For those who are old enough to remember, there were times when licensed games made some odd gameplay choices that weren't in the original source material. The original Back to the Future game, for example, had Marty throwing bowling balls while avoiding swarms of bees, girls with hula hoops and delivery men with panes of glass. Home Improvement had Tim Allen fighting off dinosaurs while Kevin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York fought against suitcases and vacuum cleaners. That trend has died down since the 8- and 16-bit days, but every once in a while, it comes back to remind us that it can still be used as a crutch when designers need it. Case in point: Hop for the Nintendo DS adheres to most of the movie fairly well but throws in a gameplay mechanic that seems far-fetched when compared to the original source material.
The plot is essentially the same as the movie, so prepare for spoilers in case you play the game first. The time has come for the new Easter Bunny to take up the mantle and continue the tradition of spreading candy and Easter eggs all over the world. However, the bunny's son, E.B., wants nothing more than to be an excellent drummer and be famous doing so. Defying his father's wishes, he runs off to Hollywood to get noticed on a talent show when he gets hit by a car. Fred, the driver and all-around slacker, gets conned into taking care of E.B. and slowly realizes what he wants to do with his life. Meanwhile, the original bunny sends out chicks and his crack team of ninja bunnies to look for his son. Your task is to get E.B. to the show and, ultimately, save Easter from a chick gone mad.
Hop consists of four different levels with 10 sections apiece, and the game offers up six different gameplay types. The first, and most prevalent, mode you'll be playing is Adventure mode. Here you take control of Fred as he traverses from level to level collecting jelly beans. From a top-down perspective, Fred navigates through pits, avoids traps and takes out various enemies using the candy-themed weapons at his disposal. He starts out with a gumball gun with infinite ammo, but he can unlock other weapons along the way, such as cotton candy cannons, marshmallow shotguns, chocolate streamers and chocolate Easter Egg grenades.
The shooting mechanic is enjoyable enough, and the game does a few things you'd expect for a title that caters to younger audiences, such as having gracious amounts of ammo and infinite lives. Still, it does a few things that don't exactly feel right. The level designs, for example, feel like they want you to take the long way to a goal instead of using a little backtracking. Even if the key you want is one room away, you'll always have to go completely around to a few areas to get the key and go back to the room where you need to use it. The level layout patterns become quite predictable and repetitive since it's done often enough. While turrets appear anywhere, enemies only seem to appear in special rooms where beating them foes guarantees freedom from said room. With no real variety, there's never an opportunity for players to be surprised by enemies coming from places outside of those rooms.
Finally, the act of collecting jelly beans seems pointless. Even though the instruction manual states that jelly beans are needed to unlock minigames, it feels like the only requirement for opening a minigame is to finish the previous adventure level. With nothing to buy and no benefits gained from the candies, it feels like they're only there to pacify people who automatically want to collect things while playing a game.
The other game modes adhere to the traditional minigames you've come to expect, and while they appear after every adventure section, the frequency with which one game will appear varies. Observation games task you with finding as many hidden Easter Eggs in an area as you can before time expires. Whack-A-Bunny has you trying to hit all of the bunnies and avoiding bombs before the bunnies come from their warp holes and capture E.B. The Catch minigame has you going back and forth along the bottom of the screen as you try to catch all of the candy and eggs that are falling from the top screen. Jawbreaker Bowling has you playing a full 10 frames of bowling with the chicks acting as pins. Finally, the drum minigame has E.B. hitting the given pieces of his drum kit at specified times to match up with the given beat.
Overall, the minigames are amusing, but there are issues with two of them. Jawbreaker Bowling has some problems with physics, as some pins don't behave like they should. Aside from the fact that they hop before being hit, you'll find a few cases where some pins fail to knock down others once they touch strongly enough. You'll also see plenty of splits, making both spares and strikes real rarities in these lanes. As for the drum minigame, the mechanics are fine but the song to which they often ask you to drum along doesn't seem to have a real beat to it. It feels like you're tapping on the cymbals, cow bell, and toms arbitrarily with no real purpose. It also doesn't help that the songs aren't ones used in the movie, so the game feels even more disconnected while you play it.
Hop's controls utilize the system quite well. Every minigame has you either tapping on or dragging something on-screen, and they work without a hitch. There's never a time when you tap something and it doesn't register or reads something else instead. The Adventure section uses the touch-screen as a virtual analog stick since touching anywhere on-screen has you shoot in that direction, and the d-pad or face button lets you move in the desired direction. The scheme works fine, but since the action is on the bottom screen, you'll often find yourself obscuring some of the screen while you shoot; as a result, you miss a few enemies as they shoot you or creep up on you. The infinite lives and close checkpoints compensate for this, but just placing the action on the top screen would've been a more viable option.
Graphically, the game doesn't look too bad. While you don't really have much to look at during the minigames, everyone — from the bunny ninjas to the chicks and E.B. himself — looks quite good on the DS screen in both polygonal and movie cut-out form. They also animate well — for the few animations that they possess. Fred isn't really distinguishable aside from being the only moving human character in the game. Since the camera never comes close enough or low enough to see any of his detail, one has to wonder if he has any features on his face or body at all. His animations are exaggerated, however, so expect to see plenty of high and long strides as he walks and wild backflips when he makes it to his destination. The level look fine, and while they are colorful, they don't get to the point where they hide any enemies on-screen. However, they do hide items since no transparency is shown when you go to an area that's covered by a wall or object. The graphics are fairly decent for a game in this generation of the system's lifecycle.
Don't expect much in terms of sound. The score uses generic action music that you'd expect from a platformer, but the tune has a bad habit of looping through several adventure levels in a row. It's not bad music, per se, but it is forgettable. As mentioned earlier, the music begins to hurt the game during the drum minigames, as the provided music doesn't mesh well with the beats you're producing. The sound effects are fine, as they do a decent job of emulating the sounds of firearms and hits ... if the ammunition were made of candy. If you're expecting any sound clips from the movie, you're out of luck as everyone here is mute from beginning to end. It's a real shame; it would have been quite nice to hear a sound clip or two from David Hasslehoff when you call upon him to clear a room full of enemies.
Despite deviating a bit from what was offered in the movie, Hop isn't a bad game. The minigames are fun for younger kids and the shooting portions, while repetitive, play out quite nicely. That doesn't mean it's excellent, though. Some technicalities in the minigames, like bad physics and a lazy soundtrack, mar the experience, and the designs in some of the adventure levels feel like they exist to artificially extend the game. What's here is decent enough that younger fans of the movie will be able to have a good and decent amount of time with the game. It's a good rental and only worth buying if you or a younger player can't get enough of the adventures of Fred and E.B.
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