Sometimes, a movie just flops. There's nothing that can be done about it – it may be hated by critics, ignored by the movie-going masses, or just a bad movie all around. Fear of the possible box office bomb is what causes so much stock to be placed into movie licenses. From t-shirts to action figures to fast food promotions, the producers license out the movie's characters, plot, and name to make those who did enjoy the movie spend even more money on it, and to hopefully hook a few extra consumers into spending that coveted $7.50 to see the movie.
Naturally, video games are prime territory for licenses – after all, that's 30 to 50 dollars someone can spend on that movie, and even if the movie producers only get a fraction of video game royalties, it's still enough to help cover costs. Sadly, the majority of movie-licensed video games rank from "terrible" to "slightly less terrible." Licenses often go out to the lowest bidder, the company that will spend the least of a movie's budget making the game. This leads to companies with low or no public image - like Avalanche Software, makers of the Tak series of platformers - being the ones responsible for bringing your beloved and sometimes not-so-beloved movies to the consoles and handhelds. Many times, the "lowest bidder" approach leads to slipshod games that have had little to no testing, have very poor graphics and gameplay, and even poorer sound.
In the best case, you usually end up with a game that copies another, far more popular game, but fails on one or more fundamental levels. For instance, the number of licensed movie games that built their gameplay off of Super Mario 64 is staggering, and at some points humbling. In the worst case, you end up with an unplayable waste of plastic and money, like E.T. for the Atari 2600, or more recently, the game based off the recent movie adaptation of The Cat in The Hat. Perhaps, once in a blue moon, a company will pop up out of nowhere, and you'll get a stellar game like Spider-Man 2 or The Chronicles of Riddick.
Some of the best and the worst games alike have been made off of the licenses to Disney movies; for every diamond in the rough like the Genesis and SNES adaptations of Aladdin, there are games like Beauty and the Beast: Roar of the Beast and Toy Story, which make small children cry. A four-paragraph rant about licensed games isn't here for no reason, however. It's all backdrop for one simple statement: Chicken Little, at least in its GBA incarnation, brings to mind nightmares of the worst of Disney's lot.
Chicken Little is the story of, well, Chicken Little. After the acorn incident (a wide-spread hysteria that one could learn about by picking up a book or seeing the movie), Little is hanging out with the loser patrol, the school's rejects and nobodies. Ostracized by his neighbors and his father alike, it's only natural that nobody believes him when an oddly hexagonal piece of the sky falls out of, well, the sky, and clobbers him upside the noggin. After examining it, the sky-piece turns out to be some sort of odd alien device, the first piece in an alien abduction plot, or so it is to be believed.
The game places you in the shoes of Little, relying on his trusty yo-yo and oddly lacking jumping skills (well, he is a chicken) to traverse levels and generally go from point A to point B, collecting acorns along the way and using them to buy extras and power-ups. He has a few tricks up his sleeve, including a yo-yo attack, a slightly more powerful yo-yo attack, a head-first ground pounding maneuver which may be more than a little masochistic, a slightly different and more powerful yo-yo attack, a jetpack fueled by a shaken cola bottle, and a yo-yo swing which could only have been inspired by somebody named Belmont. In addition, special medallions strewn across the levels allow you to transform into Captain Ace Little, the Hollywood rendition of the plucky chicken, who attacks by punching and shooting things and only dies with the onset of full frontal nudity. I wish I could make this up, folks, but this is indeed a Disney game where you witness mosaicked-out chicken nuggets.
Sadly, the game doesn't live up to its strangely quirky nature, for several reasons. To start, the graphics are average at best, possibly below the bar set nowadays. Looking much like a first-generation Game Boy Advance title, sprites are only moderately animated, and due to the quirky nature of the character designs, look quite unappealing. The cut scenes are done in the typical talking-head fashion, portraying renderings of the characters' mugs as they swap trite exposition and one-liners at one another. They're perhaps a bit too unclear, however. Only after seeing official art did I realize that Buck Cluck, Little's father, had a beak and not an enormous red clown-like nose. Backgrounds, likewise, are bland and listless, though it is fairly easy to tell background apart from foreground.
Sound is just kind of there. There aren't any particularly stirring tunes in the game, but nothing that will make you scramble for the volume control. There's no voice acting, which is to be expected, though is a bit of a downer because Captain Ace lacks the same panache he would normally have when voiced by the legendary Adam West. Sound effects are neither impressive nor frightening, blending in too well to the background to really take too much notice.
The control is solid, but throughout playing the game, it always seemed to fall just short of being solid enough. When performing normal tasks, the buttons were fairly responsive, but when it was something that could potentially damage our hero, it seemed to be all that could be done to keep it from being avoided. Aiming is particularly troublesome, especially due to the odd nature of Ace's enormous torso. However, the control isn't the real problem. Instead, it's a problem far more sinister and subtle - the difficulty.
When you first play Chicken Little, you're greeted with a game suitable for small children. The puzzles are easy, the action is mild, and life loss is uncommon at worst. Then, Little decides to go to the movie theatre, and you're shoved into a level whereupon you play as only Ace. These levels are slightly maze-like, and filled with enemies that are a little more dangerous than the photographers that Little has been facing thus far. Nothing too bad comes your way, until the end of the level, where you're pitted up against an alien leader.
These are the game's equivalent to "boss fights" – there are three movie levels, each one ending with a different alien. They also remind gamers old and new of the definition of "cheap shots," as they use things such as homing projectiles and entirely-too-large hitboxes to score easy damage on your hero. A small child will be infuriated to tears on any of these bosses, and I myself saw more chicken pantslessness than I've ever wanted to in life, enough so that by the second boss, I refused to play the game for several days lest I throw the Game Boy through a window.
In addition, the game has dodgeball and racing mini-games. The dodgeball is fairly inoffensive, seeming like a less-fun version of Super Dodgeball. The racing, however, would be playable only if you weren't being flanked on all sides by aliens with aim that would put CIA snipers to shame. Shots only slow down your vehicle or make it spin out so you can't die in the racing segments, but what you can do is run out of time. Run out of time, and you're forced to do the whole thing over again, from the beginning. Naturally, this wouldn't be a problem if you could just ignore it, but like any sane game developer, they made the bloody thing mandatory to complete the game. A note for aspiring game developers: please, if you want to include mini-games in your titles that are both nothing like the main game and incredibly or unfairly challenging, don't make them mandatory. That just bores folks who can beat them and infuriates the rest of us.
Chicken Little, like the movie, seems to be halfway decent but crumbles to dust under a critical eye. Were the bosses and the racing game removed, this might actually be a worthwhile purchase for a child or a fan of the movie, but as it stands, Chicken Little reached for the sky and instead got an acorn thrown at its head. Pass this one up, folks, and maybe consider the console renditions of the license.
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