Publisher: Buena Vista
Release Date: October 11, 2005
What's up with this trend of making video games about movies that are over a decade old? First completely unlikely stuff like the Godfather and The Warriors, and now the cult stop-motion animation favorite The Nightmare Before Christmas. While we're at it, what's up with turning these movies into completely generic sorts of games? Godfather and The Warriors are mere GTA clones, while The Nightmare Before Christmas has inexplicably spawned a platformer. It's an interesting platformer, to be sure, but why release one now? Did everyone like the Halloween Town portion of Kingdom Hearts so much that it created a gigantic swell of demand for more Nightmare Before Christmas games?
Regardless of why this game exists, it does, and it promises to provide a very unusual take on the Nightmare Before Christmas world. The plot of Oogie's Revenge is that Oogie Boogie has somehow returned from being unraveled in the film, and is now out to wreck all Halloween in an effort to get back at Jack. In turn, Jack has picked up an elastic weapon called the Soul Robber and set off to put an end to Oogie once and for all. The course of Jack's quest takes him through all of the holiday worlds whose doors we see in the famous opening sequence of Nightmare Before Christmas, as well as most of the movie's major locations. On the way, Jack will be collecting all sorts of power-ups, beating up skeletons and ogres with the Soul Robber, and swinging his way through a wide variety of jumping puzzles.
This preview version of the game included three playable levels for… no real reason that I can think of; the game's import version has been out for over a year and already fully reviewed at some import sites. Anyway, the playable levels included in the build were 04 (The Graveyard), 16 (The Grisly Gauntlet), and 20 (Fire and Ice Frenzy). Level 04 is a pretty standard platformer fetch-quest with some cut scenes tacked on, 16 is a platforms-over-magma level, and 20 is a level designed to let you play around with Jack's two alternate forms. This does give a decent grasp of the combat engine, but doesn't allow a glimpse at the game's most tantalizing element, the other Holiday Worlds.
As platformers go, this seems to be one designed to be accessible to even the youngest of gamers. Each of the sections is fairly simple, the controls intuitive, and there's no limit on the number of times Jack can die. Even getting him killed is difficult – his life bar, represented as a series of pumpkins, is enormous. Most of the game's challenge in current form comes from the jumping puzzles, which rely less on jumping than they do on Jack swinging his Soul Robber to grab onto hook-like objects in the background. Jack can jump, but has a truly unusual jumping pattern. Tap the jump button once and he does a simple flip; twice, and he does a longer flip; three times, and he tucks into a tight ball and moves a long way forward; four times, and he lands on his toes and pirouettes across the landscape. His jump is actually far more useful for dodging enemy attacks than it is for getting over gaps and chasms, for which he'll usually rely on the Soul Robber.
Jack spends an inordinate amount of time fighting in this game, enough to give pause to a player used to his gentler film persona. It's simply very strange to see Jack handling obstacles in such a physical way. Most of the enemies he fights are skeletons modeled after the ones that appear in the brief Oogie Boogie sequence at the end of the film, but he also fights some completely random giant ogres and animated statues. The Soul Robber is a fun and responsive but generally overpowered weapon. Beating enemies is simple, and acquiring the 30 and 40 hit combos that make enemies drop extra coins, health restores, and other goodies when destroyed is not much tougher.
The controls will definitely not frustrate younger players, although the automatic camera angles can occasionally make hitting what you're aiming at difficult with certain maneuvers. Fortunately, there's a huge range of combat maneuvers at Jack's disposal, including dancing supers that throw musical notes, and a pirouette that spins the Soul Robber around to damage enemies. You can also use the Soul Robber to grab enemies and fling them around, which helps make combat more lively. Probably the single weirdest thing about combat is that the "This is Halloween" song from the movie cues up during each fight. Hearing music from the film in the game is cool, but that's hardly the context one would expect to hear a song like that.
Oogie's Revenge strains to resemble the original film as perfectly as it can, taking all of the NPC designs from the movie cast and incorporating all of the major film characters into the plot. The character's movements are authentic enough, with the opening video even re-enacting a moment from Jack and Sally's big love song. Still, the PS2 versions of the characters compare unfavorably to even the Kingdom Hearts versions of the characters, let alone to the maquettes and puppets used in the film. The cut scenes are decent, but there's an unpleasant grainy quality to the in-game textures. Still, with so many of the movie areas modeled faithfully, the world is plenty of fun to run around in. It also depicts the characters from angles not used in the film, such as the rear and rear-three-quarters view of Jack you see through most of the game.
As mentioned before, the game uses a lot of music clearly sampled from the film's original soundtrack. There is precious little music in the game otherwise, although there's a lot of appropriate platformer sound effects. A ton of voice acting makes up for the otherwise mostly-silent gameplay, including fully voice-acted cut scenes and even voice clips from Jack in battle; bizarrely, he announces many of his attacks before he does them, like an anime character! All of the voices sound identical to those in the original film, and there's a good chance at least some of the film's actors are reprising their roles.
Nightmare Before Christimas: Oogie's Revenge is a unique interpretation of the subject matter, and big fans of the film and those with little gamers in the house may want to check it out. Hey, nothing like a good excuse to make your kids watch the classics, right? The full version of the game will be out this October, appropriately enough, – just in time for Halloween.