Reviewed: March 25, 2009
Released: March 24, 2009
This Friday DreamWorks will invade theaters and our entire planet as aliens once again try to wipe out the human race – in 3D! Only this time it’s not Bruce Willis or Will Smith coming to our rescue. The fate of Earth is in the hands of B.O.B., The Missing Link, Ginormica, Insectosaurus, and Dr. Cockroach, a ragtag bunch of monsters our government has been hiding in a top-secret underground bunker somewhere out in the desert.
Playing Monsters vs. Aliens brought back numerous personal memories from countless sources like Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, The Attack of the 50’ Woman, Hellboy, Gex, and even the Abe’s Oddworld. The gameplay starts off surprisingly varied and fresh, with three playable characters (four if you count Doc Roach in co-op mode), so you have numerous abilities and dozens of levels to use them.
The premise is simple, although having not seen the movie I can’t vouch for how close the game follows the film. I’m guessing, as with most DreamWorks game adaptations, there have been liberties taking with the script to include locations and events not seen in the movie, or at least I hope so otherwise there will be no surprises for me this Friday.
Gallaxhar is invading the Earth; the next stop in his quest for galactic domination, but this planet has something special, a power he needs to create his clone army that he will use to replace the human race, and that power is inside Ginormica…excuse me…Susan. But before our Monsters can save the planet we first need to meet them and learn their unique abilities. That is what tutorials are for, but rather than a dedicated tutorial you get pop-up tips that will continue to appear throughout the first two-thirds of the game unless you turn them off.
Each character has special abilities and a distinct playing style. Ginormica is an inch shy of 50-feet tall so she has some amazing strength and is fond of roller-skating through her levels using cars and jeeps as skates. These on-rail levels require quick reflexes in order to pick-up monster DNA (the collectibles in this game) as well as avoid enemy attacks. She can jump over and limbo under obstacles, grind on rails and even wall ride, and her dash attack is perfect for slamming through doors, rockslides, and enemy robots.
B.O.B. is probably one of the most unique characters I’ve ever played in a video game and I wished they had exploited his abilities even more. B.O.B. is a blob of quivering goo – very much like those aliens on Futurama, and just like those aliens, he can eat things and you can see them inside his transparent mass. B.O.B. mostly eats crates but he can slide back a small robot or even a guard if he needs to. The interesting thing about his levels is they are a mix of solid floors and gratings and unless B.O.B. has something solid in his belly he will slip through the grates. Obviously this leads to some excellent level and puzzle designs. But B.O.B. can also stick to walls and ceilings creating a sense of vertigo and a 3D style of gaming and level design that I haven’t experienced since Gex, that old gecko game from the 90’s.
Speaking of 3D gameplay and level design, meet The Missing Link, half ape and half fish this crazy hybrid is the brawler of the bunch with lightning speed, a vicious tail-whip and jump attack, and sticky limbs that allow him to scale the surface of some of the largest bosses in gaming history – seriously, the bosses in this game dwarf the ones in Shadow of the Colossus and take hours and multiple stages to bring down.
Insectosaurus and Dr. Cockroach fill out the team, although they are more background filler. You’ll see the towering 350-foot giant slug in the background of some battles and in a few cutscenes but he is only playable in the DS version. Doc Roach will always be offering verbal advice while you play or you can actually have him join the fight in an interesting co-op mode that reminded me of Mario Galaxy, where Player 2 can point and shoot at targets to assist the main player.
Regardless of the character you are playing at any given time you can expect plenty of those overused QTE moments where you have to rapidly press a button or enter a certain sequence or even spin the analog stick to unthread a bolt. Again, these are cool moments the first and even the tenth time you do them but by the time you have jumped on a turret, pummeled it, and then finished it off with a random face button fifty times you will be quite bored with the whole process. There are way too many of these input sequences and they seldom bother to change the button sequences.
