During the 8- and 16-bit eras, and even at the beginning of the PlayStation era, developing a licensed game meant that you were developing a platforming game — regardless of whether that followed the plot or if platforming didn't make any contextual sense. Chances were that a game featuring your favorite popular character, movie or television show meant that you would be charged with levels of jumping and fending off a random assortment of enemies. While the practice has died down tremendously during our current generation of home gaming consoles, it has stayed somewhat relevant on portable consoles, which don't have as much raw system power. Following in this classic trend is Yogi Bear, the classic Hanna-Barbera character made relevant again thanks to the new live-action/CG movie in theaters. While it would be nice to say that the Nintendo DS game bucks the stigma often associated with licensed games, it just isn't the case.
The game plot mirrors the movie closely, and you're only reminded of it in the cut scenes. You play the part of Yogi, the smarter than average bear who, along with his friend Boo-Boo, has the ability to stand upright and talk. With a somewhat unhealthy obsession for picnic baskets, the titular bear always seems to cause trouble for Jellystone Park's Ranger Smith. However, after the city mayor decides to sell the park to a logging company to save his campaign, it becomes Yogi's task to save his home from being deforested.
The gameplay in Yogi Bear is the standard platforming fare you've come to expect from most GBA titles of this nature. It's a side-scroller where Yogi traverses each area horizontally and vertically and tries to find the exit while picking up odds and ends along the way. Picking up picnic baskets and various items, such as fireworks and pies, gives you the ability to play bonus levels, and you open up a gallery featuring still pictures from the movie. Picking up gears, on the other hand, allows you to create items like a drill to get through barriers, spring shoes for higher jumps, and skates for speeding toward ramps. As in all platformers, Yogi faces off against an assortment of enemies —cops, dogs, nut-throwing squirrels, skunks and tourists — most of which can be stunned with a well-timed butt stomp.
Speaking of enemies, the assortment of enemies isn't bad, and the butt stun you deliver does a good job of knocking them out for a bit before they get the chance to damage you. A few enemies remain problematic, especially for younger gamers with little to no experience in platforming titles. The squirrels, for example, can never be stunned and with their pinpoint accuracy, you can expect to take some damage before you're out of range. Also, while you can stun dogs, their barking attack range is so far-reaching that you can still get hit by them after a successful stun.
The description doesn't make the game sound too bad, but it is a different story once you start playing it. All you do is explore every area to collect as much as possible before finding the exit. The level design doesn't present any challenges in clearing a chasm, and the infinite lives ensure that the only penalty is to restart the level, sans what you've collected thus far. The levels are also rather short, culminating into a game that lasts at around two hours from beginning to end. With a low difficulty level being factored into that estimate, the game value starts to drop immediately.
Despite the criticisms, Yogi Bear has a few enjoyable features. Only a few of the gadgets are useful in the adventure, and building said gadgets is fun for as long as it lasts. Getting the parts in the right places and rotating them according to the blueprint plans isn't necessarily difficult, but younger fans will get a kick out of the creation process when they amass enough gears to do so.
The minigames are also interesting ways to spend time with the system. One game has you flinging food into Yogi's mouth while avoiding eggs until time expires, though it's not obvious why eggs would make the bear sick. The other minigame involves navigating a picnic basket through a maze without touching any walls. Of all of the activities, this proves to be the most challenging since the puzzles legitimately get harder as you progress. With the sense of urgency provided by the short timer, even skilled gamers who are bored by the main adventure mode won't mind spending a round or two with this minigame.
If you were expecting something to show off the graphical power of the Nintendo DS, you would be sorely disappointed. The backgrounds look clean with no sign of compression in the images, but the color scheme makes everything feel washed-out. The same can be said for the characters, which try to go for the CG style from the classic SNES game Donkey Kong Country but without any detail to pull off the style correctly. The animations are fine, though with the level of detail being shown, you expect better. One perplexing thing about the graphics is the slowdown that occurs when things get busy; while this doesn't occur all the time, you'll encounter said slowdown sooner or later as you try to get through the levels as quickly as possible.
Like the gameplay, the sound is exactly what you would expect. The effects are serviceable, though the screeching sound of Yogi making a quick turn is a little odd to hear, since he doesn't really go fast enough to elicit a screech. The music is fine but forgettable, and it doesn't sound like anything that came from the movie. As for voices, you get most of the movie cast reprising their roles, minus Justin Timberlake as Boo-Boo, but everyone is given so little to say that the use of the original film actors feels like a wasted effort.
Even dull gameplay can be considered a little respectable with some good controls. Unfortunately, the controls are a bit quirky, especially when it comes to movement. For some reason, Yogi has a bit of a slide as he moves, even if he's only covering very short distances. It gets worse when you play with Boo-Boo, since he slides at a greater distance when he's just going back and forth. The other jumping and running mechanics are fine, but the use of items becomes awkward since two buttons are used instead of one. To make matters even more convoluted, the selection of items can only be done with the touch-screen; it feels out of place when the buttons control everything else.
Yogi Bear is a bland platforming game. There is virtually no challenge because of the infinite number of lives, and since the few enemies don't necessarily get eliminated, the threat is persistent enough that it can be bothersome to players with little to no skill. Thankfully, it is a short game, but that is also a knock against it since it feels like you didn't get your money's worth out of the title. With serviceable graphics and sound and sloppy controls, it's best to leave this game on the store shelf.
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