Developer: Edge of Reality
Release Date: May 2, 2006
Yes, it's a cliché to bring up the bit about disappointing video games based on movie licenses, but Activision has proven to be the exception to the rule, with a string of lucrative titles based on DreamWorks animated films, such as Madagascar, Shrek Superslam, and Shark Tale. Accompanying the release of the upcoming movie of the same name, Over the Hedge continues Activision's winning streak and offers a fun-filled action/adventure experience that will allow audiences to prolong their enjoyment of the film.
A new housing complex is starting to encroach upon nature, so players adopt the roles of RJ the raccoon, Hammy the squirrel, Verne the turtle, and Stella the skunk to navigate a suburban neighborhood, rescue friends, and snag some food. Each character can jump, double-jump, attack, perform a ranged attack, and possesses a special skill, from RJ's "golf ball barrage" to Stella's "stink." When ranged attacks are initiated, the game's auto-aim determines the target, but if you have a different mark in mind, you can move the reticle. As players progress, the characters will receive new tools and armor, and acquire upgraded abilities and combo attacks.
The game is based on the last 10 minutes of the film and expands upon it to offer 35 levels of instantly accessible play, including a bunch of new locations that don't appear in the film. Each level consists of primary and secondary objectives; primary objectives must be fulfilled in order to pass the stage, while secondary goals are optional. You can demolish items in the environment for food, health, and unlockables such as music, art, film clips, and three mini-games.
Although there are four playable characters, you will always navigate the levels as a team of two. You control one of them, with the other half of the duo controlled by the AI, and you can swap between the pair without having to go into a game menu. The forest acts as a lobby, and from here, players can change team members, select their next mission, or opt to play any mini-games you've unlocked (Golf Cart Derby, RC Car Racing, or Suburban Mini Golf).
Over the Hedge will offer 10-12 hours of diverse gameplay. While the basic premise is to gather food and rescue friends, you'll encounter a variety of enemies that will need a good clubbing, such as groundhogs and rabbits that are being manipulated with mind-control helmets. You'll also encounter enemies such as Vincent the bear, Nugent the dog, the Verminator, and Gladys Sharp, president of the homeowners' association.
Throughout the game, you'll encounter homages to a variety of other titles – Metal Gear Solid, when you jump over laser beams; Dance Dance Revolution, when you disarm an alarm by following a button-pressing sequence; and Frogger, when you lead your characters through the horrors of suburban traffic.
In one of the levels, Ozzie the possum tosses food from the window of a house, and the two playable characters have to catch the food and load it into the wagon. The number and type of required items is clearly denoted in the upper left-hand corner in a large font. Co-operative gameplay can be exercised here; you can each catch and unload the items, or form an assembly line and hand off the items to your teammate. Afterwards, the characters must protect Ozzie as he wheels the cart back to the forest.
(As a side note – Nugent the dog and Ozzie the possum? We definitely have some classic rock fans in the house.)
Since Over the Hedge will attract more of a casual and young gamer audience, the gameplay is far less demanding, allowing for slower response times and not providing the ability to change the camera angle.
Graphically, Over the Hedge is on par with other titles based on animated films, and it boasts colorful, detailed, and sharp environments. It has a cartoony look and feel, and the characters will resemble their movie counterparts quite closely. The Xbox version looked the best of them all, with the PS2 and GameCube iterations looking comparable in quality.
In the audio department, the characters are all voiced by sound-alikes. Since the game is based on the last 10 minutes of the movie and expands from there, the developers couldn't use the same audio tracks that had been laid down for the film. More than likely, it would have been too expensive to bring in the voice actors just for the game, since the cast includes high-profile talent such as Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, William Shatner, Avril Lavigne, Eugene Levy, Nick Nolte, and Wanda Sykes.
Although the entire game is playable as a co-op title, multiplayer mayhem can be unleashed in one of the three unlockable mini-games. Golf Cart Derby is very much like Twisted Metal, only without guns; you race around the golf course in carts against Gladys and the Verminator. There are controls to accelerate, reverse, and boost, and the winner is the last man standing. Your opponents don't have health bars, though, so it's a little difficult to know how close you are to defeating them. We didn't get a chance to play the other mini-games, but RC Car Racing will most likely resemble Mario Kart, and Suburban Mini Golf, based on RJ's ranged attack, will probably be some form of target practice.
While animated movies easily appeal to both young and old, it's more difficult for video games to achieve that delicate middle ground. It's safe to say that Over the Hedge is more geared towards the younger and casual gaming audience. It's also tough to classify the title, since it comes off as a collection of mini-games, rather than a linear gaming experience. With its gentle learning curve, Over the Hedge will be accessible and fun to just about any gamer, whether playing solo or cooperatively with a buddy.
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