Reviews// Happy Feet (Wii)

Happy penguins, crying gamers

Posted 7 Dec 2006 15:59 by
Games: Happy Feet
Perhaps in my previous life I cheated at chess. Perhaps I was a rotten games player, unsporting in the extreme, worthy of nothing but gaming purgatory for ever. I say this because my current review project, one I've spent much of my day with, is Midway's Happy Feet tie-in.

You can probably tell that I'm not best impressed with Happy Feet. That's because it's rubbish. It offers little to anyone, a cheap cash-in aimed at spinning a fast buck on the back of the massive Warner Bros marketing campaign for the CG movie.

Some might argue that this game is aimed at children, younger children, perhaps between the ages of 5 and eleven. This might well be true. However, allowing your children to play this would be like forcing cheap sweets down their throats for dinner, but more of that later. For now, let's just look at why Happy Feet is tosh, irrespective of who the target audience may be.

The game doesn't really look bad. I mean, what have the developers got to work with? For the uninitiated, Happy Feet is a CG movie about a penguin that likes to dance. It's a take on the quasi-tragedy that was the movie March of the Penguins, as such it's set in an Antarctic wasteland. Everything is white. Sometimes snow falls. But basically, you have two visual options: 'under the water' and 'on top of the ice'. So there's not a lot of basic material to work with. While this can work within a movie, combining plot, character development and such, it's a big ask for a rapidly-developed videogame. The visuals on offer in Happy Feet present an endless blue and white game-scape which, I guess, is in-keeping with both the original material and its real life setting. Not exactly an inspiring set-up though.

The big problem with the presentation of the game is that licensed movie spin-offs are the bottom end of the development food-chain ? no one really wants to work on them. Like most tie-ins then, Happy Feet is not going to change gaming (it is, however, going to make those further up the chain even more money). In short, with Happy Feet, you end up with an unsightly and bland visual affair.

As with all licensed game properties, Happy Feet walks the audio line treading casually between presenting an embarrassment of riches and an irritating over-repeated set of sound-bites. In this case, Midway's title does okay.

It has a well-picked soundtrack of disco 'classics' (you know, The Best Disco Anthems in the World, Ever! CD); it also includes bespoke voice-acting from the cast. There's almost no incidental SFX of note, aside from generic 'you did a thing' and 'you did something wrong' beeps and buzzes, and some wind and water burbles and gusts.

The actual game brings three distinct elements together:
Dancing (a Dance Dance Revolution-inspired rhythm component); Belly-Sledding - a downhill race; and Swimming - an underwater collect-o-thon.

Dancing is, as outlined, a very basic rhythm game. Arrows flow from the bottom of the screen upwards, intersecting their ?direction templates? at the top. When the arrow and template is aligned, the player presses on the D-pad (or motions with the controller, it's entirely optional) in said direction. The idea is to perform some sort of plot-driven action by the magic of dance, success enabling you to continue on your path. It's a lazy cop-out and although it stays true to the fundamentals of the rhythm game genre, is bland and starkly underestimates a sub-genre of gaming that has evolved massively in the past five years.
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Games: Happy Feet

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ajmetz 9 Dec 2006 07:47
Been suspicious about this for ages, as they were so late releasing screenshots, and at E3 only had the movie's trailer, not the game trailer. Even the print adverts didn't have shots of the game at first. Thanks for confirming our fears on the quality of the title.
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