Movie tie-ins are a dime a dozen, and every popular film gets a dumpster-load of merchandise to go with it. So, if you already have your Happy Feet Two™ lunch box, juice bottle, poster, book tie-in, promo plushies, and McDonald’s™ toy, and you’re still wondering what to spend your tie-in budget on, there’s also Happy Feet Two The Video Game, reviewed after the bit that says “Continue Reading”.
Normally I enjoy writing reviews for tie-in games, because almost inevitably the games are unutterably terrible, and a bad game is much, much easier to write a review for than a good game. For one, with good games, you have to spend a lot of time justifying its frabjousness, while with bad games it’s fairly easy to point out where things go wrong. I also enjoy hunting down the history of a game for reviews, although some are rather less than overjoyed at seeing a large wadge of history before the review sets in. The relevance of all this to Happy Feet Two is that a) it’s not a terrible game, and b) I’m fairly sure that this game is more-or-less unique in where it stands, genre-wise. First off, though, let me state for the record that I am reviewing this game from the point of view of its intended audience, namely young gamers, no older than around 8 or 12. I own a few such younglings of my own, so I’m able to gain their insights into the game, just to double-check that I understand things correctly.
Happy Feet Two, as you may have surmised, is the video game tie-in for the film that is currently playing at your nearest theatre. It loosely follows the plot of the film, wherein the child (Erik) of the first movie’s protagonist (Mumble), goes moping off after an epic face plant while trying to dance. Mumble and his best friend, Ramón, go after Erik, but a giant iceberg traps the penguins in the Emperor-Land colony upon their return. The three penguins head off to find help in freeing the trapped colony. The game skips over a number of the characters and character developments in favour of brevity and gameplay, so don’t expect to get a full depiction of the film from the game.
The game itself is half rhythm game, half puzzle game, half platform game, and messes around with both fractions and video game genres. Truthfully, the separation is closer to around two-sixths rhythm, about a sixth puzzle, two sixths platform, and one sixth racing game à la SSX. In Happy Feet Two, you control either Mumble or Ramón (in a two-player penguin fest, or switching between the two in single player mode) as they make their way through the levels to collect the requisite number of penguins before heading for the exit. To collect penguins, you need to dance close by. As you dance, a bar fills up, and voilà, you have a penguin following in your twinkle-toed footsteps. If you perform the dance moves in time to the music playing in the background (read: tap the relevant button in time to the music as opposed to holding the button down), you can fill the “collect-a-penguin” bar much faster. The levels are dotted with music notes for you to collect, and these notes have two functions: they allow you to buy new music tracks (19 in total, none from the movie, and all from a band named Ozomatli), and they level up the background song you’re playing with, netting you bonus penguins as you level up each song.
The puzzle sections of the game are fairly rudimentary and reminiscent of the Lego series of games. For example, one segment may require one player to stand on a section of ice to move another block of ice out the way, or a way might be blocked that requires you to have a specific type of penguin in your troupe to open. Nothing complex, mind, but then again, it’s not aimed at those players who enjoyed, say, the Professor Layton games, so I’m tempted to say that, for the younger players, the level is perfect. The platforming is not too hard, either. Most of the way through the game is well signposted by the music notes, and thankfully, there are no Prince of Persia-eque leaps to perform, or Mario-style moving platforms to catch. Penguins, it appears, are terrible at jumping.
With Happy Feet Two, it’s important to have a decent rhythm; not only does it net you some penguins faster (in fact, some penguins require that you tap on the beat to get them), but regularly tapping the dance button on the beat makes the music notes close to you jump toward you. Perform four taps on the beat, and Mumble (or Ramón) will perform a little twirl, and all notes close by fly toward you. Furthermore, if you intend to have any chance at defeating the bosses, you need to not only have a bit of rhythm, but a good idea of where the buttons on the controller lie; boss battles consist of a ball bouncing along a music stave. As the ball touches each note, you need to press the button highlighted by the ball in time to the music. Once again, it never presents too much challenge for older gamers, but youngsters might need some help (in the form of a parent taking the second controller and helping out).
As I mentioned above, this game is also part racing game, and these racing levels present themselves every six or so levels as a straight penguin-on-penguin battle between Mumble and Ramón to the finish line. I fear that the racing levels will do more to undermine the game’s attraction to younger players than anything else in this game; the races are not easy. The course is littered with obstacles that gleefully slow you down. You can even imagine the evil little laugh that the rocks do as you crash into them. To help you along, you can boost your chosen penguin, but your initial boost meter is tinier than krill. You can increase the amount of boost you have by hitting one of the sparse ramps and then hitting the specified button to do a trick. This is a bit fiddly, however, and given the speed that your penguin is recklessly careening down the course, you will find that you miss the ramps more often than you hit them.
What I did love about this game is the sheer quantity of charm it has. You want charm? You’re going to be hard pressed to find a game that drowns you in a veritable snowstorm of it. There’s just something about a bunch of fluffy, dancing penguins that grows on you like fluffy, lovable moss. The Latin-rock style music is pretty damned awesome too, and you can bet that Ozomatli have found themselves a new fan. Also, despite the niggliness that I found while controlling Mumble during the races, the races were actually fun, if a little shoe-horned. Still, I liked that there was the occasional break in the plaforming-rhythming-puzzling parts of the game.
Inevitably, we come to the problems with the game. I’m certainly not going to mention its ease or small level layout: this game IS meant for a younger audience, after all. For a rhythm game, it’s a bit odd, I suppose, that most of the problems with it are sound-related. Every now and again, the sound stutters for a second or two. It probably indicates a problem with preloading some sounds into and out of memory, but it’s inexcusable and frankly a little on the annoying side. Not enough to detract from the charm, of course, but still annoying. One glitch that occurred to me twice IS a bit of a game-breaker: sometimes, the music cuts out completely. I’m not sure under what circumstances this occurs, but since the game is rhythm-based, it also kills any chance of you collecting other penguins or dancing to the rhythm, since the rhythm completely disappears. This extends to the throbber on the music-level bar that indicates the beat. It requires a simple restart of the level to fix, and the levels are not long enough to make this overly frustrating, but it’s something that you should possibly be aware of.
With all the dancing and button pressing and so forth, may people might miss the most important aspect of this game: the bonding experience you will have with your kids when you play Happy Feet Two with them. Games such as this one, as well as any of the Lego-style games, provide a wonderful chance for you to bond over something you’re good at: video games. Heck, even if you aren’t any good at games, this one is simple enough that it won’t present too much of a problem, fun enough that you’re not going to get too bored playing it, competitive enough to make it awesome fun, and charming enough to make you come back to these dancing penguins over and over again. It helps that the music, although not the licensed music from the movie, is still pretty darn toe-tappingly catchy. This leaves me with a bit of a dilemma, however. How to score the game? I could score it based on whether your kids will enjoy it, and I could score it based on whether you should buy it. I think this game breaks my scoring mechanism, because it IS fun, but not if you don’t have kids or a girlfriend you’re trying to introduce video games to. The racing portions are great, but not frequent enough to market to the racing enthusiast. This list of pros and cons on scoring this goes back and forth, purely because this is not a terrible game, but also not Skyrim-level great.
In the end, I’ll have to leave Happy Feet Two scoreless, but with the recommendation that if you have kids you’re trying to entertain this holiday season, you could most certainly do a lot worse than this game.
Developer: KMM Games
Publisher: WB Games
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (a different version of the game exists for DS and 3DS)
RRP: R499 (PS3 & Xbox 360), R399 (Wii)
Age Rating: 3