Developer: Traveler’s Tales
Release Date: May 9, 2003
You’ve seen the movie, now play the videogame. Or at least that is what Disney, Pixar Animation Studios, and THQ are hoping you’ll do. The multi-billion dollar trifecta of collaborations that includes Box Office, DVD, and interactive media sales has been lining the pockets of programmers and Hollywood executives alike for quite some time, but only very recently has the three aforementioned forms of revenue been so closely allied. Back when you could assign one guy to program a game with a deadline of three months and then slap a big franchise name on it and expect huge returns, Hollywood and the videogame industry weren’t nearly as reliant on one another; if the movie made money the game made money. It was pretty cut and dry. I suppose the same is true today to a certain extent, but things are starting to look up. Now videogames based on movies aren’t developed solely with the idea of quickly cashing in on a craze (though there are some exceptions), and instead focus more on delivering quality entertainment that compliments its big-screen counterpart. Finding Nemo is one of those movie-based games that will sell by the truckload thanks to the name to which it is attached, but will also provide small-time videogame reviewers and hopeful renters with a surprisingly entertaining – albeit somewhat brief – time.
Obviously, Finding Nemo is targeted towards the younger crowd of gamers, and as such it will certainly not disappoint. But what is really surprising is that even by typical gamer standards it proves to be a truly noteworthy adventure. Sure the game tends to err a bit on the simplistic side, and anyone over 13 will probably beat it in under five hours, but that doesn’t change the fact that you’ll be having fun the entire time which is, really, what matters. To hate on Finding Nemo would be akin to despising puppies; the game is just so damned cute, functional and easy-going that you can’t help but fall in love. Well, “love” might not be the right word, but I couldn’t put the controller down until I seen everything there was to see in the game, and normally I can’t stand games targeted towards a younger audience, which should say something.
Not much setup is required for Finding Nemo’s storyline since it perfectly follows the film’s script, and as such revolves around “Finding Nemo.” But perhaps some acclimation with the plot is necessary; Nemo is a Clown Fish that goes a-swimmin’ where he ain’t ‘sposed to be a-swimmin’ and through a series of circumstances gets lost and eventually winds up in a dentists office fish tank with an assortment of other aquatic personalities. So Marlin, the daddy Clown Fish, sets out to find his son Nemo and in the process teams up with a forgetful fish named Dory. Most of the game is played through their perspective, though there are quite a few stages where you’ll play as the game’s titular protagonist.
The gameplay in Finding Nemo transitions flawlessly between in-game side-scrolling navigation, forward-moving chase sequences, follow-the-leader and DVD quality clips from the film. The whole adventure is tied together nicely through this series of events and as a result keeps up a healthy momentum all the way to the end credits. Each of the two dozen or so stages puts you in control of either Nemo, Marlin, or Dory – though there is very little difference in how they move. Nemo and Marlin are virtually identical except for the fact that Marlin is a bit bigger. Dory is the fastest of the three. Moving around consists only of tilting the L-analog stick in the direction you want to swim, or holding X and using the L-analog to move around in the forward-moving sequences. You can hit the square button to make your fish quickly dash ahead in short bursts. That’s pretty much all there is to the control scheme. Nice and simple.
It’s the levels that you are dropped into that really make this game shine. While they aren’t the most innovative or complex levels, they are presented in a very solid and entertaining way. Each level has its own style of action revolving around the game’s simplistic control scheme. For instance, in one level you’ll play as Nemo in a elaborate fish-tank full of see-through swimming tubes, fish toys, and bubbly treasure chests -- exploring the various nooks and crannies in an attempt to find all the other fish that dwell within it. In another level you’ll play as Marlin, moving towards the camera in a chase sequence that involves a giant shark trying to eat you after catching a whiff of your tasty blood. There are puzzle-style levels where you bounce atop rows of jellyfish while steering clear of roving crabs, and there are stages where you must navigate sewage pipes while dealing with differently directed currents. In terms of presentation the game’s stages are incredibly diverse and original. Kids will love it and grown-ups will, too.
To help extend the game’s replay value, there are various sub-quests in each level that usually revolve around swimming through every ring or collecting every item; by doing this you’ll earn a starfish. Each starfish that you acquire allows you to play a challenging mini-game at the end of the level, and if you manage to beat the mini-game you’ll get to scope out all sorts of nifty illustrations, some of which are purely conceptual inspiration pieces. Every stage has at least one unlockable mini-game, some of which are actually quite challenging. It’s nice that THQ went to the effort of including these entertaining diversions since most people will beat the game in a single day.
Visually, Finding Nemo is a great-looking game, closely resembling the source material in every way. Nemo and company animate incredibly smoothly and respond realistically to user input and their unique environments. Speaking of the environments, every single one of them seems to have received a lion’s share of attention to detail, the likes of which are right on par with the technical brilliance of other movie-games like last year’s Two Towers or the recently released The Hulk. It seems developers are finally starting to put forth the effort required to undoubtedly satiate the expectations of fans of the movie on which the game is based. The interspersed cut-scenes which appear before and after every level meld believably into the actual gameplay and, as cut-scenes in videogames go, are some of the most high-quality pre-rendered work you’ll see this side of Final Fantasy: TSW or Onimusha 2. The sound in Finding Nemo is also quite good, though as is the case with most games; it doesn’t particularly stand out and force you to take notice. But the music is good, the sound effects are good, and the professional voice-acting is great.
When it comes right down to it, Finding Nemo is just a clean, honest, straightforward, and overall fun game. It may not be for the hardcore gamer that demands maximum difficulty from their games, and most older gamers may feel a little embarrassed to play it in front of their friends, but who cares? The game is fun and that’s all that really matters. So in conclusion: Moms, don’t be afraid to pick this game up for your kids. Kids, tell your moms thank you. Everybody else, give Finding Nemo a rental, you’ll be glad you did.