so much like Hugh Laurie in the movie, the use of a soundalike for his Dr. Cockroach is no great loss.