One of the biggest problems with movie-licensed video games is that they're often based on properties that don't really lend themselves to easy-to-make games. Ratatouille is a game about a cooking rat that somehow became an action-platformer, for example. WALL-E is an adorable love story about two nearly silent robots whose video game adaptation bizarrely included a deathmatch mode where four WALL-Es blasted each other with lasers. It's hard to hit the right balance of fun and faithfulness to the movie, and more often than not, it ends up hurting the games themselves. Bolt, based on the upcoming Disney film, could very easily have been another one of these. The basic movie plot lends itself quite well to a lackluster platforming game, and that is what I was expecting. Thankfully, Avalanche Software came up with a way to better take on Bolt that is both true to the movie without shoehorning it into the usual pitfalls of a movie tie-in game.
Bolt is a fairly neat way to take on the concept of the upcoming film. For those unfamiliar with it, Bolt stars a puppy named Bolt, who stars in a hit television series of the same name. In the series, Bolt is a superpowered pooch with the ability to shoot eye lasers, cause earthquakes and repel bullets. Unfortunately for the dimwitted Bolt, he doesn't realize that he's just an actor, and he takes the show as real. When one episode of the show has his owner kidnapped by the evil villain, the wayward pup escapes from the set in an attempt to rescue her. It's worth noting, however, that none of this matters for the game. Instead, Bolt takes place inside the television series. You'll be playing as a superpowered pooch and his superspy owner as they battle an evil cat, complete with gadgets, superpowers and villains galore.
Bolt is divided into two separate gameplay modes. In one, you play as Penny, Bolt's preteen owner who is not much of a fighter. She has very little combat ability and no superpowers, so she must rely heavily on stealth and fancy gadgets. In the demo, we saw Penny trying to sneak into a heavily guarded mansion surrounded by guards. The primary mechanic we saw from Penny was the use of her trademark Wheel Bar, which is a sort of all-purpose wonder gadget. It can be used as a weapon, to scale walls, to zipline over objects, and many other things. In the demo, the Wheel Bar was primarily used to move Penny around. She could use it to zip up between two enclosed walls to reach great heights or simply to slide across pipes or narrow ledges without falling. She also has access to a temporary cloaking device which is fantastic for sneaking past spotlights and watchful guards, and a smoke bomb to escape in case of emergencies.
Penny's most interesting gadget is a pair of special goggles that highlight important objects in the environment. While this may not be something that appeals to experienced gamers, it looks like something that will be of great help to the younger crowd who are the target audience for Bolt. When Penny slips on the goggles, everything nearby of importance becomes highlighted. This includes enemies, objects of interest, and most importantly, things that the Wheel Bar can interact with. If a youngling is every lost or confused as to where to go, he or she can just slip on the goggles and get a bright glowing hint as to their next objective, which is quite a friendly way to ensure that younger players don't get overly frustrated by the puzzle-like gameplay.
In the demo, a few periods game where Penny's path was blocked by guards. There were actually a few ways to handle these guys, most of which were quick and easy to pick up. The first is the stealth method, which allows you to sneak by guards if you're careful. You can do this by activating your Special Vision mode, which shows the guard's cone of vision. Stay outside of this cone, and you're fine and dandy. If a guard is in your way, you can knock him out with a stealth attack. Sneak up behind an enemy, and you can knock him out with your Wheel Bar. Be warned, however that Penny isn't a close-range combatant, and if the enemy sees you, your best option is to run. If an enemy spots Penny, he'll dash after her and try to grab her. Once they grab her, the player has to successfully complete a button-pressing minigame to escape. Fail the minigames, and it is back to the last checkpoint for you.
The second part of the game is playing as Bolt himself. Compared to Penny, the Bolt segments are substantially more action-based. In the demo, we joined Bolt mid-mission during a fight inside the same mansion into which Penny was trying to sneak. He was being ambushed by an army of guards intent on taking down the poor pooch. Luckily, the television star Bolt is substantially more superheroic than his real-life counterpart, and we got to see a full lineup of his weapons and abilities.
Bolt's segments play like an action game. The X and Y buttons unleashed fast and strong attacks, respectively, and chaining them together did massive damage to any unfortunate guard in our path. The B button grabs enemies, which you can then follow up by pressing one of the other buttons to unleash a powerful throw attack. Finally, the X button jumps, which allows you to dodge attacks or perform air strikes. Unlike Penny, Bolt will be fighting entire swarms of enemies at a time, so balancing your combos together is very important. Not only do well-timed combos allow you to take out enemies faster, but they also build up Bolt's Uber Bar, which is the power source for his fancier Uber Moves, like a room-clearing burst of laser vision or devastating earthquakes. When the bar is full, you can activate an Uber Move by pressing the left or right bumpers, which promptly causes Bolt to blast everything nearby with one of his awesome superpowers.
The Bolt portion of the demo ended with a boss fight against a combat helicopter. It blew open the wall and began unloading its artillery on Bolt. With it being so far away, Bolt couldn't attack the copter directly, and the fight became a dodging game, forcing him to avoid the machine gun fire from the copter for a period of time. After he had dodged enough, the copter would fire a missile toward Bolt. As the missile streaked toward you, a God of War style button-pressing minigame activates. Successfully pressing the buttons in time to the on-screen prompts caused Bolt to grab the missile with his teeth, spin it, around and launch it right back at the copter.
Bolt is cute. It's the right mix of fun gameplay and helpful handholding that should make it really popular among the younger crowd. The demo we got to play was a bit short but gave us a fairly firm grasp on exactly how Bolt and Penny will control. By basing itself off the faux television show instead of the real movie, Bolt offers a significantly greater level of freedom to the developers, and they're taking full advantage of that. While Bolt probably isn't going to grab anyone over the age of 12, or who couldn't care less about the upcoming Disney flick, it is shaping up to be a fairly excellent title for the younger crowd to play after the movie ends.
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