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Xbox Live Arcade Review - 'Rocky and Bullwinkle'

by Erik "NekoIncardine" Ottosen on May 12, 2008 @ 1:46 a.m. PDT

Based on the popular cartoon series of the 1960s, Rocky and Bullwinkle on Xbox Live Arcade is a fast and fun party experience packed with more than 100 micro games. Eight playable characters from Frostbite Falls are back in the living room, including Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Natasha, Dudley Do-Right and many more.

Genre: Party/Minigames
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: April 16, 2008

Anyone here ever watch "Rocky and Bullwinkle?" Honestly, I thought not. For years, the series has lain forgotten, only pulled up in a rather poor, live-action CGI hybrid movie and the early-morning reruns on Cartoon Network. For all of its charm and fairly absurdist humor, the series is probably one of many cartoons best left forgotten except among those who enjoyed it when it was originally around. The magic has not been captured since 1964, and 44 years haven't broken the pattern. Zen Studios had the right concept and hit the technical points correctly, so why on earth is there little to no fun to be had in this second video game version of Rocky and Bullwinkle? (Yes, there was a previous one, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, for the original Game Boy, NES, Genesis, Super NES, and as a pinball table. No comment on that set.)

Most likely, you've played this sort of game before. WarioWare Inc. and its sequels, perhaps, or maybe one of the two versions of Fuzion Frenzy for the Xbox and Xbox 360. Or perhaps one of several Internet games built around the same premise of very short microgames piled together. Rocky and Bullwinkle chooses to strongly emphasize the youngest audience by minimizing the puzzle elements, telling you exactly what buttons will be used and (sometimes) leaving only the specifics for you to figure out during play. These specifics are simplistic enough (press a button at right time, or just mash the triggers) that all but the dimmest brains will be able to figure most of them out on the first try.

Unfortunately, Rocky and Bullwinkle then proceeds to introduce artificial difficulty in numerous fashions. Many of the microgames, for example, have you pushing the controller face buttons, identified by the color rather than by the more typical letter. What is more disconcerting is that these colors and their locations map in seemingly random messes, forcing you to look at the color on the screen, then your controller before pressing a button. Strangely enough, some other puzzles suffer from the game's graphical quality getting in the way, but more on this later.

Rocky and Bullwinkle is split into character-themed "shows" of up to 10 minigames each, starting with Bullwinkle then rapidly progressing through the numerous groups of characters that helped make the show work. They did not forget Dudley Do-Right or any other major character from the series. Those who enjoyed the original show will experience a fairly varied nostalgia trip through the history of the series, while those who don't remember the classic will quickly be lost in a pile of quirky sketches, with possibly the most exaggerated physics ever to be encountered in a cartoon.

In case this is not enough, different "gadgets" offer their own elements of variety to add to the show (an idea seen in WarioWare Touched). Other than round-robin multiplayer, the only other sources of variation from the all-too-limited array of minigames are a "random show" feature, and a "create a show" feature that lets you choose up to 16 of the minigames. Ultimately, neither of these proves very interesting.

Then there are the game's graphics and sound. Surprisingly, both are basically good, with fine voice acting that is reminiscent of, or may actually be clips from, the original show's audio. Unfortunately, Zen Studios found one surefire way to get it wrong here: They made it too good. Part of the charm of the original series was the low-budget, simple animations with their rough, warm lines. Replacing this with cheaply done, albeit high-definition, vector art screws up things pretty significantly.

Tiny clips from the original show slide into the middle of the screen between every minigame. Not only are these the exact same clips throughout any one "show," but they bring into sharp focus just what is wrong with the graphics. The game is a poor fit for the graphical prowess of the Xbox 360 because, without recreating animation in the original style, the game could not successfully hearken back to the original in one of its most important ways.

The end result takes a few glances to realize what's wrong with the animation style, but once you do, it is impossible to shake it off. Just in case this wasn't bad enough, the game uses full high-definition levels of detail, so try playing it on a standard screen, and witness a puzzle that involves you squinting to tell the color of four pixels apart from a much larger face. Very rarely do the graphics screw up the gameplay like this.

Rocky and Bullwinkle supports the Xbox Live Vision Camera; I was not able to test it, but from what I've heard, the support for it is none too impressive. Most of the minigames I played did not seem to fit well with the idea of being controlled by a camera, and complaints from others who have tried this functionality indicate that you're forced to use the controller anyway, either by not offering camera support for some minigames, or due to bad camera coding.

In short, Rocky and Bullwinkle isn't worth your time. The graphics don't match with the traditional style of the show, the minigames don't remotely resemble anything new, the added gimmicks consistently feel weak and unimplemented, and the overall premise fails to capture the show's magic. The joke style of the minigames combines with excessive repetition to prevent the game from being anywhere near as funny as the movie, let alone the show. Yes, the Rocky and Bullwinkle movie was better than this game. That takes effort.

Score: 4.0/10

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