Reviewed: June 4, 2007
Released: May 15, 2007
Shrek the Third is a videogame spin-off of the new Dreamworks CG film of the same name. In it, players will play through a truncated version of the movie's story, while controlling various characters. A platform/action game with mini-games and a two player mode, Shrek the Third could have been a decent fan game, but unfortunately, like many movie videogames, the underlying reason for its existence is to make money off of a popular series of films--and it shows.
Shrek the Third is a traditional, linear platform game. The story roughly follows the story of the movie without much in the way of extra exploration. During different parts of the game, players must control different characters including Shrek, Donkey, Puss in Boots, Fiona, Sleeping Beauty and others. Each character's fighting style is slightly different, but they all follow the same control scheme. Some characters are physically stronger than others, some are faster than others and each one handles a bit differently.
There are a few basic punches and kicks, as well as special moves that are unique to each character. For example, Puss in Boots can purr in such an adorable way, that enemies will become charmed and stop attacking for a period of time. Donkey can perform a powerful head-butt and Shrek can knock back enemies and increase his power for a set period of time. These special moves can be executed by picking up fairy dust that falls from enemies or can be found in objects in the level that can be smashed. After you collect enough fairy dust, a meter will fill up and allow the special moves to be activated.
The control scheme makes Shrek the Third more or less a button masher. Controls aren't too clunky, but they are simple enough that it doesn't really matter how smooth the controls are. As in most games, button mashing gets pretty dull pretty quick, and Shrek the Third on easy mode is insanely easy. I was well into the game before I realized that characters in easy mode do have a life bar; it just takes an incredible number of hits before the screen starts to flash red. The easy mode is probably so forgiving so that even really small kids can play it without much trouble. The regular mode, while noticeably harder than the easy mode, is still very easy, and hard mode follows suit. If you're looking for a challenge, Shrek the Third doesn't offer much.
There are various challenges throughout each level in Shrek the Third, such as finding and collecting items, executing finishing moves a certain number of times, and not getting killed in the process. At the end of the level, how well you do finishing these "quests" is rated and you are awarded accordingly with coins. Coins can be used in the menu screen to purchase items and unlockables at the gift shop. All in all, it's a pretty standard scheme.
While I appreciate that Shrek the Third kept its younger audience in mind with its simplicity, it too severely underestimates what constitutes a challenging gameplay experience. The whole game is pretty much a cakewalk; mash the buttons a whole bunch and you're on to the next round. It feels sloppy and boring in the end and really is just too easy.
There are various mini-games that can be played in Shrek the Third in both one and two player modes. Among the mini-games are shuffleboard, a shooting gallery, a frog herding game (yes, frog herding, wherein the player runs all over the level trying to shove frogs into a pond on either end of the arena) and a Missile Command-type game where players catapult boulders into targets across the screen into the opposing player's towers. While the mini-games are a nice touch, they aren't terribly well designed, even in two-player mode. Like the main story mode, the mini-games are either too easy, or just frustrating. The fun doesn't last very long and pretty soon the whole game feels tedious.
The graphics in Shrek the Third are very similar to the animation in the Shrek movies, albeit, less smooth. Character designs are obviously no surprise here, so if you like the animation design of the movies, well, there you go. Still, it's obviously not nearly as smooth as the CG of the movies (which really goes without saying) and some closer attention to detail could have really been spent on smoothing some things out in the graphics department.
Most noticeable, is the complete and utter lack of facial expressions on the characters. It's quite awkward, especially with Shrek's character. His facial expression stays completely complacent, no matter what's going on, no matter what is being said to him and no matter what he himself says. He always looks like he just woke up or underwent a lobotomy. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but there really isn't an excuse for this in this day and age with computer graphics technology. Even if the characters had just three face maps this awkwardness could have been prevented. It's an unnecessary flaw, especially for a franchise that has made it's name for being a CG project.
Level designs are decent, if somewhat overly simple, and many of the connecting story scenes take place in the form of a cardboard-on-sticks puppet show, with the great John Cleese acting as narrator. I liked this touch. It looks like a send-up of medieval puppet shows, so it fits in with the story nicely, and the effect is rather humorous. Also, and most importantly, this method of storytelling wasn't overused. There are plenty of scenes in the game that take place with actual character models and level designs, and the game strikes a pretty decent balance between the two modes of storytelling.
