Developer: Asobo/Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: June 26, 2007
There is a curse upon the console gaming market. Virtually every time a console game is made from a movie, either the movie is wonderful and the game turns out to be a ridiculously poor marketing ploy that was quickly churned out to score a couple of extra bucks off of the movie's success, or the movie is so bad that the only thing the game can do to score itself some fans is to make sure that it avoids as much of the movie's storyline and characterization as possible. Every time we seasoned gamers see a title come out for a home console system that shares a name with a recent cinematic winner, an involuntary shudder passes through our bodies as we await the news of the grievous errors that were committed in the translation.
Imagine the stunned expression on my face when I played Ratatouille, the video game adaptation for the Disney movie of the same name, on the PlayStation 2 ... and it turned out to be good!
For the sake of anyone who hasn't seen the movie (and you really should, it's rather good), here's the rundown: You're Remy, a rat living with his colony in the French countryside and enjoying the unwitting hospitality of a rather nearsighted old woman. This particular rat is a little tired of eating whatever trash he can find and dreams of becoming an accomplished chef, so he tries to steal a cookbook from the old woman. Unfortunately for him, she discovers him and chases him and his colony to a nearby stream, where they're washed away only to wind up on the streets of Paris.
Thankfully for Remy, his particular landing location puts him in a position to assist the garbage boy of one of the most renowned restaurants in all of France in becoming a success in the world of culinary refinement. I won't ruin the rest for you, but I will say that, with some obvious exceptions that are necessary for this to be more of a game and less of a movie, Ratatouille follows the storyline of the movie fairly closely. Fans of the film will definitely appreciate the care that was taken in the production of this title in that regard.
The visual and audio aspects of this game are, to be frank, quite enviable. The subtle details are definitely appreciated by anyone with an eye for such things; many little snippets are included that could have easily been left out. Modern Disney titles have a reputation for including subtle visual gifts, and Ratatouille definitely delivers strongly on this front. In terms of audio presentation, any fan of the film will be grateful for the fact that several of the movie actors have been brought back to do voice work on this title. It is regrettable that Remy is prompted to overuse some of the sound clips a little too often; by the time I was ready to explore the kitchen itself, I found myself muttering, "I get it. Shut up, Remy." Even so, the accuracy of the audio is rather impressive, from the voices of the rats to the sound of rainfall to the barking of the dogs.
Ratatouille features seemingly endless playability, with collectibles scattered all over every stage and rewards of "Gasteau points" for completing collections, finishing levels or accomplishing tasks. The rewards are steady without being overwhelming, encouraging players to quit the game every so often to visit the Gasteau shop and spend those points. There's an awful lot to do in the Extras screen, and this is an area in which the title shines; whether you're purchasing game art, video clips, cheat codes, additional levels or mini-games, there's a seemingly endless store of unlockables for the intrepid and enterprising player to crack open. The game even compares your completion percentage against the items you attempt to purchase, preventing you from prematurely opening any levels and spoiling them for your later discovery.
Regardless of the above praise, any platformer would be preemptively doomed if it didn't feature solid controls ... and this is another area where Ratatouille stands out. Controls are tight and responsive, with your little rodent hero reacting splendidly whether he's balancing on a tightrope (and yes, you actually do have to balance, not just run and hope for the best) or sprinting along at a rapid clip and picking up items. Remy jumps where you want him to jump, and he lands where you want him to land. The controls have just enough finesse that you can, for example, pick up a spoon if you're close to it without having to be right on top of it, or grab hold of a pole to swing on if you're within close proximity. As this title is aimed mostly at a younger audience, the comparative simplicity of the controls will definitely be a bonus and prevent premature frustration and usage of the game disc as a Frisbee or coaster.
Ratatouille's Achilles' heel, the one aspect that really presents an issue, is the fact that it is intended for a younger audience. Some of the missions are a little too difficult for more inexperienced gamers, promoting no small amount of frustration. By the time I was trying to turn off the burners on the stove to distract the humans, I realized that I had no idea what path the game wanted me to follow to reach my goal.
Ratatouille includes some boons to the player to counter this, in the form of unlimited lives and an "Info" screen accessible from the pause menu. The latter will, among other things, remind you of what you're supposed to be doing, but knowing your goal is irrelevant if the game doesn't give you any real leads. You have the ability to track your goal by scent, and the title will occasionally pan the camera in a way that's clearly supposed to offer some kind of clue, but both can occasionally be vague and even a little misleading. If you're looking to purchase this for your kids, it's a great title, and they'll almost certainly be pleased with it. Just make sure that it's not their first platforming game and that they've had some success with previous titles in this genre, or you may find it making a return visit to the local video game store faster than you can say, "failure to communicate."
With the newer generation of console systems coming into the market, you should be able to pick up a copy of Ratatouille for the PS2 at a fairly good price — an even better price if you purchase a used copy — and that's a wonderful thing. I would definitely recommend this title for any of the younger gamers in your household, provided that they have a fair modicum of patience to deal with its little quirks and difficulties. Hollywood, pay close attention: Ratatouille does a lot of things right.
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