Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Release Date: May 26, 2009
Since the genesis of video games, eating has become a well-known and respected game mechanic. From gaining health to defeating enemies, the use of a character's jaws to progress in a game has been a prominent feature for characters as legendary as Pac-Man to new game stars like The Maw. It's hard to explain, but there's something amusing about chasing down an enemy just to devour it and move on to the next unsuspecting victim in the food chain. Considering that they were one of the first developers to feature this gameplay mechanic, it's only fitting that Namco Bandai come up with a new game that has its characters munch down on the enemy. The Munchables for the Nintendo Wii is a colorful and odd game that makes eating fun again.
The premise behind the game sounds like something from a children's book gone awry. On a distant planet named Star Ving live a group of creatures that exist only to eat a carefree life. One day, a group of aliens comes to the planet and begins stealing the precious artifacts, including one that looks like an anime interpretation of poop. While your caretaker is lamenting the loss and destruction left behind, all you care about is eating the aliens, since they all look like fruits and vegetables. Your mission is to eat every single alien invader until the world and its possessions are returned to their rightful places.
Eating is the main mechanic of the game, but it isn't the only one you have. Throughout the game, you will encounter enemies that are larger than you, especially level bosses. If you aren't of a particular size yet when you encounter them, you could always bash them, transforming them into smaller enemies that can then be digested. You also have a speed eating feature that lets you dash back and forth to grab as many enemies as possible before proceeding to chomp them to bits.
The multiplayer is pretty limited but good if you plan on playing the game with younger gamers. Made with co-op in mind, Player 2 gets to control a satellite entity whose sole purpose is to gather items and knock the enemy into smaller leveled versions of itself so Player 1 can eat them. It's a lot like Super Mario Galaxy in that two experienced players might not find the mode all that entertaining, but casual and inexperienced players will enjoy helping out or receiving help this way. Beyond this, however, there are no adversarial modes to be found in The Munchables.
When the offbeat premise and the gameplay mechanics collide, the result is a rather amusing title. Like Katamari Damacy, there's an indescribable desire to want to grow as large as possible in each level, and it somehow translates into a fun experience. It may be the joy felt by seeing your enemies run away in terror when you are spotted or the thrill of hunting down the enemy as a giant eating machine, but the developers have tapped into something that makes you want to keep playing, even if it's only to see how absurdly large your creature can get.
The Munchables is fun, but the two fatal flaws that it has are its level of difficulty and length. It's really difficult to die in the game. Anytime you are on the brink of death, you can simply shake the controllers repeatedly to recover and move on. The shake time is also pretty generous, so players who have a hard time moving the controller won't find the recovery process to be too daunting. While you have bosses in the game, none of them prove to be too difficult to figure out and defeat. Considering that the title, at first glance, appears to be intended for kids, the somewhat easy difficulty is understandable. What is sad to see, however, is the overall game length; an average gamer can finish the title in about six hours. The game encourages a bit of replayability thanks to the scoring system, a few unlockables, and a bestiary that needs to be filled, but the fact that the story can be beaten in such a short time is only made palatable by the game's low price.
Like Namco Bandai's most recent game for the Wii, The Munchables supports just about every control scheme out there for the console. The default configuration is that of the Nunchuk and Wii Remote. The analog stick moves the creature while the Z button performs an enemy lock-on. The A button is used for eating while the B button is used for bashing. A flick of the remote causes your character to jump. Because the use of Wii Remote aiming and movement is kept to a minimum, the controls end up being very responsive. Better yet, this default control scheme is pretty intuitive, making it easy for you to figure out everything you need without having to resort to looking at the manual or going through tutorials. Despite having these easy controls to deal with, it's a nice bonus to have both Classic Controller and GameCube controller support thrown in for those who would rather deal with a more traditional setup.
The graphics are great and very fitting for the game at hand. Every object, from the characters to the water, contains bright and vibrant colors that really pop out in 480p. The higher resolution also does a good job at preventing jaggies from being seen, which is great considering that almost every object in the world is very round. Animations are nice and fluid, and the particle effects, like smoke and splashes, look fine. There are some clipping and collision issues, though, especially on some levels where you can catch your character moving up a hill but going through the platforms that surround said hill. These issues aren't very prevalent, but it does mar what is an overall solid graphical offering.
The sound ranges from good to bizarre. The sound effects are fine, as the sounds for chomping on enemies and jumping on bouncy platforms are what one would expect from a game sporting this kind of look. The voice work is minimal; you only hear it during the opening cut scene and ending to the game. It's nothing extraordinary, but it's not bland, either. The music, however, seems to cover a wide range of genres that are an odd fit for such an odd game. One level may have you listening to something akin to old carnival music while another level would have club music, complete with looping samples and record scratches. While the styles vary, what doesn't vary is the quality, which is very well polished throughout and very loud. Whether you like or hate the music playing in each level, at least you'll recognize that some real effort was placed on each musical score.
Two complaints that Wii gamers have with the console are that there are too many kids' games and there aren't enough good games, period. While The Munchables won't satisfy those who complain about children's games on the console, it will quiet down those who think there aren't any good games for the Wii. Great graphics, quirky sounds and a great control scheme are only marred by the easy difficulty and brevity of the title. Those looking for something odd and in the vein of Katamari Damacy, especially with the $29.99 price tag, will find The Munchables right up their alley.Score: 8.0/10
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