Reviewed: May 2, 2007
Released: May 2, 2007
There is no denying that DreamWorks is the house that Shrek built, and when you have a phenomenally successful franchise like the “Green Ogre” you are going to milk it for all it's worth. Thus, in a few weeks, kids and adults will be treated to the third installment in the film series, but if you just can’t wait, why not explore the world of Shrek the Third on your Nintendo handheld system today. It probably won’t spoil too much of the movie for you and you’ll look really cool playing this game while your waiting in line for your movie tickets.
Shrek the Third loosely follows the movie plot, at least as far as painting the backdrop for the adventures of Shrek, Donkey, Puss-in Boots, and Artie (the new guy). When the king reveals that he has a cousin (Arthur, or “Artie”) Shrek and his buddies head out to search for the rightful heir to the throne of Far Far Away. Apparently Ogres, even if they are the king's daughter and her husband, are not allowed to rule the kingdom.
Shrek finds Artie but the two get into a fight on their way home and Artie wrecks the ship. This leads to a meeting with a wizard named…wait for it…MERLIN, and of course Donkey starts messing around with a magic wand and turns Merlin into a tasty dessert. In order to break the spell, so Merlin can send them all back home, our heroes must explore the land and collect a whole bunch of gold fairies.
Meanwhile, Prince Charming has taken this opportunity to storm the castle and try to take over Far Far Away by force. So start exploring the numerous and wonderfully creative levels, collect the fairies, and defeat all sorts of evil (but fun) enemies while meeting up with all of your favorite characters from Shrek and even a few surprises guests.
Shrek the Third is a traditional action-adventure game that borrows heavily on the “buddy system” gameplay mechanic that got its start back in 1993 with The Lost Vikings. At any given time you have multiple characters under your control, even if they happen to be in different areas of the current level. Each character has special abilities that will help them to help the others in a vareity of action sequences and puzzle scenarios.
Shrek has a juggernaut attack that allows him to smash through walls, fences, or body slam enemies. He can also do a pile driver move to smash through some sections of floor. Puss is the only character who can jump, he can even do the chimney scamper move made popular in Prince of Persia. He is also the only character with a weapon making him ideal for combat. Artie is armed with a shield that he can throw out and up, making him perfect for ranged attacks as well as tripping glowing magical switches that are out of reach to the other characters. He can also sit on his shield and float across bodies of water, but you’ll have to blow into the DS microphone to give him a boost.
Shrek the Third does a great job of utilizing all the special abilities of the NDS. The D-pad moves your characters and you can link two or three characters together by linking their portraits in the lower screen with the stylus. Combat is simple – you just point at the enemy or make a special move or swirl with the stylus to invoke an attack like an uppercut, butt-smash, or sword slash. The controls work similarly for all of the characters, only with character-specific animations and fun results. Tapping on Artie will toggle his shield from vertical to holding it over his head to protect himself, and anyone standing with him, from aerial attacks.
Puzzle are usually integrated right into the environments. Early on you will need to storm a castle, so Shrek has to repeatedly ram into a siege tower to move it toward the wall. Once in place Puss will need to jump and climb to reach the top so he can hop into the castle and open the door for the rest of the team. The puzzles get more complicated as the game continues, and you will often have to disband your team for extended periods of time, even though you are all working towards the same goal, which might be something as simple as opening a gate.
There are also areas within the level that require you to assemble your team to continue. These might be switches like a series of three obelisks where everyone must stand to lower a bridge or the magic portal at the end of each level. It is also possible to get some characters stuck, forcing you to restart the level. I found this slightly annoying, since you really have no warning that this is going to happen until it’s too late, but most levels are only 10-15 minutes long.
Donkey runs the show, both as narrator and tipster. Just click on the ? icon in the top corner for a hint or reminder of what you are supposed to be doing. You can also invoke magic and special actions by using the left or right triggers, which turns the screen blue and highlights interactive items. This might be something as simple as tapping on the mirror to end the level or opening a door to enter a new area or blowing into the microphone to skim Artie across a body of water. You can even use magic in combat like tapping on a Knight to cause his shield to vanish.
