Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: November 30, 2006
Within a month of release, the Nintendo Wii played host to a whopping 11 animated adaptations, including seven based on CG films from the last couple of years. Nintendo has long been associated with games for younger audiences, but this may have been overkill. By Christmas, one-third of the Wii library was made up of games from a subgenre ridiculed for placing style over substance; for sacrificing worthwhile gameplay in favor of cheap thrills and hands-on time with familiar characters.
Though some of the recent games based on CG films have been as shallow as expected, a handful of the quality ones made their way to the Wii. Cars presents a fully realized racing experience that makes perfect use of the license, Barnyard bests the film of the same name by creating a colorful open-world environment to explore, and Ice Age 2: The Meltdown makes good use of the Wiimote with a simple (but enjoyable) 3D platformer.
Sadly, I cannot lavish such praise on Open Season. Based on the Martin Lawrence/Ashton Kutcher animated vehicle, Open Season is an unfortunate cash-in that offers no challenge or longevity. The unremarkable gameplay is ultimately hamstrung by uneven motion controls, resulting in an experience that can hardly be considered average, let alone worthwhile.
Open Season mirrors the plot of the film, which is quite similar to “Over the Hedge” in terms of the basic conflict: humans vs. woodland animals. Instead of spotlighting suburban sprawl, Open Season is a buddy-flick expose on hunting. When Elliot (a wild mule deer) convinces Boog (a grizzly bear) to leave his cozy life of domestication in search of junk food, the two are released into the forest just ahead of hunting season. Sticking together, the animals attempt to make it back to Boog’s hometown of Timberline, all the while avoiding hunters who would prefer to see them mounted on a wall.
As with most games based on CG films, Open Season is a character-driven action game where you take down bad guys and play the occasional mini-game. Developer Ubisoft Montreal is perhaps best known for its work on the Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six series of games, so it should come as little surprise that stealth elements have been worked into the gameplay of Open Season. Giving stealth abilities to a large grizzly bear creates a couple of problems, at least in my mind. First off, it seems entirely implausible, but that’s to be expected in a game based on a cartoon movie.
More importantly, the decision to emphasize stealth mechanics has resulted in the elimination of melee attacks on the part of Boog. So as a series of hunters shoot you repeatedly with shotguns, your best defense is to roar. Seriously! And if roaring isn’t your thing, you can always pick up a rabbit or skunk and throw it at a hunter from a distance. Both tactics work, but neither alleviates the feeling of helplessness that comes with being a large animal that is being shot by hunters. Boog learns a trample attack later on in the game, but it only stuns the hunters. You still have to make some noise to scare them off.
Repetition sets in early on, as most of the on-foot missions task you with doing one of three things: finding something (such as food or flowers), throwing things (such as skunks into chimneys or hunters into cages), or scaring away hunters. Aside from minor variations, the on-foot missions are all pretty similar, though you will occasionally take on the role of Elliot (who has a jump move in place of the roar).
Open Season makes use of both the Wiimote and Nunchuk for motion-controlled gaming, but many of the movements and actions are mapped to buttons, the d-pad, and the analog stick. Grabs and quick throws are executed with a swipe or forward movement, while steadier throws can be initiated by holding down B and aiming with the Wiimote. “Steadier” might not be the correct word, though, as aiming can be frustrating due to an overactive camera. While the control scheme works well enough during these segments, the motion controls rarely feel necessary or particularly well-implemented.
Simple shooting segments pop up occasionally, tasking you with hurling soda cans or rocks at approaching hunters or lumberjacks. Imagine a Duck Hunt-style light-gun shooter with the ability to freely look around and you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Three “Wild Ride” segments are also included in the adventure: “Mine Shafted,” “Snowballed,” and “Rocky River.” In each, you must hold the Wiimote sideways and navigate your fast-moving friends out of the way of harm. The “Wild Rides” should theoretically be the best part of the game, and initially, they seem to be just that. But as soon as you have to make quick movements, you’ll find that the motion controls have not been tweaked to perfection.
When attempting to turn, anything harder than a slight nudge may result in an unrecognized command. Though you clearly intended to shift the mine cart to the left, you instead crash forward into the wall. Ubisoft’s own Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII for PlayStation 3 has the same problem, where the controller only recognizes movement to a certain extent. Beyond that, you are stranded. I have to assume that this is just a case of sloppy programming, and that it will not be the downfall of the motion gaming movement.
As you acquire points in the game, you can purchase character upgrades via the Wild Academy menu. Boog can extend his life meter or improve his throwing accuracy (among other upgrades), though these transactions hold little merit considering the incredible ease of Open Season. If Boog’s life meter runs out, you can just mash down the A button to come back to life. Arrows point you in the right direction at all times, and glowing butterflies usually appear over the location of your next objective. Even the occasional memorization sequence is rendered moot when the game reminds you of the three-button code before you have to enter it.
What this adds up to is a challenge-free adventure that ends in just four hours. You might expect a game with 25 missions to last significantly longer, but some missions take as little as one minute to complete. Beyond the adventure, there are a handful of unlockable four-player mini-games, but none justify the price of admission. All told, there’s about five hours of gameplay here for the astonishing retail price of $50. Very few games are worth $10 an hour, and this certainly is not one of them.
Presentation isn’t Open Season’s strong suit, either, though the use of original songs from the film soundtrack is definitely appreciated. Sound-a-likes unenthusiastically voice the characters during in-game cut-scenes, which can thankfully be skipped. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown provided a glorious helping of CG clips from the film, but Open Season has nothing of the like. Instead, we get to see the same drab visuals used during gameplay, which are made up of a handful of shades of green and brown. No upgrades were made from the original GameCube release, which was visually unimpressive to begin with. Those in the market for widescreen support or higher-resolution visuals should look elsewhere.
Open Season looks like many other animated adaptations on the market, but what it lacks more than anything is enjoyable gameplay. There’s no thrill attached to the empty “hide and sneak” gameplay, and the uneven motion controls derail the potentially blissful “Wild Ride” missions. Games designed for children should certainly be more accessible than others, but Open Season is insultingly easy, thus stripping away the whole point of playing the game. Those compelled to kill some time with Boog and Elliot should simply watch the film. It’s half as long and probably several times more interesting.
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