Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Release Date: December 5, 2006
Being a gaming journalist affords me several opportunities that I would not have (or bother to embrace) as a general consumer. For example, I get to play a significant amount of the licensed games on the market, especially during the spring and summer months. While this can occasionally be an undesirable experience, I have found many of the games based on CG-animated films over the last year to be surprisingly solid.
From Cars to Barnyard, the recent crop of console games based on CG blockbusters (or would-be ones) has been better than expected. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown for the Wii continues this trend. Originally released in March 2006 for the last generation of consoles, Ice Age 2 is not the quick and dirty port that you might expect. With sharper visuals and a solid Wiimote control scheme, Ice Age 2 helps fill the action/platform gap currently left unfilled by Mario & co.
Ice Age 2: The Meltdown follows the events of the film of (almost) the same name, "Ice Age: The Meltdown." Manny (the mammoth), Sid (the sloth), and Diego (the saber-toothed tiger) all return from the original film and find themselves facing what could be their final adventure. With the ice melting all around them, it may be the end of days for this crazy cast of animated characters. It's up to them to find their way to a mythical boat that can take them to safety.
However, Ice Age 2 actually puts you in the paws of Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel. Though not part of the main crew (largely due to the fact that he does not speak), he occasionally interacts with the other characters and serves a major role in the films. Being a fictional squirrel, Scrat clearly has an unquenchable desire for acorns. As such, the levels in Ice Age 2 are absolutely littered with the multi-colored nuts, and collecting 1,000 or more in each set of similarly themed levels will unlock a bonus interview with one of the game's voice actors.
Aside from collecting copious amounts of acorns (which seem to serve no other purpose other than unlocking the interviews), the majority of the gameplay is fairly similar to most other 3D action/platform games on the market. Like Super Mario 64 and Daxter before it, your goal is to move around interactive 3D environments and complete a variety of tasks. Navigating the environments may include double-jumping from iceberg to iceberg, climbing along the "walls" inside of a giant fish, and swimming through underwater tunnels.
The actual tasks vary by level but often involve doing some kind of favor for a non-playable character, who in return does something to help you progress further into the narrative. In the forest stages, you will interact with a fructose-intolerant bear who needs to eat but is unable to move. To appease the bear, you must fool a rhino into ramming into a tree, which will drop apples for you to carry to the bear. Once the bear is appeased, he can use his "special wind powers" to propel you up to a series of ledges to gain the walnuts you need to progress. Hooray for adolescent humor!
Controlling Scrat is a much more fluid experience than expected, thanks to the comfortably mapped control scheme. Using both the Wiimote and Nunchuk attachment, the standard control scheme is complex enough to allow for a number of unique actions, yet simple enough to figure out without having to re-read the instruction booklet. Basic movement is controlled via the Nunchuk's analog stick, while the camera can be adjusted with the d-pad on the Wiimote. Jumping is mapped to the A button, while the C button serves both as a use/talk button and a way for Scrat to sniff out hidden goods. Holding Z makes use of the first-person viewpoint, and you can throw rocks in either perspective by clicking the B trigger.
The unique nature of the Wiimote comes into play when attacking, as the motion-sensing capabilities are put to good use. By swiping the Wiimote to the right or left, Scrat will attack whoever lies in his path. Additionally, a number of special moves can be executed via a combination of button and motion commands, such as the Ground Stomp and Roll Attack. Attacked enemies typically do not die — they merely are knocked out for a short time. While I understand the desire to keep death out of a game rated E10+, it is quite annoying to have "defeated" enemies on your tail again after 20 seconds.
Motion controls also come into play during Ice Age 2's mini-games, which range from bowling to tossing projectiles at monkeys. Sid's Slippery Sloth Slide Challenge is the best of the pack, as you are tasked with navigating an icy downhill path filled with rocks and other obstacles. Though the Wiimote is not used for steering Sid down the slope, it does come into play during the short intervals after a huge jump, while Sid is floating through the air. In a mode that lightly recalls Dance Dance Revolution, you must move the Wiimote in a specific direction as an arrow hits the marker in the center of the screen.
Though Ice Age 2: The Meltdown greatly resembles the earlier console versions, this updated port makes great use of the Nintendo Wii hardware to provide a slightly enhanced experience. The in-game visuals are distinctly last-gen but move fluidly and seem sharper than would be expected on the GameCube. It also runs in widescreen, which is hugely appreciated. Ice Age 2 features several clips from the film, and they appear to be presented at DVD quality. I expected the kind of highly compressed footage that was commonplace on the GameCube but was greatly impressed by the quality of it all.
All of the major voice actors from the film reprise their roles in the game, including Ray Romano (Manny), John Leguizamo (Sid), and Denis Leary (Diego). Romano sounds a bit bored during his clips, but the overall level of quality is better than expected. Also, the built-in speaker in the Wiimote is occasionally used for the sound of the blowing wind upon the end of a loading screen. It may not serve any real purpose, but it is an amusing extra. As noted earlier, a half-dozen short interview clips can be unlocked by collecting acorns during the adventure. With roughly 20 minutes of footage, these clips are somewhat interesting, though the interviewed actors seem to be talking mostly about the film instead of the game.
Ice Age 2 features about two dozen total levels, but the game can be finished in less than five hours. And that's it — there's no multiplayer and no way to access the mini-games outside of the story mode. Unless you want to play the game again, this ends up being a really skinny adventure. Though the title can now be had for under $30 on the other console systems, the Wii version retails for the full price of $50. While the improvements are appreciated, it's hardly worth the additional $20 investment to swing around the Wiimote a bit. Also, with both Cars and Barnyard now available on Wii, Ice Age 2 cannot even claim to be the best animated adaptation on the console.
Despite its questionable value, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown is a solid action/platformer for a younger audience. It may not strive to reinvent the genre or do anything especially new, but it makes good use of the Wiimote and is a pleasant experience overall. Plus, in an amazing feat of cross-promotion, the game actually made me want to see the film; the Blu-Ray version is currently sitting atop my Netflix queue. Mission accomplished, oh powerful media giants.
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