If you're not familiar with Disney's "Phineas and Ferb," it's an animated show about two preteen boys who pass the summer by "finding a good way to spend it." Every episode of the show has the two stepbrothers concocting some wild scheme, while their sister attempts to catch them in the act. Meanwhile their pet platypus, Perry, is really a secret agent who is tasked with stopping the evil plans of (the somewhat inept) Dr. Doofenshmirtz. It's somewhat absurd, but makes for amusing TV.
With three seasons in the can, the first "Phineas and Ferb" movie ("Across the 2nd Dimension") debuted on the Disney Channel last week. An extension of the series, the movie has Phineas, Ferb, Perry, Dr. Doofenshmirtz and the rest of the gang traveling across parallel dimensions and facing off against a truly evil (and not inept) version of Dr. Doofenshmirtz. The game of the same name builds on the events of the film, allowing you to experience the world of "Phineas and Ferb" firsthand.
Across the 2nd Dimension is split over six worlds, with the first five each representing a different dimension and the sixth world being the final confrontation with the parallel Dr. Doofenshmirtz's robot creations. Because each world is a parallel dimension, it gave the developers a great deal of creative latitude.
The first dimension you encounter is much like home, except it's been invaded by gelatin monsters. After that, you're off to a floating balloon dimension, which is populated by burrowing porcupines (needles and balloons don't mix well). The third dimension is a black-and-white "Old Timey" world, where Dr. Doofenshmirtz drives a steamboat and isn't evil because he doesn't have an "evil backstory." The fourth dimension is one in which psychotic lawn gnomes have taken over and forced everyone into submission. Finally, the fifth dimension is the world in which the parallel Dr. Doofenshmirtz has taken over with his massive robot factory.
Although the designs are radically different, each dimension serves up a fairly standard selection of gameplay. The majority of each world consists of platforming and basic puzzle-solving. For the puzzles, you're either tasked with finding the parts for a blueprint or manipulating a mechanical item in the world to get valves to match up or reroute colored lasers. The "Old Timey" world has a pattern-matching puzzle.
In between the platforming segments, you'll face off against either natural enemies or evil robots that have been sent by the parallel Dr. Doofenshmirtz. No matter where they come from, the enemy creatures are simple enough to dispatch. Holding down the fire button and pressing in the right direction usually does the job.
For an experienced gamer, Across the 2nd Dimension is nearly impossible to lose. Both the puzzles and enemies are kept at a basic level throughout the majority of the game, ensuring that it never gets frustrating. While this will likely bore the hardcore set, it's perfectly tuned for younger fans as well as parents who don't consider themselves gamers. In short, this is a game that you can play with your kids, no matter how poor you think your game skills might be.
Because "Phineas and Ferb" is all about working together, you're never traveling alone as you adventure through the various dimensions. Though you start out with just the two title characters available, you'll eventually unlock a total of 10 playable characters, including Phineas, Ferb, Agent Peter (Panda), Agent Pinky, Agent T, Baljeet, Isabella, Resistance Phineas, Resistance Ferb and Perry.
Choosing a character is more than just picking a different skin, as each one favors a particular weapon and has a special ability bonus. For example, Perry does extra damage, while Isabella gets a ticket bonus in the between-level arcade games. That's one bonus you're apt to want because the arcade games are the weakest part of Across the 2nd Dimension.
The arcade games consist of a claw game and skee-ball, and the whole point is to earn unlocks. Unlocks range from extra characters, alternate costumes for existing characters, collectible figurines and customizer chips to change the look and sound of your weapons. The concept is fine; it's the execution that is poor. Rather than playing quickly, the arcade games feel slow and repetitive. Going through round after round of skee-ball is a great way to earn tickets, but it's also the most boring part of the game. It doesn't matter how young or old you are; this is one part of the game that you're only going to play because there is no other way to get all of the unlocks.
Another odd issue with the game has to do with the menu system, or lack thereof. All of the menus in Across the 2nd Dimension seem entirely disjointed. For example, while you can load a game from the main menu, you can only get to the world map (to replay a prior level) from the pause screen. From the world map, it's impossible to get back to the main menu. Cheats and extras are likewise limited just to the pause screen. The UI within the game is great, so it is odd that the menu UI is so incredibly poor.
One bonus feature that doesn't need to be unlocked is the four "Phineas and Ferb" episodes included on the disc. Culled from the first season, the selected choices are a good cross-section of what "Phineas and Ferb" is all about. "Comet Kermillian," "I Scream, You Scream" and "Mom's Birthday" are standard 11-minute episodes. The Emmy-nominated episode, "Dude, We're Getting the Band Back Together," runs 22 minutes. Video transfers for each of the four episodes are superb for the most part, with no artifacting and vibrant colors. The only real issue has to do with angled lines, which occasionally seem to lose their antialiasing and appear as a jagged stair-step rather than a smooth edge. Audio is available in English, French and Spanish, but is oddly only in two-channel stereo, even though the menu is in 5.1 surround.
In the end, making a purchase decision on Across the 2nd Dimension really depends on what you're looking to get from the game. For a hardcore gamer wanting a button-blistering challenge, this isn't it. If you fall into the casual crowd, however, or are just a fan of "Phineas and Ferb," then there is plenty here to keep you entertained.
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