Reviewed: May 15, 2007
Released: May 15, 2007
This is going to be one of those summers that is going to put a real strain on my wallet. Starting with Spider-Man 3 last week there are enough major blockbusters releasing on the big screen this year that I plan to be in the theater nearly every Friday from now until August. And of course, with major blockbusters comes major video game tie-ins. We’ve already seen Spidey make the move from theater to console, and now, just two weeks later, perfectly timed for the theatrical release, we have Shrek the Third.
This is Shrek’s third trip to the big screen (in case you didn’t catch the title), but it’s the green ogre’s first trip to a next-gen console, and I can say without reservation, this is the best looking and best playing Shrek game released to date on any system. We finally get to play a game that looks amazingly close to the graphics from the film. Of course, DreamWorks is always improving their CG technology, so the game looks a lot close to the first Shrek movie than the one releasing this week.
Shrek 2 was a great game that offered a variety of characters and locations and presented them in a Gauntlet-style cooperative game design. Shrek the Third brings the control of multiple characters down to a single player while focusing more on story, action, platforming elements (collectibles), and a whole lot of fighting.
The game follows the plot of the film, at least enough so they can include all the new characters like Merlin, Arthur, Sleeping Beauty, Captain Hook, and even a cameo from a covert star from Madagascar. You’ll visit all the fun locations from the film as well as numerous levels and locations exclusive to the game.
To briefly recap the story from the game (and movie), Fiona’s father (the guy who got turned back into a frog in Shrek 2) is dying and the kingdom of Far Far Away needs a new leader. Even though technically qualified (by marriage), Shrek isn’t up to rule a kingdom so they go off in search of the king’s cousin, Arthur (or Artie) who is away at some sort of medieval prep school.
While Shrek and his crew are away, Prince Charming, with the assistance of Captain Hook, the evil queen (from Sleeping Beauty), some nasty witches, and a certain treacherous female accomplice make their move, imprisoning Fiona and her gal pals in the dungeon and putting on a propaganda-laced play in the center of town to prove that he should be the next king of Far Far Away.
At first glance, Shrek the Third can look deceptively like a repetitive button-mashing fighting game, and I confess, you will be doing a lot of fighting…a lot. But the designers have done such a great job, not only mixing up the fight moves, combos, and super-moves, but they also are constantly changing up the playable characters, introducing new situations, new moves, and new abilities. Even ten hours into the game as you are nearing the final chapter, you will get to play fresh characters and experience new gameplay.
Obviously, the star of the game is Shrek, and you start off the tutorial as the big green guy learning how to hit, stomp, use charge-attacks, and invoke Ogre Power. Once you learn the basic commands for Shrek you can apply this knowledge to the rest of the cast. Donkey has a flying kick, Puss can charm the enemy with his “sad eyes”, and Sleeping Beauty can have enemy soldiers doing her bidding with the blow of a kiss.
Almost all the levels feature multiple characters that you will be switching off, but this is determined by the script and the gameplay. You won’t get to choose when or who to play. For instance, early on Puss has to infiltrate a castle to lower the bridge so Shrek can get inside. Both characters will explore the same location, usually through different perspectives, as Puss so eloquently states, “What a lovely CATwalk”.
Combat is fast and furious and you are almost certainly always outnumbered four to one, and often, enemies will continue to spawn until you complete a side-objective. As enemies fall and objects are smashed, you will be able to collect blue and purple fairy dust, which is used to power your special attacks. This circular meter is divided into three arcs that you can use individually, or save them up for a very special attack. For instance, Shrek can do a foot stop that will stun enemies allowing for any one of numerous and humorous finishing moves. But if he saves up his fairy dust he can invoke Ogre Power, which slows down time and boosts his attack damage.
Combat is simple, yet oddly complex and creative. You can execute light and heavy attacks and if you are able to stun your opponent you will have a few precious seconds to execute a finishing move. The camera will zoom in and anybody else in combat will take a breather so you can enjoy the show. You can also use a charged-attack by holding down the attack button and launching the enemy into the air. A target will appear showing where he will land and if you can get there in time you can catch him for a flashy juggle finishing move.
Each of the chapters offers you 3-5 challenges ranging from simply finishing the level without dying to collecting mugs, crowns, stuffed whales, and other items that make sense to the level you are playing. You are almost always required to perform 5 finishing moves and some levels even require you to use your Ogre Power a certain number of times. And then they will throw in some very specific goals like finding the “nerd trapped in the locker”.
Shrek also includes a few challenging boss fights. Advanced gamers will laugh at these encounters, but for the kids, fighting the Ice Dragon or defeating Captain Hook’s minions (while he plays the piano and sings) will offer a good challenge.
Health is handled with a system very similar to Call of Duty. There is no visible health meter, but if you get hit too many times the borders of the screen will start to fog up and go from yellow to orange until you are magically restored to the last checkpoint in the game. There are also numerous jumping-across-ledges levels in the game, but if you fall it doesn’t count as dying – you just get put back on top and try again.
The collection quests can be extremely challenging if you aren’t used to this type of game. You will literally have to smash ever last object in the game because you never know if a mug is hidden in a tree stump or even in a road sign, until you smash it and it magically appears in the debris. There were numerous levels (more than I care to admit) where I had to replay the chapter to find a single mug or missing snowman hat.
Shrek the Third also offers a fantastic selection of party games…well, if your party consists of you and a friend. Sadly, these games would have been great for four players or even more. Most are “take a turn” type games that wouldn’t even require extra controllers, so it was a bit disappointing to see the fun factor cap at two players.
