Developer: Vicarious Vision
Release Date: May 9, 2006
There is a "Calvin and Hobbes" comic that discusses the comparisons of paintings and comic strips, eventually culminating in the question of, "Suppose I draw a cartoon of a painting of a comic strip?" Over the Hedge brings that comic to mind almost immediately.
After all, what we're looking at is a video game based on a movie based on a newspaper comic strip. That's right, we're delving into the darkest territories of video games, territory only previously treaded by licenses such as Garfield and ... well, Garfield is just about it. It's fairly easy to assume that games based on movies based on comics tend to not be all that great, but it's an arguable point. After all, the Marvel comic books are still considered comics, and Spider Man 2 is one of the best movie licenses out there.
Sadly, Over the Hedge has more in common with its furry companions. While it's not a bad game by any textbook definition, it is one of those titles that features every warning sign that a system is on its last legs, a death knell for the Game Boy Advance, as it were. Games like this have been done on the Nintendo, the Super Nintendo, and the Sega Genesis ... and all of them are equally bland.
Over the Hedge, like many of its movie-license brethren, guides the player through the storyline of the movie, typically by controlling either Verne the tortoise, RJ the raccoon, or some of the movie's lesser characters. However, along with most movie tie-ins, if you have any interest in the game at all, you've already seen the movie, making a plot synopsis absolutely pointless. Ergo, the short and sweet of the game is:
The animals of the forest (particularly our aforementioned stars) need more food. Humans have been building housing progressively closer to the forest. Humans have food. Well, correction – they have hot dogs and Pringles. Either way, it's up to RJ and Verne to go, natch, over the hedge to snag some eats from their human adversaries.
That's what the game would like you to think. In reality, it's more like, "It's up to RJ and Verne to wander through a nondescript forest, enjoy some time dodging cars and children, whack a cat or two, and then play Obligatory Stealth Sequence. Then it's up to them to repeat." With exception of three end-game "boss fights" and roughly that many sequences interspersed throughout the title with different goals (in one level, Hammy the squirrel must defend RJ from angry Girl Scouts as the raccoon steals their wagon full of cookies), that's all the game is. In exactly that order.
You wander through a forest maze filled with puzzle-like logs and rocks to push and pull out of your way. Then, you travel down a busy city street, avoiding detection by adults and avoid getting run down by small children and automobiles. Then, you roam about a back yard, beating up dogs and cats ad nauseam. Finally, you spend some time sneaking around a house Metal Gear Solid-like, turning on and off strategic appliances to distract the adults inside from their posts, snagging the food, and again avoiding getting run down by little children who now bounce around less like adolescents and more like oxygen molecules. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The controls work as averagely as can be expected for such a task; there's never really a time that you curse the controls for being too loose and slippery, even though there are the usual nagging issues with hit detection. The control pad moves your character around, while the B button is used to push objects, pull objects, activate household appliances, and attack marauding felines. The A button, however, will simultaneously make you bless and curse the game. See, the A button allows RJ or Verne to run. Considering the typical plodding pace of the game (especially with Verne, but what do you expect with him being a turtle?), the ability to move faster is a godsend. Unfortunately, the designers had the hideously insane "bright" idea to include a stamina gauge that, naturally, depletes when you run. Let it run all the way out, and you drop back down to your previous crawling pace while you wait for it to recover. This is compounded by the fact that you tiptoe through the house levels, and walking at a normal (read: still slow) pace instead causes stamina to drain, making playing as Verne the turtle an exercise in irritation as he wavers between slow and hardly moving.
The sound, however, has no such graces; it's simply bad. A few sound-alikes give the heroes one-syllable snippets for clearing an area or for being vanquished. However, it's not enough to be anything more than ignorable at best. Sound effects are relatively inoffensive, with the exception of the game's score – in an attempt to be different, Over the Hedge throws out everything that made the movie's music pleasant and instead replaces it with tinny, repetitive NES-era muzak. It won't be long before someone owning the game will be playing it mute, and they're not missing a thing.
Graphically, the game is moderate, but not great. The levels are explored in the tried-and-true three-quarters isometric overhead, similar to Zelda or just about every other licensed game that isn't a side-scrolling platformer ever. Sprites are rendered nicely, having beautifully fluid animation and sporting looks taken directly from the officially rendered movie art. That's the case for the animals, at any rate. For the humans, you have three templates: the adult male, the adult female, and the children. These templates are then re-colored into generic Caucasian family and generic African-American family, though every last one of them acts the same in animation and scripting. A bit of interest may have been added to the game if they'd made adults do more than stand in one place or walk back and forth in a pacing circle.
When all is said and done, though, the game is completed. What reward do you get for your troubles? The ability to play those four levels again, in exactly that same order, except you get to choose which semi-random map to use!. Add in the fact that the game can be beaten, on Hard difficulty, in roughly three to four hours, and the fact that the "extras" you can buy simply amount to a handful of pointless upgrades and approximately 50 pieces of clutter for your forest hub, and you've got a game that simply fails to have any replay value whatsoever.
Over the Hedge is not a good game. The other renditions of the movie are better executed, more inspired, and indeed simply better games. Repetitive, bland gameplay, boring yet decent graphics and controls, and abysmal audio make this a title that will have people lining up at the local game hawker to trade it in for something better. To quote that "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip, "Sophomoric. Intellectually sterile. 'Low' art."
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