Developer: Edge of Reality
Release Date: May 9, 2006
Longtime gamers already know to avoid most movie adaptations. While a gem may occasionally sneak through, most are either hastily prepared cash-ins or are too limited by the source material to be enjoyable. The games don't seem to be getting better, but I think the developers have given up on making movie-based titles into unique experiences and have instead decided to focus them heavily on action.
I jumped at the chance to review Over the Hedge, as my GameCube has largely been collecting dust for the last year. I was expecting a quirky, creative platform game along the lines of Ratchet and Clank, but instead found it to be an average hodgepodge of genres. Just last week, I was playing X-Men: The Official Game, another movie tie-in published by Activision. Though X-Men puts more emphasis on adventure, the two are similar in many ways. Both feature over two dozen missions yet can be completed in an evening. Both rely heavily on hack-and-slash action, despite being of different genres. Most importantly, both become tiresome long before they end, despite their respectively short lengths.
Over the Hedge is based upon the Dreamworks CG-animated film of the same name, which was recently released to positive reviews and a second-place finish to "The Da Vinci Code." The film follows the exploits of RJ the raccoon, Verne the turtle, Stella the skunk, and Hammy the squirrel as they fight off the suburban sprawl that popped up while they were hibernating. Bruce Willis, Garry Shandling, and Steve Carell lend their voices to the film, and Ben Folds provided several original tracks to the soundtrack. I have yet to see the film, though I have heard that the narrative does a so-so job of appealing to both adults and children.
The game version of Over the Hedge has much in common with the film, though some noticeable concessions were made, especially in regards to the audio. When starting the game, I was greeted with an obnoxiously poor instrumental version of Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs." Considering the large amount of audio already in the title, I was surprised that they couldn't squeeze a small portion of the original version on the disc. Once in the game, I found the voice acting to be very respectable, though a quick glance at the instruction manual shows that the actors are sound-alikes. Stephen Stanton may be no Bruce Willis, but he does a pretty solid job as RJ the raccoon.
Visually, the game is decidedly less impressive than the film, though that was certainly expected. The in-game graphics are serviceable, though often dark and with poor texturing. I have to wonder if this is a downgrade specific to the GameCube version, as the discs hold much less data than those for the PlayStation 2 or Xbox. Most of the cinematics use the in-game engine, though a handful of major ones attempt to recreate the CG look from the film using pre-rendered shots. These actually do a pretty commendable job, though the edges are not as smooth as in the film.
Over the span of 35 missions, gamers will run, jump, and fight during a series of food heists. Each mission puts you in control of two of the four animals, though each character is essentially the same. I stuck with the raccoon with 'tude and the hyper squirrel (RJ and Hammy) most of the time. Each of the missions has a handful of primary and secondary objectives, which add up to a total of 135 for the entire game. Mini-games and special attacks are opened by completing a certain amount of objectives, so the title does feature a bit of replay value.
Over the Hedge features an excessive amount of cartoon violence, which led to its E10+ rating. I fought enough mind-controlled rats to last me two lifetimes, I swear. Each character has three attack choices: the B button is used for melee attacks, the Y button for special moves, and the X button for projectile throwing. As mentioned earlier, you have two characters at any given time, with the computer controlling whichever character you are not controlling. The computer characters do not fight with much intensity, and actually get you in trouble at times when dealing with moving laser grids.
If you have the urge to use the squirrel instead of the raccoon, simply press the Z button to switch, though the difference is negligible. One benefit of having two characters at once is that a second human player can join in for co-op play. Otherwise, you might as well just have one character at your disposal. The gameplay places an emphasis on destruction, as many pieces in the environment can be destroyed at will. Doing so can uncover items that level up your life bar, as well as glowing DVDs that unlock in-game movies and music. Defeated enemies also drop tortilla chips and hard candy. These animals do not understand the importance of nutrition!
While the gameplay is not particularly bad in any way, it does become extremely repetitive. Most of the missions find you carrying out a heist, and all of the heists are very similar in structure. Here is how each of them went: fight enemy animals, avoid traps, get into the house, fight more enemies, steal the food, avoid cars, and then protect your food wagon from even more enemies. Toss in a couple of boss fights and you have gameplay gold, right? Not quite. I was able to complete the game in less than five hours, and I still thought there was way too much repetition. I hesitate to call it a cash-in, but there is little evidence to the contrary.
Luckily, the unlockable mini-games are actually quite fun, ratcheting up the replay value several notches. Three mini-games are available: R.C. Rally, Range Driver, and BumperCarts. R.C. Rally is an amusing racing game featuring R.C. cars, while Range Driver has the animals aiming golf balls at various targets. The best of all is BumperCarts, which tosses you in a golf cart in an enclosed area as you try to take down the others. These may not be full-featured games, but they are amusing distractions that will keep you occupied for an additional hour or so.
Before concluding, it seems important to consider how children and parents will view Over the Hedge. As a cynical college student, I did not find a whole lot to love about this game, and certainly would not buy it for myself. Luckily, I was able to watch my young nephew play it after seeing the film, and he loved it. He laughed at the jokes and was deeply focused in on the missions. Like any decent game based on an animated movie, it will not be a regrettable purchase if your child loved the film. The concept of thieving animals committing acts of violence might be worth pondering a bit, but it's doubtful that your children will think too deeply about it.
One line in the game struck me as particularly amusing: One of the animals sarcastically asks, "What's more fun than doing something over and over again?" I had to write it down, as it perfectly described my own attitude towards the title. Does anyone really enjoy the monotonous hours of battling that make up many of today's movie-based games? I am not asking for a lot; I just want a movie game to expand the film's original premise and present some creative gameplay in the process. Over the Hedge is a decent game based upon a decent film, but is probably not worth your time unless you loved the film or are under 10 years of age.
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