Reviewed: December 22, 2008
Released: November 18, 2008
Bolt is the latest videogame cash-in inspired by yet another CG animated box office hit of the same name. Disney’s Bolt is tearing up the box office and I’m sure they hope to extend their reach into the stockings of countless kids this holiday season as Bolt scampers onto the Xbox 360 with a surprisingly fun platform action title.
While I have yet to see the film I do know from the trailers that Bolt is the canine star of a TV series where he plays some sort of super mutt with super powers. Apparently the special effects are so good that Bolt actually believes he has these powers, which leads to some humorous situations when he escapes the studio and goes on his own adventure in the real world to be reunited with his owner, Penny.
Bolt, the videogame doesn’t pretend to borrow on this dog-out-of-water concept but rather follows the adventures of Bolt as we know him in the TV series, rich in super powers and accompanied by stealthy sidekick, Penny. Playing as both Bolt and Penny offers two distinct styles of play. Bolt is all about the combat and the combos while Penny sneaks around and uses her gadgets to navigate the environments.
Bolt is obviously targeted toward younger and more casual gamers, as the repetitive button-mashing attack system would indicate. Even with my high-tolerance for repetition I found the game a bit taxing as I was racking up 20+ hit combos on clusters of lanky henchmen. Penny’s missions offer a bit of diversion allowing you the chance to sneak and perform stealth takedowns and roll around the levels using your Wheelbar. A cool vision mode enhances the environments revealing enemies and possible places to use the Wheelbar.
The story in Bolt deals with Penny’s father being kidnapped by an evil scientist and you must track them down and rescue your father, and perhaps foil the evil plans of Calico. You’ll travel to all sorts of interesting locations ranging from jungle ruins to arctic bases. There is an exciting level onboard a speeding locomotive and Bolt will even have to head into orbit for a few missions.
Scattered throughout the adventure are several hacking mini-games that play out a bit like Robotron, where you use one stick to move and the other to fire in any direction as you navigate some sort of circuit board maze defeating electronic counter measures and trying to reach the end of the maze to complete the hack. It’s clever the first few times but starts to wear thin halfway through the game with multiple levels per hack and impossible odds. These mini-games are even offered as standalone game content from the main menu.
One thing I enjoyed was the complementary style of gameplay whereby Bolt and Penny would split up and you would play Bolt’s side of the mission and then go and play Penny’s part, all the while seeing specific events unfold from a new perspective. A good example is when Bolt defeats a helicopter in the jungle ruins. You first play as Bolt and actually cause the chopper to crash, but later as Penny, you watch that same battle from a distance. This tag team style of gameplay carries through to the final levels.
The gameplay might get repetitive but the level design manages to keep things fresh. I was particularly surprised how well the 3D nature of the game worked considering you have no camera control. You are always playing from a fixed view, almost like a side-scroller, but when necessary the game will flip the entire scene around allowing for a whole new look at the same area. It works extremely well and I never fell victim to poor camera angles or placement.
The graphics are colorful and very clean with lots of details and clever design elements that manage to conform to the world created for the film. The character models are a bit bland, especially the enemies that come right off the assembly line. The Penny model is good and nicely animated but Bolt could use some more detail, especially realistic fur, and his combat animations were extremely poor. He would just zip from enemy to enemy like a white ping-pong ball.
From what I’ve heard, the voices for the movie were what really made Bolt the success it is at the box office, so it’s a shame none of the cast wanted to reprise their roles for the game. You have some poor sound-alikes but when you are going up against John Travolta and Miley Cyrus you have your work cut out for you. Voice work not withstanding, Bolt does have some nice adventure and spy-themed music, great environmental effects, and plenty of original sounds.
Bolt is a 6-8 hour game depending on your age and skill. Obviously, the target audience will find more challenges waiting, but even for adults there are some seriously difficult sequences in this game; especially the final hacking stage and the very final level that takes place on a series of missiles flying into space. This stage can best be described as “broken” with impossible time constraints that require flawless gaming – a bit too demanding for your average tween gamer. The only reason I even won the game was that it glitched on me after about 30-40 attempts and it just let me win. Perhaps the designers put in a “no fail” mode that triggers once the game gets embarrassed for you.
Bolt offers 37 achievements, about half of which will come naturally during the course of normal gameplay, while others will require a more dedicated effort. Then you have several secret achievements you’ll have to discover on your own. It might give you reason to replay the game a second time, but for most of us, one trip will be enough.
I really enjoyed Bolt, even if the combat did get repetitive at times. The level design and the fast nature of the gameplay kept things from getting too stale, and I loved the cooperative design elements for both Penny and Bolt’s take on the same mission. There are several totally original game design and gameplay moments in Bolt as well as a few frustrating elements that may force younger gamers to seek assistance from parents or older siblings in order to finish the game.
Ultimately, you don’t have to be a fan of the film or even see the movie to enjoy this game. While Bolt borrows characters from the movie, the entire game story is rooted in the TV show premise of the film, which sadly also means that Rhino, the hamster that stole the show in the theaters, only appears for the prologue and epilogue of the game, since the game you are playing is actually the Bolt marathon he is watching on TV. Bolt is definitely worth a rental and perhaps even a purchase when the price drops.