Reviewed: September 5, 2005
Released: October 20, 2005
The basic idea behind Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action! is that the namesake characters, Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner, have cost Warner Brothers Studios so much money from their past hi-jinks that they're forced into a three-movie contract to earn the money back. The three movies they are to make include a horror film, a science fition film and a pirate flick. With ample instruction from the director, the motley crew of five (Pinky and the Brain are also forced into the contract for reasons unknown) begin acting out scenes for the daring, thrill-filled films they're expected to star in.
The premise is a clever one, and although the game doesn't completely take the bull by the horns, there are a lot of nice touches that I found entertaining. For example, if your character gets hit, they don't "die," it's a "cut!" The "scene" is then restarted. And instead of a simple timer to work against, there's a display in the upper right of the screen showing how many reels of film the director has left to work with.
Extra reels are plentiful and can be collected throughout most stages. And since there are three movies to switch between at once, each level rotates from the last one. You start out working on the first level of the pirate movie, then you play the first level of the sci-fi film, and so on. This is a good device to keep the game's levels from getting dull, at least until near the end. Unfortunately, despite all these nice details, the game is still a clunker at its core. It's a Pinto with racing stripes and a candy-apple paint job.
Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action is an isometric platform style game that's pretty much all by the book, gameplay wise. Yakko, Wakko and Dot are playable, as well as Pinky and the Brain. It's a nice perk for a GBA game to have so many different characters, each with unique abilities. Yakko is the standard action-type character, who runs, jumps and throws apples at enemies to knock them out. Wakko... well, he burps. Really hard. Dot can glide a bit by poofing out her skirt, but she won't push blocks around like the other two. And Pinky and the Brain have high speed and the ability to operate complex machinery as their fortes, respectively.
As one might expect, each level requires the talents of multiple characters to solve. This is fine, and certainly adds variety to the gameplay, which I like. Unfortunately, the method for switching characters gets a bit tiresome, especially in later levels. At certain locations in each level (usually only one or two places), a special stage door leads to a short rhythm mini-game called "Polka Dottie" that has players pushing a short, simple sequence of buttons to make their character, as well as every other character who's available to switch with, dance a silly-looking dance to a silly-sounding song. A chorus line of beefy, hairy men doing the can-can will even dance out behind you if you do well enough.
At the end of the mini-game, you earn more time depending on how well you did, and then are given the chance to switch characters. Now, I was charmed by Polka Dottie, and I'm sure most people would be. But it seemed less like a relevant part of the game than a vague attempt at throwing more variety into the levels, which I found annoying.
Also, these "switch areas" are so few and far between that you'll often find yourself running back and forth an exasperating number of times just to complete a short level with puzzles whose solutions are obvious to begin with. Laying off the Polka Dottie mini-game a bit would have helped - for example, making players dance for each new character, but then be able to switch them on the fly by using the left shoulder button once the mini-game was completed.
The isometric view is a low point to this game, since it makes character control (especially aiming projectiles) more frustrating than it needs to be. I know it's the vogue right now to simulate 3D on the GBA by using an isometric viewpoint, but with the PSP and Nintendo DS making waves, it's not fooling anybody. As I was playing through Animaniacs, I couldn't help but think how much more fun the game would have been as a classic NES-style side scrolling game in the vein of Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers.
Overall, Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action isn't a bad game for the GBA - just an incredibly average one. And despite all the silliness and occasional truly funny moments, the game's lack of cultural references and fast-talk dialog keeps it from feeling like the brash, zany cartoon it's based on. The reason that cartoon was such a hit was precisely because it knew how to run circles around its viewers and still leave them feeling like they were in on things. It was clever, quick and completely absurd, and it's too bad the game couldn't have taken more of a cue from the show. If it had, it might have been a lot better than it is.
For the GBA, Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action has very clear, crisp graphics. The character designs of the show are very well represented in it and it's always easy to recognize a main character, even when they're hardly a centimeter tall. The backgrounds are colorful and cartoony, and fit in with the characters and enemies well.
However, GBA owners who don't have the flip-top GBA SP should be warned that Animaniacs was obviously designed and tested on the SP system, which has a backlit screen. On a regular Game Boy Advance, using only the light of a sun or nearby lamp, the graphics appear too dark. In fact, I found I couldn't play the game on my regular GBA at night, because no light in my apartment gave sufficient illumination for the game's scenery.
Other than that, some might complain about the game's lack of special effects, but that didn't really bother me, since special effects by and large would have been out of place in it. The game looks nice - not great, but nice - and I don't really have any major complaints about its graphics.
The music in Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action is cute. I particularly liked the crazy Polka Dottie tune (though I still maintain it isn't necessary to subject players to that mini-game as much as the game does). None of the songs really stood out any more than any of the others, but it was all passable.
There is no voice acting at all - I'm pretty sure the little grunts occasionally uttered by the game's characters are just synthesized sound effects. Speaking of sound effects, the game kind of skimps on them. Some noises outside of exactly where the main character was would have been nice, as would a generally wider variety of sounds have been. There's nothing much to note about the game's sound package except that - like the core of the game itself - it's entirely average.
Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action has fifteen levels, as well as a two player and an arena battle mode, accessible via GBA link cable. While I didn't get the chance to go head to head with my friends to see whether or not Pinky really would beat the Brain in a fight (none of them own GBA’s), I still have to maintain that fifteen levels is too short. Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World boasts over 90 levels, and while each of that game's levels was somewhat shorter than those found in Animaniacs, they still added up to a heck of a lot more gameplay.
Now, I know it might not be entirely fair to compare a B-list licensed game with what many consider to be the second-best platform game of all time, but let's face it: they're both on the same system. For roughly the same price as Animaniacs, you could pick up a used copy of one of the most enjoyable games ever made and be set with it for weeks or even months to come.
And once you figure out all the game's mechanics, most of the levels become ten-minute cakewalks. Multiply that by fifteen levels and you've got about 150 minutes of quality playtime on your hands. That's only two and a half hours of play before it becomes old hat... and it just isn't fun enough to warrant playing through it a second time.
I'm a fan of the Animaniacs cartoon from way back, and I certainly enjoyed being able to take some of my old favorite characters for a spin again. And, being a licensed product, the game looks, and at least somewhat sounds, like the TV show, which helps it out. But no matter how big of a fan of the source material I am, there's no getting around the fact that this game is just like a dozen other forgettable titles on the GBA today.
There really isn't any compelling reason to buy it. It's dull, at times exasperatingly slow, and way too short even if it were fun to play. I give Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action the flat average score it so richly deserves.