A few flaws were noticeable here and there still, most notably a dialog between Shrek and Donkey that takes place with Shrek--and Donkey's disembodied voice. Characters occasionally get stuck on things, as do enemies, mostly because there are invisible barriers all over the place. These are more than just flukes though, and add to the feeling of sloppiness in Shrek the Third that could have been avoided if the developers were more interested in entertaining their fans, instead of digging deeper into their wallets.
While Shrek the Third has many celebrity sound-alike actors for the video game, not many of the actual film actors are on board here. That means there's no Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers, Antonio Banderas or Cameron Diaz to lend their voices to the characters that so many have come to love. John Cleese does show up on the voice acting roster, however. Perhaps I'm just a nerdy Monty Python fan, but Cleese makes a great narrator.
The sound-alike voices aside, something else about the voice acting is a bit off. Perhaps it's a combination of things. For one, the delivery is a bit stilted in some lines, mainly Shrek's. Shrek doesn't have the charming, Scottish-esque accent he does in the movies, but rather sounds more like an emotionless, robotic ogre. Of course, he IS an ogre. But Shrek never really sounded like the typical big dumb monster in the movies. He had character, emotion and a liveliness to his voice--that's what set him apart from the usual ogre that most people think of in fairy tales; without it, Shrek just isnít Shrek.
Videogame Shrek more or less bumbles his way through lines, saying things that are supposed to sound sarcastic, but come of as flat and dull. When he punches, he occasionally sounds out an unenthusiastic "uunhh," which sounds really, well, stupid.
Another problem with the voice acting is that the material the actors must deliver just isn't funny. Part of the charm of Shrek is the tongue in cheek humor, mostly revolving around lampooning the instantly recognizable Western fairy tales that many of us grew up with. Shrek (the franchise) has a distinct sense of humor to it, and Shrek the Third (the videogame) seems to just be trying too hard. Less time is actually spent on clever dialog, than on the actor's ability to overemphasize dialog in order to make it sound funny. Of course, it comes out all wrong. This is just another indicator that Shrek the Third has a hard time being a good and entertaining adaptation of a popular film franchise, and ends up being a cash cow instead.
Still, some of the voice actors are pretty decent, and it isn't their fault that they don't have more instantly recognizable celebrity voices. Some of them do a very good job (particularly Donkey's voice actor), so it's not as though the whole operation is completely cringe worthy; in fact, most of it isn't. However, it tries to emulate something so much funnier, with so little success, that it ends up sounding awkward.
The music in Shrek is just there, plain and simple. Most of it is quite forgettable. Some of it is simply a poor fit: The shuffleboard mini-game aboard a pirate ship could have benefited from having something a bit more pirate-y considering the setting, but instead, the soundtrack resembles elevator music more closely. It certainly doesn't liven things up much.
While you can bust right through Shrek's storyline on easy mode, since it's nearly impossible to die, the main game is a fair length. More value in this game might have come from the mini-games and the two player modes that are included. Most of the mini-games are not very well designed, though, and even with someone else to play with, the two-player versions simply get old really fast. The fact that they are overly simplistic and somewhat shabbily thrown together indicates that they're aimed at a younger
audience. Still, they're dull regardless. There are a few unlockables in Shrek the Third, mostly in the gift shop, that can be purchased from coins that are picked up throughout the game. Most of the unlockables are different outfits that change the appearance of the characters as well as their fighting styles, but the difference in performance is hardly noticeable. It's funny to see Shrek dressed as a pirate with a handlebar mustache (for example), and that's ultimately why these unlockables exist.
Shrek the Third, while mostly a cash cow riding the wave of success from the movies, has some highlights here and there. Overall though, it could have been better. Poorly slapped together in some aspects, awkward dialog and delivery noticeably mar Shrek the Third. Give it a rental, since the kids will probably play it because of the movies. Otherwise, only the biggest fans will probably get a kick out of it.