Release Date: May 26, 2009
I've seen "WALL-E" over a dozen times in the past year, so I was pretty hyped for the latest Pixar movie, "Up." The movie wasn't what I expected and made me sad, instead of imparting the happy emotions that I usually experience after seeing a Pixar film. Those same emotions didn't quite transfer over to the video game iteration of the movie, also named Up, for the Nintendo Wii.
In an attempt to not spoil too much for those who haven't seen the movie, the story revolves around an elderly man named Carl Fredricksen who plans to pursue his childhood dream of flying to and living in Paradise Falls, which is located somewhere in South America. He manages this by attaching hundreds of balloons to his house, ripping it from the ground and causing it to float high up in the sky. Carl won't travel this journey alone, as a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell has stowed away on Carl's porch in order to receive his final merit badge for assisting the elderly. Carl reluctantly allows Russell to accompany him, and they eventually make it to the jungle outside their destination. It is here that they encounter a large bird named Kevin and several dogs with talking collars that are hunting for the bird. One friendly but not too sharp dog named Dug also helps them along the way. The group must now safely navigate the house through the jungle to the falls.
Up opens and closes with airborne dogfights between Dug and other dogs in airplanes, even though those scenes don't occur in the movie. The game then abruptly introduces you to the current situation, which appears to take place about halfway through the movie's story. Starting the game did not feel natural for me, and if I hadn't seen the movie, I wouldn't have any clue as to what I'm doing or why I'm doing it.
As you can tell, Up takes some creative license with the source material. You'll play as both Carl and Russell, but you can only control one of them at once. You can switch characters by pressing the Z button, and if you have a friend nearby, he or she can take control of the other character for some co-op fun. I encourage having another player because the AI is otherwise pretty brain-dead. Each character must use his unique abilities to navigate through each level. Carl is a bit stronger than Russell, despite his old age, and is able to climb up ledges, thanks to his cane. Russell is a bit smaller and agile, which allows him to shimmy along narrow ledges. He can also throw down a rope for Carl to climb onto and pull him up. Dug also appears as a playable character for brief periods throughout various levels, and his talents are often needed for crawling through small air ducts, unearthing items and activating dog-controlled devices. For all of the characters, these actions typically require either a button command or a waggle action with the Wii Remote.
Waggling the Wiimote is also used for attacking enemies and objects, but you can press the trigger to attack. There aren't too many enemies in the levels, and they mainly consist of insects, bats and dogs. The former two often require you to pick up ammunition for Carl and Russell's special attacks of hearing aid screeches and bugle calls, respectively. These attacks stun the creatures, making them open to your normal attacks. The dogs will come at you in groups and will take turns charging at you, requiring you to press the B button to repel them when prompted. You'll then finish them off by either attaching a balloon to make them float away or forcing them to chase after a ball.
In addition to combat, you'll also have the option to collect various things in the game. Coin-like merit badges are scattered across levels, and when you reach a certain milestone in your collection, you'll earn a quest card, which lists other collectibles to find, such as artifacts. Once you've collected everything on a card, you'll unlock artwork to view on the main menu. Merit badges appear just about everywhere, and many breakable objects contain them as well. It adds a bit more replay value, but it isn't something that you'll likely pursue.
The controls are clunky at times, and the motion controls don't always register. Both you and the other character share a health bar, so most of your deaths result in your partner getting stuck in a hazard. In the event that you don't have another player with you and you're trying to solve a puzzle with both characters, it's sometimes an ordeal to organize the two characters' positions because as soon as you place one character somewhere and switch, that character will try to make his way back to you and end up getting hurt along the way. Fortunately, there is an abundance of health items throughout each level and checkpoints appear fairly frequently, so even when you die, it's not too big of a deal. Despite the frustration, Up is easy and can be finished in an afternoon, though it's not terribly satisfying for fans of the movie. The movie made me sad, and the game made me angry.
On the visual side of things, Up doesn't hold a candle to the visuals of the movie. The box art looks better than the in-game graphics, which could be the result of the aged hardware on the Wii, but we've seen much better games on the system. The animation isn't that fluid and looks cheaply designed. The levels are brightly colored, though it's sometimes hard to distinguish which objects in the environment are interactive or not. Also, if it weren't clear that something required a character's special ability (with an icon of his head above the point), you'd probably get lost pretty easily in the game.
The sound, however, does a good job of replicating the voices and sounds of the movie. The character voices are the same as their movie counterparts, including Ed Asner as the voice of Carl. Like most games, however, the voices and one-liners get repetitive, and it's annoying when a character constantly tells you how to solve a puzzle that you've already figured out while you're trying to explore a nearby area and collect items. The movie soundtrack is also present as the game's background music for the levels.
Overall, I found Up for the Wii to be an average movie tie-in game that doesn't do much to impress. The controls are clunky, and your AI teammate isn't that smart. The game can be somewhat fun if you have a friend playing with you, but that's about it. The title doesn't exactly follow the movie canon (Remember when Carl and Russell battle a giant anaconda? Me either.), but I'll let that part slide. If you enjoyed the movie, I'd only recommend renting the game, but you won't be missing out on too much if you decide to pass.
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