Reviewed: December 1, 2006
Released: November 19, 2006
I have to admit I am one of the minority who really enjoyed the new Happy Feet movie. It still doesn’t beat out Cars, but there is something undeniably cute about a dancing baby penguin, but like most animals, they start to lose their cuteness as they get older, and in this case, make the move to video game.
After only a couple hours of playing Midway’s new Happy Feet videogame I was left feeling as cold as the Antarctic tundra where these creatures live. There was so many directions this game could have gone but A2M seems to have no direction at all with their varied game design that has you dancing one minute, then swimming or making a toboggan run on your belly the next. I even observed my younger niece and nephew playing this game and they were as un-amused as I was, asking if it was time to play “Rayman” after each level in Happy Feet.
With more than 28 missions spread across five locations you’d think there would be plenty to do, but you ultimately end up doing the same few things over and over…and over some more if you are bound and determined to get all the gold medals for each challenge. Not many kids nor adults will put themselves through the agony of Happy Feet.
As you might have guess from the screens or even the movie if you have seen it, most of the gameplay in Happy Feet revolves around dancing, which would be really cool if you had a dance mat for the Wii. I actually have one for the GameCube and technically it would plug into the Wii, but the game doesn’t support it. So you end up having a DDR string of arrows creeping toward the top of the screen and you must flick the remote in the same direction as the gold arrow passing under the icy icon. This hardly translates into dancing and I felt more like an orchestra conductor or a confused Catholic.
Then you have your sledding levels, which is moderately more fun as you race Gloria down naturally carved toboggan run, catching air, pulling off stunts, and collecting all sorts of collectibles. Take away the ice and replace it with water and you have the third style of gameplay which has you swimming underwater, passing through rings, and dodging leopard seals and killer whales. The tilt function of the Wii-mote makes these parts of the game more fun than on other systems, but after you have completed each type of game two or three times you just don’t want to do it anymore.
The game loosely follows the events from the movie and the 28 missions are tied together with a map allowing you to choose where to go next or return to previous challenges and best your score. I have to admit; for a game designed for kids I had a heck of a time getting gold on a few of these missions. You’ll go to all the major locations from the movie including; Emperorland, Adelieland, Land of the Elephant Seals, Forbidden Shore/Whaling Station and the Zoo.
Happy Feet tries to bring the family together with multiplayer – even if it is only two-player. You can participate in dance-off competitions, rhythm matching swimming challenges and belly-sledding action.
This is one of the few Wii games at launch to not support progressive scan or widescreen, which screams, “rushed port” to me. From what I’ve seen from the other systems, the Wii version of Happy Feet falls somewhere between the PS2 and GameCube versions. The penguins look really good, even during close camera shots, and the environments are convincingly cold with nice particle effects for snow, ice flecks, and bubbles.
But even with five unique settings, the levels seldom depart from lots of white and blue shades. The visual style is as repetitive as the gameplay. The destructible objects add a bit of unpredictability but so do the occasional dips in framerates, especially during the faster sledding levels.
The soundtrack includes 8 licensed songs from the movie you can dance to as well as some original score to fill in the non-dancing portions of gameplay. It’s a great soundtrack and holds true to the film but we still need more dancing songs. The 8 we have just don’t spread across the number of times we have to dance before you get tired of hearing them.
The voice work is exceptional with most of the original cast reprising their roles. Mumble is so cute you just want to squeeze him, but that same level of cuteness also gets annoying after an hour of dialogue.
Sound effects are purely functional with a good underwater effect and lots of icy sliding noises and cracking and breaking ice. Oh yeah, we can’t forget the incessant tap-dancing sounds. The lack of Dolby support was surprising, especially given the importance of sound and music in this particular title.
If you can stand the overly sweet and repetitive nature of this game younger kids will probably have a great time with at least 8-10 hours required to finish the story mode. They probably won’t get gold medal but younger kids will be in this for the story more than the accomplishments. The family mode might give a brother and sister something to do for an hour or two but I can’t see the entire family gathering around the TV for a night of Happy Feet.
I’m not really sure if the Happy Feet movie had enough substance to warrant a video game. It barely had enough to keep the film going for as long as it did. There were certainly a few key moments and A2M seems to have capitalized on those, but there just needs to be something more.
I doubt a waddling Mumbo would make for a good platform character. He can’t jump and can barely walk, but the game needs more than just swimming, sledding and dancing, especially if you want to drag it out for 28 levels. If you have really young kids (under 8), you might be able to divert them with Happy Feet for a rental period but this is a hard sell at full price or even when it hits the bargain bin. There are so many more and better offerings for kids on the Wii. Slide past this one if you see it in the store.