Reviewed: November 19, 2011
Released: November 8, 2011
The original Happy Feet game was a Nintendo Wii launch title back in 2006 and was more of a DDR knockoff that had you waving your Wii-mote in one of four directions to simulate penguin dance moves. It also mixed things up with the occasional underwater swimming level or belly-slide toboggan runs. Thankfully, the sequel is a much better, more fun, and totally charming gameplay experience.|
Happy Feet Two, based on the new movie of the same name, is one of the surprise hits of the holiday, especially for kids, but even adults are going to get a kick out of this addictive platforming title that has Mumble and his best friend, Ramon, grooving their way across the Antarctic in search of Mumble’s son, Erik, who runs away after a humiliating attempt at dancing. And even after they are reunited, they must join forces to save their home from unspeakable new dangers.
The game flows pretty much like a typical platform adventure. You move around gorgeous 3D levels with the left stick, collecting musical notes that form your intended path through these complex environments. You'll need to recruit other penguins into your dance crew before you can exit the level by standing next to them and dancing to the beat by pressing the X button until they join. You can also dance, clap, and stomp your way through the levels and any time you tap X four times in sync with the beat you will execute a Dance Combo that will cause any nearby musical notes to gravitate toward you making for easier collection.
You can hop up ledges, swing on icicles, stomp-smash icy obstacles to clear your path and reveal more musical notes or even create ice bridges, and there is even the occasional boss battle where you’ll go into a dance number mini-game that requires you to match the colored button presses to the timed “bouncing ball” in the sheet music. While the game appears to be a standard platform exploration there is a surprising emphasis on musical awareness and tapping the correct buttons to match the beat of the music.
The visuals are gorgeous, with stylized comic storyboards for the narrative, then these pristine CG levels design and ultra-detailed characters. I swear, you can count the feathers in the close-ups. The lighting and shadows are excellent and the animation is superb, especially for all the fun dance moves. Even the music notes bounce to the beat of the chosen soundtrack. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I can't imagine it looking a whole lot better than this.
Music is so important that you actually get to pick your song prior to starting each level. At first you only get one song, but as you collect musical notes you can spend them to unlock more music, nearly 20 songs in all ,composed and performed by Ozomatli, the popular Los Angeles-based band whose music is a combination of hip-hop, salsa, dancehall, cumbia, samba, funk, merengue, Jamaican ragga, and Indian raga influences. They were joined by Robert Carranza, a Grammy-nominated mixer/engineer who did some incredible separation and reassembly of the tracks.
What makes the music so integral to gameplay is that you slowly level-up each song as you play and collect notes, and as you reach each new level a new instrument or vocal track gets added to the mix, so while you might start with merely a drum beat, by the time you reach level 4 you have a fully mixed song. And since you are only leveling-up the song you choose for any particular stage, you’ll need to reselect previously played music to achieve the maximum level. Naturally, there are achievements for not only unlocking all of the music but getting them all to level 7. The music offers a nice diversity of style and tempo, but always with a resounding beat that will have you unconsciously tapping out the beat on the buttons, which actually enhances the gameplay and reward system. Plus, it’s great fun to watch Mumble and his growing dance crew dance and twirl their way across the ice.
The game is surprisingly large with 50+ levels divided into 8 chapters that take you through various themed landscape of increasingly complexity and challenging gameplay. One of the more challenging hidden collectibles in the game are Vibes. These are completely invisible and only detectible through controller rumble when you are standing near one. Once you are standing over a Vibe start dancing to the beat until there is an explosion of musical notes. There are three hidden Vibes on each level and some are off the beaten path and take considerable effort to discover.
Happy Feet Two mixes things up with the occasional toboggan run where you are sliding down a half-pipe tube of ice trying to avoid dangerous obstacles and collect as many of the musical notes that form a sort of path through the level. There are also frequent stunt jumps where you launch from a ramp then press a matching colored button as you pass through a mid-air ring to earn extra boost power. You'll be racing Ramone and want to place first in all these races for a special achievement.
Happy Feet Two is definitely a game that is best shared with a friend, and the co-op experience is delightfully fun with an emphasis on teamwork and puzzle-solving rather than competition. While you can (and are often required to) switch between the two main characters using the LB button during solo gameplay, in order to get the maximum music notes on several levels you will have to play with two players and work together.
With so many huge and amazing titles all coming out around this time it is truly a testament to just how incredibly fun and addictive Happy Feet Two is that I continually find myself going back to play this game every day or so, even after doing the review, just for a casual and relaxing break with some great music, and my never-ending quest for total completion and maximum achievement points. Happy Feet Two is easily the best movie-inspired game of the holiday season…perhaps the entire year.