Reviewed: June 11, 2003
Reviewed by: Mark Smith
Released: May 9, 2003
Playing and now reviewing Finding Nemo is a constant nagging reminder that I need to get away from my computer and consoles more often and actually go to the movies. Based on the latest Disney–PIXAR animated feature, Finding Nemo is an enchanting underwater adventure game that revisits classic platform gaming staples that I thought were long forgotten.
Apparently the designers over at Traveller’s Tales (Crash Bandicoot: Wrath of Cortex) remember what makes a great game “great” and what better license to expand upon than Finding Nemo – a movie that is already gearing up to devastate the summer box office.
Perhaps the single most intriguing aspect about Finding Nemo is its wide appeal. There is an almost unnatural compulsion to play this game whether you are 5 or 35 and I can envision kids all over the country whining, “Daaaaad…. I wanna play now.” Part of this enchantment is due in part to the delightful characters established in the film, although seeing the film is by no means a prerequisite for playing this game – I can attest to that. The major draw has to be the challenging and compelling gameplay that, while designed for kids, will keep teens and adults glued to their screens for countless hours.
Finding Nemo does a great job of mixing 2D and 3D perspectives in such a way that gamers are seldom aware of the transition. You start off the game swimming in a side scrolling fashion moving left to right going up and down through various rings then the perspective switches to a chase view as you swim away from the screen steering through more rings. Later you will be racing towards the screen. Some of the 2D screens have 3D elements where you can tap the action button to explore coral caves and other levels appear to be 2D but they are wrapped in a circular fashion so you are constantly rotating the view to explore new areas.
With all the various perspective changes you might think that control would be complicated, but everything is surprisingly simple. In the 2D modes the analog stick controls your movement. The 3D modes have you pressing the A button to swim while you steer with the stick and the X button gives you an extra burst of speed good for smashing through rocks or breaking shells. The Y button skips movies, which is a thankful inclusion considering how many times you will be playing each level.
By design, Finding Nemo is setup with various challenges for each level, and also by design it is nearly impossible to complete all challenges in a single pass. Some challenges are consistent across all levels like swimming through numerous rings of bubbles. It might sound easy but in the 3D mode if you miss a ring you cannot go back and get it. Other challenges may include things like defeating a certain amount of enemies (Hero Mode), or finding red, blue, and green pebbles and carrying them to their matching pedestals.
My only minor complaint is that it is not always entirely clear as to what your objectives are for each level. You can view the Starfish awards screen for each level and there are etchings in the sand that indicate the goals, but aside from the bubble rings these aren’t always obvious. And if a thirty-something game reviewer has trouble figuring out what to do I can’t imagine the kids this game is targeted towards faring any better.
Perhaps this is an attempt on the designers’ part to promote exploratory gameplay. On level two there is one area where you bounce on these little pods. A few pods have rings to pass through and others have seashells that give you bonus points. On a whim I though, “I wonder what happens if I jump on all of these – even the ones I don’t have to”, and sure enough, that was an objective that got me a Starfish.
Each level has various objectives and completing them will give you Starfish awards that you can use to unlock bonus material and secrets within the game. It’s a nice reward system that gives you plenty of incentive to repeatedly attempt each level until you conquer each and every challenge. The best part is that you can advance the story and move on to later levels by simply making it through the previous level. You can always return and tackle the harder challenges at a later date.
Keeping with the Disney theme and a non-violent kids game there is no real combat or fighting in Finding Nemo. Our little clown fish dispatches enemies by first trapping them in a bubble then darting into that bubble and popping it. It’s very tame and actually requires a bit of skill. Nemo can also surround himself with Krill. These tiny creatures act as a shield for Nemo and protect him from damage. If you have no Krill protecting you and you take a hit you will have to restart the level.
Underwater games are quite rare. In fact, Ecco the Dolphin is about the only one that comes to mind when I try to find things to compare this title to. For sheer artistic vision and quality, Finding Nemo blows our dolphin out of the water and offers an amazing experience that is not only surreal, but actually does an impressive job of mirroring the quality of the movie.
The gameplay is broken up frequently with clips from the movie that only reinforce just good the gameplay graphics really are. The resemblance between real movie clips and game-engine cutscenes is uncanny and it transitions seamlessly into the gameplay. The best use of the mini-cutscenes is when they are used to transition between 2D and 3D gameplay perspectives.
As far as underwater realism, everything is bright and colorful, just like the movie. All of the creatures are modeled with meticulous care and detail to look just like their movie counterparts. Lighting is flawless with things getting darker the deeper you go and brightening up as you get near the surface. There are all sorts of special effects like transparencies and dusty clouds of sand that get kicked up off the ocean floor. You can even make out underwater currents and locate hidden passages by observing the flow of tiny bubbles.
Sound is crystal clear and a flawless reproduction of the movie thanks to the original cast lending their voices to the project. You get the whooshing sound of water as you swim, the pop of air bubbles as you trap enemies and some delightful music that invokes the charm of this colorful underwater world.
It took me about 14 hours to finish this game and complete all the challenges. I’m guessing the kids this game was designed for will get at least twice that much enjoyment, but the true value lies in the fact that this is a game that the entire family will enjoy and replay for months to come.
THQ has been releasing a lot of kids games lately, most of which have been designed based on Nick and Cartoon Network franchises, so it was nice to play a kids game that is based on a Disney license. Finding Nemo was a refreshing change from the other so-called kiddy games out there. The puzzles and gameplay are challenging yet still accessible for kids (and adults) of all ages.
If you liked the movie you will love the game and if you haven’t seen the movie chances are you will want to after playing this game. Finding Nemo is one of the best movie-licensed games I’ve seen so far this year and I highly recommend it for kids and their parents or anyone just looking for a fun and unique game.