Developer: Locomotive Games
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Movie-to-game adaptations aren't generally given much credit in gaming circles, for the simple reason that almost all of them are terrible. It's hardly a new trend, either. In fact, the legacy of awful, sloppily coded and ill-conceived movie-to-game adaptations stretches far, far back into the mists of ancient gaming history. One needs look no farther back than to the abysmal gaming abomination based on "E.T the Extra Terrestrial" (released in 1982) to find the quintessential example of the genre. That's right — terrible, poorly made movie adaptations are a genre unto themselves. Other notable denizens of this cesspool of our otherwise satisfying hobby include Home Alone for the Super Nintendo and the stupefying Street Fighter: The Movie.
This thread of thought, in a meandering and rather vitriolic way, brings us to Ratatouille. Much like titles such as John Deere: Harvest in the Heartland and Barbie's Horse Adventures, a game based on what is essentially a marketing exercise can hardly be expected to get people excited in this day and age. So, then … how does Ratatouille fare? Does it buck the trend of hastily thrown together money spinners that gamers have come to expect from movie tie-ins?
To the great credit of the folks at Heavy Iron Studios, the answer is yes. Ratatouille is a competent, fun and even inventive 3D platformer in the vein of titles like Spyro and Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. The gameplay, while only really offering the usual "jump and collect" challenges that most gamers have experienced countless times before, is well executed and satisfying. Ratatouille succumbs to none of the standard pitfalls of either 3D platformers or movie tie-ins.
The area in which one would most expect Ratatouille to shine is that of graphics. This is of course because the film it is based on is one of the most visually striking examples of computer-generated animation to date. Naturally, it would be insane to expect any kind of real, direct comparison between the visuals in the game and those in the film, as the Nintendo DS was never intended to be a graphical powerhouse, and, as previously mentioned, the CGI in the film is currently tops in the business. The graphics in Ratatouille are better than merely functional, representing the characters while losing none of their innate charm.
The environments and level backgrounds also deserve a mention for being clean and well defined. Care has obviously been taken to keep the visual atmosphere of Ratatouille intact while working within the limitations of the platform, which is, of course, the definition of efficient development when working with pre-established material like a blockbuster animated movie. There are also brief interludes between levels that show stills from the film and advance the plot, which are pleasing to the eye and keep the game rolling along in the spirit that is intended.
The music is cheerful and upbeat as one would expect, although a little repetitive at times. This is hardly a problem though, as the player is usually engrossed in trying to complete the task at hand. The only exception to this comes when Remy (the rodent hero of the tale, of course) has been careless and allowed himself to be spotted by the evil head chef Skinner, who then makes Remy's life rather difficult by hurling various kitchen-related objects at him and depleting his health. The menacing tune that plays when Remy is spotted becomes the bane of the player's existence and never fails to send a chill down your spine, mainly because you know that unless you move very quickly and hide, Remy is in for a world of pain. This adds a welcome sense of danger and urgency to a game that is, for the most part, fairly relaxed in tone and not particularly challenging.
This leads to what is perhaps the only real fault with Ratatouille, which is that of challenge. A seasoned gamer (anyone who has, say, completed a Super Mario title) will find the single-player mode over with very quickly. There is little in the platforming gameplay that will challenge anybody who can ably jump from one point to another, and unfortunately the title can be taken to full, 100 percent completion within five hours with very little real effort. Therefore, it is quite difficult to recommend Ratatouille to anybody with more than a basic level of skill in video gaming. Of course, at this point, it becomes quite obvious that Ratatouille has been aimed squarely at the "younger gamer" demographic, and as a game tailored for younger gamers, it succeeds. This is hardly surprising, considering the source material is an animated rat's adventures, so it doesn't really hurt Ratatouille as a game, only as a product that cannot really be enjoyed by the whole market at which the movie was aimed (young and old).
There is really little else to mention about Ratatouille except for the "cooking" mini-game included in the package, and it does merit a mention. In fact, it is necessary to play the mini-game to progress through the title, and while it is a fairly simplistic exercise, it is difficult not to be charmed by having to slice, dice, stir and place food using the DS stylus. In most instances, the cooking tasks are fairly easy, although in order to finish the game, an "ultimate" cooking task must be completed (those who have seen the movie will be aware of this). This final challenge to finish the game is probably the only part that younger children would have trouble completing, although the practice will no doubt prove a benefit for their future gaming pursuits. The cooking mini-game can be played on its own from the main menu, but there is little incentive to do so once the hardest task has already been completed in the main story. There's also some fun to be had in playing the cooking mini-game competitively with other people in multiplayer mode, although the simplicity of the experience will probably wear thin fairly quickly for all but the most dedicated of Ratatouille fans.
The final decision on whether to purchase Ratatouille ultimately comes down to the age and/or level of skill of the player. Essentially, Ratatouille would be a perfect purchase for somebody fitting any two of these criteria: a young child, somebody relatively unskilled at gaming or a huge fan of the film on which the game is based. Anybody else would probably be better served with a deeper or more difficult title. Ratatouille is a stellar example of the type of game it aims to be, but be warned that it is not for everyone.
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