Reviewed: June 5, 2007
Released: June 5, 2007
Hey! Is anybody missing their Xbox copy of Shrek the Third? I found it over on the PSP. Seriously, I have to wonder why companies will release a game like this for the PS2 but clearly ignore the Xbox like it wasn't there. I suppose you could argue that the Xbox has been replaced with the 360 but then you could make that same argument for PS3 versus PS2. Whatever the reasoning behind these seemingly arbitrary release schedules, the Xbox didn't get a copy of Shrek the Third, but thanks to the wonderful graphics on the PSP, you can now see (and play) what that version might have looked like.
Arriving three weeks after all the other formats (apparently the time it takes to strip out all of those fun mini-games), PSP gamers can now join Shrek and his friends for his latest adventure. The PSP version has all the same solid controls of the other consoles, better graphics than the Wii and certainly better graphics than the PS2, but falls into a distant second place behind the 360 in visual excellence.
This is Shrek’s third trip to the big screen (in case you didn’t catch the title), but it’s the green ogre’s first trip to Sony's handheld. The game follows the plot of the film, at least enough so they can include all the new characters like Merlin, Arthur, Sleeping Beauty, Captain Hook, and even a cameo from a covert star from Madagascar. You’ll visit all the fun locations from the film as well as numerous levels and locations exclusive to the game.
To briefly recap the story from the game (and movie), Fiona’s father (the guy who got turned back into a frog in Shrek 2) is dying and the kingdom of Far Far Away needs a new leader. Even though technically qualified (by marriage), Shrek isn’t up to rule a kingdom so they go off in search of the king’s cousin, Arthur (or Artie) who is away at some sort of medieval prep school.
While Shrek and his crew are away, Prince Charming, with the assistance of Captain Hook, the evil queen (from Sleeping Beauty), some nasty witches, and a certain treacherous female accomplice make their move, imprisoning Fiona and her gal pals in the dungeon and putting on a propaganda-laced play in the center of town to prove that he should be the next king of Far Far Away.
At first glance, Shrek the Third can look deceptively like a repetitive fighting game, and I confess, you will be doing a lot of fighting…a lot. But the designers have done such a great job, not only mixing up the fight moves, combos, and super-moves, but they also are constantly changing up the playable characters, introducing new situations, new moves, and new abilities. Even ten hours into the game as you are nearing the final chapter, you will get to play fresh characters and experience new gameplay.
Obviously, the star of the game is Shrek, and you start off the tutorial as the big green guy learning how to hit, stomp, use charge-attacks, and invoke Ogre Power. Once you learn the basic commands for Shrek you can apply this knowledge to the rest of the cast. Donkey has a flying kick, Puss can charm the enemy with his “sad eyes”, and Sleeping Beauty can have enemy soldiers doing her bidding with the blow of a kiss.
Almost all the levels feature multiple characters that you will be switching off, but this is determined by the script and the gameplay. You won’t get to choose when or who to play. For instance, early on Puss has to infiltrate a castle to lower the bridge so Shrek can get inside. Both characters will explore the same location, usually through different perspectives, as Puss so eloquently states, “What a lovely CATwalk”.
Combat is fast and furious and you are almost certainly always outnumbered four to one, and often, enemies will continue to spawn until you complete a side-objective. As enemies fall and objects are smashed, you will be able to collect blue and purple fairy dust, which is used to power your special attacks. This circular meter is divided into three arcs that you can use individually, or save them up for a very special attack. For instance, Shrek can do a foot stop that will stun enemies allowing for any one of numerous and humorous finishing moves. But if he saves up his fairy dust he can invoke Ogre Power, which slows down time and boosts his attack damage.
Combat is simple, yet oddly complex and creative, especially with the implementation of the Wii-mote and Nunchuk. By waving the remote side to side you can punch left and right and by moving the nunchuk up and down you can power a charge-attack. More complex moves like the supper attack require a Z-B button combo, while the rarely used C button executes a finishing move on a stunned opponent.
Each of the chapters offers you 3-5 challenges ranging from simply finishing the level without dying to collecting mugs, crowns, stuffed whales, and other items that make sense to the level you are playing. You are almost always required to perform 5 finishing moves and some levels even require you to use your Ogre Power a certain number of times. And then they will throw in some very specific goals like finding the “nerd trapped in the locker”.
Shrek also includes a few challenging boss fights. Advanced gamers will laugh at these encounters, but for the kids, fighting the Ice Dragon or defeating Captain Hook’s minions (while he plays the piano and sings) will offer a good challenge.
Health is handled with a system very similar to Call of Duty. There is no visible health meter, but if you get hit too many times the borders of the screen will start to fog up and go from yellow to orange until you are magically restored to the last checkpoint in the game. There are also numerous jumping-across-ledges levels in the game, but if you fall it doesn’t count as dying – you just get put back on top and try again.
