Reviewed: January 13, 2007
Released: November 21, 2006
Do you ever sometimes wonder to yourself “Who asked for this to be made?” Well, that’s exactly what I was wondering the day that Disney’s Chicken Little: Ace In Action arrived at the GCM offices. While it is commonplace for publishers to milk blockbuster franchises like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc well over a year after their cinematic release, doing so for a stinker like Chicken Little seems a bit strange.
Compared to the plethora of CGI films released since Chicken Little’s November of 2005 debut, the fable of the pessimistic Chicken just doesn’t cut the mustard against the likes of Over the Hedge, Ice Age 2, Cars, or the sadly underrated Hoodwinked. And this isn’t just my personal opinion peeking out here, a quick scan of most internet film ratings sites will prove that this is a common understanding among critics and movie fans.
Given that Chicken Little – the movie – was a veritable flop, it comes as a surprise that Disney would unearth the franchise over a year later to make a second multiplatform game. What comes as even more of a surprise is that the final product, Chicken Little: Ace In Action, is not really all that bad – in fact, it is kind of fun.
What makes Chicken Little: Ace In Action unique from the namesake dud of a movie, is that is does not try attempt follow the plot of the movie, or throw the characters into some kind of wacky contrived side adventures. In fact, the only real incorporation of the movie’s characters and environments is as a vehicle to convey the unique “game within a game” storyline concept that the developers have devised.
In Chicken Little: Ace In Action, the three movie characters – Chicken Little, Abby and Runt – come together in Chicken Little’s den to play the newest video game release from their favorite outer space superhero, Ace. Once they pop the game in their onscreen console, the real-life gamer (that’s you) suddenly becomes an integral part of the party as the characters play their game on his television screen.
Throughout the course of the game, each of the three movie characters gets to control his or her portion of Ace’s gameplay – Chicken Little controls the on-foot segments, Abby controls the spaceship hovercraft segments, and Runt controls the ground-based tank segments. Of course, it is you, the gamer, who is ultimately in control at all times, but the unique game design allows the movie characters to sit in a third party perspective and interject humorous one liners and jeers along with the onscreen gameplay. This is easily one of the best aspects of the game, and very reminiscent of the brilliant Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.
As a whole, the gameplay of Chicken Little: Ace In Action is suspiciously similar to Sony’s flagship Ratchet & Clank series – whether on foot or in vehicles, you would be hard pressed not to see the distinct resemblance between the two. Generally plagiarism of this sort would result in serious negative marks – but for an eleventh-hour multiplatform release like Ace in Action, which effectively extends the life of the wilting last-gen consoles, exceptions can be made. And with Ratchet & Clank as your source material, you know the gameplay is bound to be solid – for the most part, it is.
The on-foot sections are a mix of weapons-based combat and simple puzzle solving. While Ace might not be shooting the vast array of armaments that Sony’s feline warrior packs, there are some definitely cool weapons to be found in Chicken Little: Ace In Action. The puzzles are generally take the form of shooter-style mini-games, and are quite fun without being too taxing. Playing through the on-foot sections is easily the most rewarding portion of the game, as the action hops along at a solid enough clip to avoid dragging, and has a number of genuinely humorous mock-gaming moments thrown in to boot.
Vehicle segments rarely impress in action platformers, and Chicken Little: Ace In Action doesn’t make any monumental leaps in this respect. Still, Abby’s hovercraft segments are fairly entertaining, even considering that there are times where the wonky controls hamper the ability to meet certain objectives. Sadly, the game really loses steam in Runt’s tank levels, which are just too slow and cumbersome to be much fun.
All in all, the game can be taken as a sort of a “Lite” version of Sony’s first party platformers, and makes a decent attempt to ape its source material without looking like a complete copycat.
While the gameplay of Chicken Little: Ace In Action hints at blockbuster quality, the visual quality leans more towards low budget after school special. Nothing about Chicken Little’s gameplay visuals will make much of an impact on veteran gamers, and as with most other Disney releases, it seems as the developers were content with resting on the laurels of top-shelf CGI cutscenes rather than making a mark with the in-game graphics.
The levels are bland and repetitious, and feature very little eye candy to make any kind of mark with experienced gamers. The color palette is dull and unexciting, and everything has a washed-out appearance that all but eliminates any visual punch the graphics might have had. Likewise, the shadowing and lighting are rudimentary, and cannot hold a candle to the likes of Sony’s first-party platforming staples.
In terms of the sound, Chicken Little: Ace In Action gets the job done – but certainly doesn’t earn any medals doing so. The main claim to fame of this title is that the developers secured the actual movie actors to voice their onscreen counterparts - Zach Braff, Steve Zahn, and Joan Cusack all make their appearances in the game. And while most of the dialog consists of simple rehashed one-liners and sound bites, there are some honest-to-goodness conversational pieces during the movie-quality cutscenes.
The in-game action features the voice acting of Adam West as the titular hero, Ace. While West’s voice certainly works for the character, the whole B-actor campy shtick has been wearing a bit thin lately. West (like William Shatner) has made a mint making a mockery of himself – and while I respect his decision to do so, his one-voice-fits-all voiceover leaves me longing for the likes the late Phil Hartman, who was much better at conveying unique personas to his characters. Then again, West shows dedication in his work, and seldom sounds phoned-in like the other big-name stars voicing characters in the game.
Other than the big-name voiceovers, Chicken Little: Ace In Action has little to offer on the sound front. The effects are generic and get rehashed all too often throughout the game, and nothing really has that zing that makes you want to crank up the speakers.
Chicken Little: Ace In Action is a surprisingly solid game overall. While it might not have enough depth and variety to rock many experienced gamers’ worlds, it does offer enough action and fun to provide a solid weekend’s worth of entertainment for those casual gamers who just want to have a bit of fun.
Parents might want to be a bit selective when exposing younger children to Chicken Little: Ace In Action; while the title definitely leans towards family-friendly fare, it does feature a fair amount of weapons-based gameplay and destruction that might get the younger folks a bit wound-up.
Thankfully, Chicken Little: Ace In Action strays far enough from the dreadful film from which it was based, and delivers a decent gameplay experience with very little of the bad aftertaste.
And finally, while Ace in Action shamelessly apes the mega-hit Ratchet and Clank on almost every front, it comes across more as paying homage to, rather than trying to upstage the best platformer series to ever hit the small screen.