There are numerous levels, each with three stages and a boss fight. The bosses aren’t as difficult as I had feared, but then again, this game is targeted for the younger crowd. You’ll often need to exploit the abilities of two or more party members and possibly use both screens to formulate a strategy and attack. There is no AI for the characters you aren’t controlling – they will just stand there and wait for you to return, often doing funny idle animations like Shrek farting.
The HUD is simple and stays out of the way. You basically have two character portraits in the bottom corners and when you get close enough to either or both of the characters you aren’t controlling a green arrow lights up indicating you can link to that character. Once linked, everyone moves together, but your attacks are still performed by the character in direct control, often breaking that link.
Shrek the Third also supports multiplayer but we were unable to play any of these variations for this review, so I can only pass along what the manual says we can do. There is wireless multiplayer functions allowing up to three players to play together, each controlling their own chosen character and work together as a team. There is also a “dual screen spectator mode” that allows a player who is not controlling a character to use the microphone and cast spells, which I’ll assume is like taking on the role of Donkey.
I was really impressed with the graphics for Shrek the Third. I don’t play a whole lot of DS games and it’s been months since I’ve seen the current state of DS game quality. Vicarious Visions has created an amazing 3D world, lush with detail and vibrant colors, and presented it on a 2D platform, making the most of both screens to create a great sense of scale and verticality.
The character animations are nicely detailed and rich with subtle details and humorous idle antics. I wish they were bigger, but you have to find the magical point between the perfect camera view and the tiny screens on the DS. You’ll still be able to enjoy all the characters as they run, fight, jump, smash, and sail their way to victory.
I really loved the opening storybook presentation that has you turning your DS 90-degrees to read the dual-page narrative just like a real storybook. The background art and fancy font is perfect for the game and its overall theme. The level and stage select screens are simple, with rotating bubbles that show the level and stage. Everything is handled with the touchscreen.
The soundtrack for Shrek the Third is perfect, full of fantasy and magical charm suitable for the source material, and there is new music for each level so you seldom get tired of listening to it.
The voice acting is fair but I found the actor trying to impersonate Eddie Murphy a bit lacking, which is a shame because Donkey has far more dialogue than anybody else in the game. Not only does he narrate the opening, he is constantly interjecting his own humorous one-liners and advise throughout the game. Again, younger kids won’t know or care. Donkey sounds just “Eddie enough” to pass. I did enjoy the fact that Donkey breaks from the text on the screen to infuse the story with his own stylish delivery. Sadly, the rest of the cast sounds better but talks much less, usually just spouting off the same quips during combat or specific actions.
Sound effects are fun and magical with quality sounds for combat as well as numerous environmental noises to bring the colorful graphics to life. Don’t be surprised when your kid finds the Shrek farting sound and plays it over and over with the volume cranked up.
Shrek the Third is a substantial game for kids and even older gamers. There are 20 levels to explore, numerous bosses to fight, 84 coins to collect and 26 gold fairies you’ll need to find to save Merlin. Fairies are usually pretty obvious, but you’ll really have to explore the levels if you want to perfect that coin count. All collectibles are tallied in the level select screen so you know which levels you’ll need to revisit later if you missed anything.
Shrek also offers three save slots so multiple family members or friends can take part in their own adventure without encroaching on another player’s progress.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I cannot say how close Shrek the Third comes to matching the plot or flavor of the film, but even taken as a standalone game and not a movie tie-in, this latest Shrek adventure is a charming title that is fun, challenging, and perfect for the entire family. It mixes action and combat with a bit of puzzle solving and does a great job of promoting teamwork, an important value for the kids this game hopes to target. Buy it for your kids but don’t be surprised if you find yourself playing it after they go to bed. Just make sure to recharge their battery.