Shrekleboard has to be my favorite and I’ve probably spent more time pushing life preservers across the deck of Hook’s pirate ship this week than I did writing this review. It’s basically shuffleboard, only with some wicked physics as the boat tilts on the waves and each new level brings new and fiendish traps and obstacles.
Catacombs Leap is much like Frogger in that you have to take various Shrek characters across a series of moving platforms and deposit them in one of four exit gates. Some ledges crumble away after you step on them so it gets really challenging for the final characters.
The rest of the mini-games include Frog Herder, Ships Ahoy, and Castle Attack (which also appears in the story game), and are great fun for the entire family. They are easy to figure out and challenging to master. The further you go and the higher the scores will earn you bronze, silver, and gold awards.
I’ve recently moved up to 1080p HDTV so I am quickly becoming a graphics elitist when it comes to video games, as unfair as that may be. Games that had my jaw dropping a few months ago now have my eyes rolling, but I can most certainly say that Shrek the Third is simply gorgeous. In some situations you’d be hard pressed to tell you aren’t watching one of the earlier movies.
Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most was the visionary style the designers chose to go with for the cutscenes. While it would have been all too easy to MPEG some clips from the movie or even create some new CG scenes, instead, we get these totally awesome stick-puppet shows. In fact, the entire game is told under the premise that Shrek and his crew are going to the theater to watch a play about his adventures.
So every three or four chapters you get these really cool cutscene of primitive cutout characters with moveable joints bobbing around a 2D set. What is really amazing is that if you look closely (especially on an HDTV) you can see every last bit of texture detail right down to cloth and wood grain. It’s awesome! Even on the load screens you have this fantastic red cloth curtain and these realistic wooden shields that are scrolling up and down.
Character design is nearly flawless. Donkey has visible fur, not only on his normal pelt but that ruffled mowhawk that runs down his head and back. Shrek, Fiona, and especially Puss (don’t call him “Mr. In Boots”) look and move just like their film counterparts, with fluid animations for running and jumping and all sorts of crazy and fun moves for combat and finishing attacks.
The environments are breathtaking with open vistas like Merlin’s cliffs with cascading waterfall and reflective stream that passes through a half-built beaver dam. Then you have creepy interiors like the Queens castle and the dungeon that hold Fiona and Sleeping Beauty captive. The game is constantly mixing up the environments to keep things fresh and exciting.
Okay, let me get this rant out of the way before I rave about the excellent music and sound effects. The quickest way to annoy this reviewer is to make everybody’s footsteps sound alike, not only on all surfaces, but between all characters. Why you ask…because I am always moving and the sound for footsteps is the most heard sound in this game, which is why I must painfully tell you that everybody in this game sounds like a Clydesdale horse. This might be acceptable for Donkey, but why does the petite Sleeping Beauty, in her strapless slippers, sound like she is delivering a wagon of beer as she tries to escape the dungeon? I kid you not. After about three continuous hours of playing Shrek the Third somebody in the next room said, “Are you ever going to get off that horse?” and during that time I had played Puss, Sleeping Beauty, Fiona, and Shrek.
Now that I have vented, the rest of the sound design is outstanding with great sounds for combat, magic, environmental noises, and all sorts of storybook sound effects that bring the game to life just as much as the films. Voices are all handled with professional sound-alikes who, for the most part, nail their respective characters. There are a few repetitive one-liners but what are ya gonna do.
The music is excellent, and I’m assuming it’s borrowed from the film, and if not, it could have been…it’s just that good. There are unique themes for a lot of the levels and fun minstrel music for the puppet show. It’s very nice.
Shrek is an 8-10 hour game that you can most certainly stretch to 12-15 if you plan on completing all the challenges for each chapter. Sure, you can blow through the game in 5-6 hours if you just want to finish it, but smashing everything in sight to find that one missing mug offers a great and rewarding challenge.
One thing I really enjoyed (and can’t thank the designers enough) is that you aren’t required to replay an entire level when you are going back to find a missing item or perform a specific challenge. If you only got four of the five mugs, you only have to replay until you find that missing fifth one then exit back to the menu. This saves a lot of needless replay and frustration, although, replaying entire levels is a great way to make a lot of coinage.
Speaking of rewards, the Xbox 360 offers 22 objectives for earning the 1000 Achievement Points. Many of these you will earn by merely finishing the game while others, like tossing and catching an enemy 50 times will take some dedication. And if you want to earn the points for playing on Charming difficulty you’ll first have to purchase that mode from the Gift Store for a whopping 15,000 points.
The Gift Store is a great addition to the game and allows you to purchase new clothes for the characters, many of which give you strength and fairy dust bonuses. You can also purchase increased health and some fun new characters and maps for the multiplayer games. There are even commentary tracks you can buy for the levels where you can hear character conversations dealing with "behind the scenes" issues like jail breaks and footwear. The cost of buying out the entire store is well beyond what you will earn in a single pass of the game.
I was pretty stoked about seeing the new Shrek movie this weekend, and now that I have gotten a taste of the story and the new characters in a next-gen game that looks nearly identical with past films, I am really excited. Shrek the Third is a first class production that maintains the quality of character and level design to keep it right on par with the movie, and the gameplay is great fun.
For parents who might be concerned with the heavy focus on combat, rest assured that Puss, Artie, and a few knights are the only ones using real weapons and there is no blood whatsoever. Pirates are armed with brooms, prisoners attack with spoons, and giant living trees toss apples. It’s fairly innocent stuff. There are the expected fart jokes (and fart attacks) and other harmless kid stuff.
Shrek the Third is easily the best Shrek I’ve ever played. The power of the 360 brings the world of Shrek right into my living room with lush graphics, rich sound, and challenging, entertaining gameplay that makes this title a perfect complement to what will easily be the blockbuster box-office event of the year.