Reviewed: July 6, 2009
Released: June 30, 2009
Things are about to get frosty with another installment in the Ice Age saga. To coincide with the new movie hitting theaters this holiday weekend Activision is bringing us a videogame spin-off so fans of the franchise can take part in their own interactive version of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Join up with Sid, Manny, Diego, Scrat, and Buck, the new character being introduced in this epic prehistoric adventure, for all sorts of crazy action across numerous levels spanning icy tundra and Jurassic jungles.
It probably goes without saying that this game is totally targeted for the kids, but let me assure you that there is considerable fun to be had for gamers of all ages Ė even this 45-year old reviewer. I had the time of my life playing this game. It was the perfect mix of fun, action, and adventure combined with humorous dialogue and storytelling that will delight the kids and probably have a few parents sneaking in some game time of their own or at least joining the kids in any of the fun multiplayer mini-games.
The best thing about Dawn of the Dinosaurs is variety, and not just the six playable characters but the wonderful 15+ levels with designs that touch on multiple genres of gaming. You have your traditional 3D exploration and platform jumping levels, you have your side-scrolling action levels with Scrat, you have a side-scrolling shooter level like R-Type where you are flying on the back of a Pterodactyl which then turns into a 3D action-flying level. You have maze-like multi-tiered levels where you roll around on a giant snowball or boulder; you have Crash Bandicoot chase sequences where you are running toward the screen usually being chased by a giant T-Rex, you have Ratchet and Clank rail slides that switch between vines to dinosaur spines, and then you have a vast assortment of timed challenges and multiplayer mini-games to keep you occupied when the adventure is over.
I couldnít help but think this was the game that would be training a whole younger generation of gamers for the big AAA titles that they would be playing someday. You have all the elements of Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, and even some 3D run and gun shooting, but donít worry parents Ė youíre shooting fruits and water guns Ė no blood or bullets in this game. Every new level offered something new and some fresh clever concept, and while a few of those ideas got repeated in later levels, they always seemed to have a new twist.
Buck uses a vine as a whip to stun and defeat enemies or to help navigate the treacherous terrain. In one level he uses a giant super-soaker plant-rifle to water wilted leaves to bring them back to life to use and jumping ledges. In another level he fills that same rifle with honey to plug up dangerous vines spitting green gas. All of the weapons and ammo are natural and easy to replenish in the tropical underworld.
Dawn of the Dinosaur splits up the scenery with the initial levels being up top on the snowy surface Ice Age viewers are familiar with, but about halfway into the game our group of heroes discover the hidden dinosaur word that thrives below the ice. It is here they meet Buck, who becomes the primary character for the second half of the game. Sid is the other primary character for the game, but Diego has a level of his own as well as Manny, and Scat has several challenging side-scrolling levels where he is tracking down that elusive acorn and possibly finding true love.
The controls are intuitive and perfectly executed but I was extremely disappointed in the complete and utter disregard for the motion input controls of the Wii system. This game has so many PERFECT opportunties for motion-input ranging from flying in 3D space to rolling a giant snowball or boulder around a level to something as simple as balancing Sid or Buck as they walk across a narrow ledge or tilt them while sliding on a vine. This is a totally missed opportunity that could have made the Wii version something very unique. Let's face it - the Wii can't compete with the other systems when it comes to HD graphics and sound - all it has are motion controls to set it apart. All we get is a rather shallow attempt to throw a few motion controls are way like shaking the remote to uproot a plant or swiping it up and down for an attack, but these can all be done just as easily with standard stick and button inputs. There is nothing exclusive or special about the Wii verison.
The in-game tutorials instruct you on each new ability as it becomes available. Considering how many types of games there were, I was impressed how well everything flowed together. You go from 3D exploration to 2D action to a flight-combat game and donít even think twice about it. There is a huge collectible system in place for all the characters. Sid can punch mushrooms and smash ice blocks while Buck can uproot plants and smash blocks of amber. All crushed items and defeated enemies turn into variations of fresh fruit that can be used as currency in the Trade Shack to purchase weapon upgrades, movies, sounds, character art, and a variety of multiplayer mini-games.
Each level has three hidden crystals, and there are more you can purchase in the store. Your ultimate quest is to find and purchase all of the five colors of crystals, and if you miss some of these crystals on your first pass through the game (like I did) you can view the missing ones in the level-select screen and replay until you find them. You donít even have to finish the level once you do. These crystals really add to the replayability, especially for gamers who like to 100% their game.
The game presentation is pretty good by Wii standards with lots of vibrant colors and charming visuals. It's an obvious step down in quality over the next-gen versions but it won't disappoint loyal Wii gamers. The colors and art style almost take on a storybook feel from the frosty ice to the sinister caves filled with spiders, or an epic flight through the clouds on the back of a pterodactyl, and things really heat up when you have a crazy dash across a broken lava field while being chased by a T-Rex.
For better or worse the movie cast lends their voices to the video game. The entire plot of the game is being laid out like a bedtime story narrated by Sid, so you have to tolerate a lot of that lisping whiny voice, both in the cutscenes and his painfully bad one-liners within the game. Buck, on the other hand, steals the show with a dashing accent and a dangerous eye patch to match his comedic bravado. Manny is voiced by the monotone musings of Ray Ramano and Queen Latifah plays his wife, Ellie.
You donít have to be a fan of the new Ice Age movie to love this game. Dawn of the Dinosaurs is pure gaming goodness that touches on just about every gaming genre we've seen since the birth of video games. Itís a great introductory experience for younger kids and a solid action-adventure-platform title for teens and adults as well. I knocked it back in about six hours and spent another two picking up a few missed items, so I would expect the younger target audience to find at least 10-12 hours of thrilling adventure in store for them.
I would recommend Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs to just about anyone looking for a totally fun and moderately challenging gameplay experience with all of the flavor and style of the Ice Age movies. With so many game variations, this is the ultimate sampler platter of video gaming and non-stop fun from start to finish.