Release Date: May 4, 2004
Shrek 2 does strange and unnatural things to me.
It draws me in with the siren calls of luscious graphics, faithful voice acting, characters which are many and whose powers are varied, and interesting and innovative play mechanics.
Yet, once I am lured into its clutches, it never fails—the more I play, the more I am doomed to slumber, never to wake until the system is powered off. Even afterwards, it takes me a while to fully recover.
Not having seen the movie version of Shrek 2, I an not fully sure how close an adaptation this title is. Still, the storyline in the game continues where the first movie left off. Shrek, a big green ogre, used to be an introvert before meeting and marrying the love of his life, a female ogre princess named Fiona. Afterwards, Shrek decides to meet Fiona’s parents as part of the whole courtship deal; the only problem is that they live Far Far Away—literally; Far Far Away is actually what Fiona’s kingdom is called.
Thus begins a romp through parody after parody of popular fairy tales, nursery rhymes and children’s book characters that range from the humorous to the sadistic to the sarcastic. Also, before you ask: yes, Prerequisite Evil Powers(tm) will threaten the land, and Shrek and his friends will have to go stop them.
So, good news first.
This game looks absolutely stellar. The second you start the game, you’re assaulted with rich, lush environments that look almost real, and that are definitely in keeping with the Shrek universe. The character models themselves look much better from a distance than they do up close, but even they’re no slouches. The game uses the power of the Xbox to have multitudes of models onscreen to either fight or simply serve as background atmosphere.
As far as the characters themselves go, they’re quite a bit of fun to play as. In an attempt to outbid such dynamic teammate-switch action games as Sonic Heroes and Mega Man X7, Shrek 2 allows for four playable characters at a time—and they are all playable by humans if one so wishes. People can join in at any time, and leave at any time, thanks to the system’s controller detection; unused characters are controlled by the CPU, and can be switched among by any human players present at the time. Innovation such as this is highly welcome in action games, and I personally wish to see more of this in the future.
The cast of characters, as mentioned before, is quite varied, and are all given special powers with which to kick their own brand of butt. In no other game will you be able to play as a ninja cookie, an ogre who can implement bullet-time or a donkey who can kick you to the moon and crack a good number of chuckle-worthy jokes afterwards, or an apple-grenade-chucking Red Riding Hood.
…no, wait, actually, that last one’s been done before. Oh, well. You get the point.
So far, it would seem that Activision did everything right. However, the grass is not completely green in this field.
The sound is a mixed bag—and not a balanced mix, either. On the good side, the voice acting is well-done and faithful to the characters. However, aside from cutscene dialogue, they’re not given a very impressive array of soundbites, and there is next to no interaction or chemistry between the characters a la Sonic Heroes or EA’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action game. Gameplay consists of disembodied witty quips thrown out every once in a while.
The soundtrack… perhaps this is a matter of personal taste, but I cannot condone it at all. When I play a game focused this much on action and fighting, I expect the music to match. But so much of the music was a constant lullaby—completely unfitting for an action game, and more fit for either a cultured night out with the Philharmonic… or a Squaresoft role-playing game. It’s hard for me to get pumped to kick some evil villain butt with my bare fists and feet and special powers when I’m hearing elevator tunes or pristine forest music in the background.
This brings us to the gameplay itself. Now, as I’ve said before, when it comes to the cast of characters, the play style, and even the AI, it is easy to see that great care and attention was given to all of these factors. Using Shrek and company, with the varied cast, game mechanics and special powers is a blast—it’s plain to see that the designers knew early on that the Shrek license had to be taken to the limit.
It’s a shame, then, to see all of these wonderful characters and controls wasted on dull, boring, and unoriginal levels, objectives, fetch quests, mini-games, and platform “challenges”—and that last term is used loosely. The player is even given unlimited lives in order to get through these stages and quests. Objectives can be filled in order to boost the statistics of your team, such as strength and speed, but they are so mundane and mediocre that it’s nigh-impossible to get up the motivation to undertake them.
Many of the game’s stages can simply be completed by following the given path to its completion, while idly beating things up along the way. Should a life be “lost” for some reason (and it’s often hard to discern exactly what that reason might be), the team is started right where they left off, with no consequences whatsoever. At the end of each stage is a final challenge which tests dexterity and hand-eye coordination; these are the hardest parts of the game, and even they can be won with a little persistence, due to the infinite-lives clause.
Shrek 2 is a textbook case of a good idea executed badly; at least, from a serious gamer’s perspective. The mediocrity and leniency of the game makes it a nice diversion for the kiddies, which also shows innovation and promise; but in its current state, it is lacking for anyone looking for a substantial gaming experience.
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