The collection quests can be extremely challenging if you aren’t used to this type of game. You will literally have to smash ever last object in the game because you never know if a mug is hidden in a tree stump or even in a road sign, until you smash it and it magically appears in the debris. There were numerous levels (more than I care to admit) where I had to replay the chapter to find a single mug or missing snowman hat.
Sadly, all the fun party games that kept you playing Shrek the Third on those other systems have been traded in for a two-player Castle Attack game. I didn't have the means or opportunity to actually test this mode on the PSP but I doubt it differs from the same mode on the console, and it was probably my least favorite mini-game of the bunch. I really can't explain why the other five games were eliminated - they certainly weren't that technically demanding.
The PSP version of Shrek the Third looks fantastic - surprisingly close to the 360 version actually, although the characters are simple designs with far fewer polygons than the 360, so curves aren’t as smooth and textures aren’t as detailed, but it still looks better than the Wii and PS2. The PSP also offers a true widescreen presentation like the 360 - something the Wii painfully forgot. The graphics look better when the camera pulls out for the majority of the gameplay, and the animation is solid along with the framerate. The only time things start to fall apart is during the close-up game engine cutscenes where you can see some texture seams and glitches in the eyes.
Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most was the visionary style the designers chose to go with for the cutscenes. While it would have been all too easy to MPEG some clips from the movie or even create some new CG scenes, instead, we get these totally awesome stick-puppet shows. In fact, the entire game is told under the premise that Shrek and his crew are going to the theater to watch a play about his adventures. So every three or four chapters you get these really cool cutscene of primitive cutout characters with moveable joints bobbing around a 2D set.
The environments look fantastic on the PSP with crisp and colorful visuals that are only slightly less fancy than the 360, mainly in the areas of bump mapped textures. You have open vistas like Merlin’s cliffs with cascading waterfall and a stream that passes through a half-built beaver dam. Then you have creepy interiors like the Queens castle and the dungeon that hold Fiona and Sleeping Beauty captive. The game is constantly mixing up the environments to keep things fresh and exciting.
The sound design is outstanding with great sounds for combat, magic, environmental noises, and all sorts of storybook sound effects that bring the game to life just as much as the films. My only complaint is still the one I had from the console games where everybody's footsteps all sound like horses on cobblestone regardless of whether you are an Ogre, a cat, or a princess in strapless heels.
Voices are all handled with professional sound-alikes who, for the most part, nail their respective characters. There are a few repetitive one-liners but what are ya gonna do. The music is excellent, and I’m assuming it’s borrowed from the film, and if not, it could have been…it’s just that good. There are unique themes for a lot of the levels and fun minstrel music for the puppet show. It’s very nice.
Shrek is an 8-10 hour game that you can most certainly stretch to 12-15 if you plan on completing all the challenges for each chapter. Sure, you can blow through the game in 5-6 hours if you just want to finish it, but smashing everything in sight to find that one missing mug offers a great and rewarding challenge.
One thing I really enjoyed (and can’t thank the designers enough) is that you aren’t required to replay an entire level when you are going back to find a missing item or perform a specific challenge. If you only got four of the five mugs, you only have to replay until you find that missing fifth one then exit back to the menu. This saves a lot of needless replay and frustration, although, replaying entire levels is a great way to make a lot of coinage.
The Gift Store is a great addition to the game and allows you to purchase new clothes for the characters, many of which give you strength and fairy dust bonuses. You can also purchase increased health and some fun new characters. The cost of buying out the entire store is well beyond what you will earn in a single pass of the main game.
Shrek the Third takes a great 360 title and compacts it down into the palm of your hand while maintaining all the great gameplay at only a small cost in visuals. If you can't play this game on the 360 then the PSP is probably your next best alternative provided you don't mind the mysteriously missing mini-games. I miss my shuffleboard and Frogger clones, and Castle Attack would have been my last choice in picking a single game to port to the PSP.
For parents who might be concerned with the heavy focus on combat, rest assured that Puss, Artie, and a few knights are the only ones using real weapons and there is no blood whatsoever. Pirates are armed with brooms, prisoners attack with spoons, and giant living trees toss apples. It’s fairly innocent stuff. There are the expected fart jokes (and fart attacks) and other harmless kid stuff.
It would be easy to say that Shrek the Third is the best Shrek I’ve ever played on the PSP considering it's the only one available. And it would be totally unfair to compare it to the GBA and NDS versions since they didn't even try to replicate the console experience. Those two games still stand on their own as completely original (and fun) games for their respective systems.
It all boils down to fun and I had fun playing Shrek the Third on the PSP, which is a bigger compliment than you might think considering I've played this game about four times completely through on various systems (twice on the 360). The relatively short levels and pick-up-and-play game design make this a perfect addition to your PSP library, and the entertaining gameplay, full of Shrek flavor, makes this title a perfect complement to what will easily be the blockbuster box-office event of the year.