Reviewed: October 31, 2005
Released: October 24, 2006
Iíve come to expect the obligatory video game spin-off for just about any major film, especially animated features, but Activision makes a daring attempt to ďdouble dipĒ not only with the theatrical release of Over the Hedge, but also the home video release.
Over the Hedge: Hammy Goes Nuts! is a handheld-only game inspired by those loveable woodland creatures forcibly relocated by ďcivilizationĒ. Itís obviously aimed toward a much younger audience than the previous console titles, suffering from a bit of uninspired game design and a subtle sense of being rushed to the stores to coincide with the DVD.
The story premise failed to grab me. Apparently the cable gets knocked out and Hammy (the hyperactive squirrel) is on a mission to restore cable, but with the help of a busy beaver named Boris, they are going to do better than cable Ė they are going to create interactive TV. And lets bring RJ, Vern, and the rest of the cast in for the fun while weíre at it.
I have to admit, Iím probably about 35 years too old to be playing this game, but even so, I love a good kids game. Open Season was awesome and Cars is one of the best racing games out this year, and even the console versions of Over the Hedge were fun and engaging, but something just fell flat when I started playing Hammy Goes Nuts.
Most of my indifference stemmed from the extremely simple game design that will have even preschoolers snoozing in boredom. The entire game is designed around two things; item collection, and playing ďPunkedĒ-like pranks on unsuspecting humans on closed circuit TV. Exploration levels are based on hierarchy puzzles. You are given a map that shows the location of hot spots and you must visit those spots and collect the items to use in the proper order.
For instance, in level one you must open the door to the cellar, which requires finding a key, which is buried in the backyard. You need a shovel, which is hidden in the tall grass so you must cut the grass using the clippers but those are behind a gushing fire hydrant that requires a wrench to turn off. Oh yeah, and when you do find the shovel its broken in two so you need some glue to put it together.
The next part of the level as you racing around the cellar picking up many of the same objects from the previous section and sneaking them out a window. This is on a timer, which is keyed into the sleepiness of the human you are going to prank, as noted by sheep. You can find extra sheep by shaking up trashcans.
Once you have gathered all the pieces (or the timer runs out) you then get to play a prank on the human. This takes the form of a TV and remote and you watch the human move around the room and you must push the action button at the right time to scare the human, whereupon Hammy and RJ will cackle with delight and youíll yawn and press the continue button to repeat the process on the next level.
To its credit, Hammy makes good use of the NDS, especially the touch screen. You actually press the screen ahead of the character to move them in that direction and there are icons to select the various animals available, so you can orchestrate some teamwork. Most of the time itís just as simple to use one character but later youíll find some advantages to working together.
The graphics are quite nice for an NDS game but donít quite live up to the Pixar quality of the film or previous console titles. The cutscenes feature nice character art and animation, almost like a living storybook. The font can be a bit too small and difficult to read.
The top screen is a 2D map of the level with icons noting points of interest. The bottom screen is a top-down view of the world where tiny characters (too tiny to appreciate) run around shaking trashcans, collecting items, and transporting them on their head one at a time to the target location. There is a modest HUD that shows item status, time left, and a character portrait menu to switch characters with a tap of the stylus.
There is no speech in Hammy Goes Nuts, which is a huge disappointment since famous voice actors and clever dialogue make up a huge part of the feature animation appeal. You definitely lose something while reading these lines and trying to imagine what a hyperactive squirrel might sound like. Itís also sad because those old enough to truly enjoy this game probably canít read yet, and there are some rather advanced words in the dialogue too.
The music is cute and fits the theme of the animated adventure but it is way too short and loops way too much, almost to the point of being hypnotic. I hate to admit this in print, but I actually fell asleep (or maybe it was a trance) playing this game, and not in my comfy living room, but in a booth at Subway during lunch.
Adults will blaze through this game in a few hours while younger kids (the ones it was meant for) will get a few days, maybe a week, of modest gameplay and potential fun. Itís not a terribly challenging game. Everything is quite literally drawn out for you and the only thing to make you think is the order in which to use the items.
Having not seen the movie in theaters, I thought I was at a disadvantage when I reviewed the console game earlier this year, but I just saw the DVD last week, only days before playing this game, and if anything, the movie probably set my expectations too high; too high for the limitations of the NDS and too high for the creative potential of milking a franchise twice in six months.
Over the Hedge: Hammy Goes Nuts! will probably amuse the very young, and it was nice to actually use the touch screen for something other than menu selections for a change. There is no denying the cute and cuddly factor of the cast, and the appealing art style of the cutscenes, but the 2D gameplay, tiny characters, uninspired game design, and a coma-inducing soundtrack should send anyone over the age of ten in search of something else to play on your NDS.