Monsters vs. Aliens spans four chapters and about 25 missions – the entire thing taking about 8-10 hours to finish, but that’s just the story mode. You will collect thousands of molecules of DNA during the levels (and subsequent replays) that you can spend between levels purchases nodes in a giant DNA strand. Each node represents artwork, level commentary, monster upgrades, a missing playable level, movie stills, or some other cool extra. There are key Bonus Game Challenge nodes that have to be unlocked before you can purchase items beyond that node. There are 35 of these mini-game challenges that take a portion of a level from the game and require you to either beat a certain time limit, obtain a certain high score, or complete the challenge unscathed.
You can earn bronze, silver, and gold medals in these challenges, but you only need a bronze to unlock the next strand of DNA to purchase more bonus items. It’s one of the most comprehensive and challenging bonus sections I have ever seen in a game like this, and it will keep you busy for hours, even after you have finished the story. There is no way you will earn enough DNA to unlock everything on your first pass and even when the credits role there are at least 3-5 new DNA chains that reveal themselves. The Trophies are varied allowing you to earn rewards for completing the game as well as performance-based trophies for each character and even co-op multiplayer.
If I had to complain about anything it would be just how long this game goes on. I honestly thought the game was over when I defeated the giant robot in San Francisco and my monsters were getting ready to go to Monster Beach, but it turns out that was only the halfway point. Sadly, the second half of the game doesn’t really add anything new to the gameplay; you just do the same things in new locations with a few new enemies and boss battles.
Perhaps I was more frazzled than most having to play this entire game in two days, but I seriously have to question the attention span of the kids this game is targeted for and if they won’t be getting bored doing the same thing over and over and over. By the end of the game if I had to guide B.O.B. through one more “needlessly complex maze” or have The Missing Link crawl up the turret-protected side of another giant robot, or have Susan skate through one more rail sequence I was going to go insane. So spread the monster love out over a few days and don’t rush things.
DreamWorks and Beenox are responsible for one of my favorite movie and game combos – Bee Movie, so I was pretty excited to see how this movie would make the leap from big screen to home video game. Ultimately, it’s hard to nail down the visuals. The cutscenes, which use in-game graphics, are actually weaker than gameplay visuals in texture and detail. Susan is rather plain looking and even a bit retro in her design, even if you only see her in a Jet Grind Radio animation cycle for most of the game. B.O.B. is a cool design with subtle animation and glistening textures and The Missing Link has some nice scales and texturing on his skin. The true stars of the game are the giant robots and the alien mother ship. The artists really used their imaginations for these creations.
Monsters vs. Aliens seems to continually improve, both on scale, design complexity, and textures the further you go, so by the time you are inside the alien mother ship things are looking pretty epic. Sadly, the PS3 version caps the resolution at 720p and there seems to be a lack of anti-aliasing so text and some angular lines show a bit of jaggies. What the PS3 lacks in overall sharpness it actually makes up for in what are slightly more detailed textures and surface effects.
The audio portion of the game is excellent with plenty of 50’s style monster movie music themes and some great voice acting from the actual stars of the film; Seth Rogan (B.O.B.), Reese Witherspoon (Susan), Rainn Wilson (Gallaxhar), and Will Arnett (The Missing Link). Sadly, Kiefer Sutherland (General W.R. Monger) and Hugh Laurie (Dr. Cockroach) had sound-alikes for the game. The sound effects are excellent with plenty of over-the-top sci-fi and robot sounds and B.O.B. has some sickly oozing noises as he drips through grates or slurps down an enemy guard or robot then spits them back out.
Activision and DreamWorks have another solid movie-licensed game ready for fans of the upcoming film. I still enjoyed Bee Movie Game a bit better, if only because it knew when to end. Monsters vs. Aliens starts to drag by the third act and when Act 4 started I dropped my controller in disbelief and went to get some dinner. Admittedly, the monster and level designs get cooler as the game progresses but the ways in which you interact with them are painfully repetitive. Nonetheless, this is a game that will surely delight the target age group and might even engage a few parents. Kids can let mom and day play as Dr. Cockroach and help them through the tougher levels, making Monsters vs. Aliens truely fun for the entire family.