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    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Not another video game review!?!

Posted by joeabbott on January 6, 2013

imageimageYup, just that but I’ll look at two games and try to make this as short as possible.

I didn’t start out planning on reviewing every game I’ve played, and I don’t think it’ll come to that, but here I am with another offering. As a matter of fact, I had planned not to review these last two games because I really didn’t enjoy them all that much. But, when I went downstairs the other day Suzy asked, “were you having trouble with a game?” I was ready to answer, “nope” (the games are that forgettable) but then realized I had been yelling at the TV over frustration with the controls.

And so anything that can spur that much “passion” had ought to be documented. But, because I don’t have that much to say about either of these games, I’m dumping them together. So, hold on to your B-rated movie game hats, kids, we’re about to talk about Disney’s Bolt and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

Story

imageBoth titles are based on movie franchises but where the Ice Age game follows the movie plotline, Bolt differs in that it uses the same characters and personas but puts them into a new adventure. Given that we’re talking about animated movies and video games, there isn’t a whole lot of substantial ground covered plot-wise; you control various characters from the movies in canned scenarios and navigate either 3D or platform-style levels until you move to the next characters and/or next level.

If someone were watching along as you played the game, they may actually enjoy the experience: the animations are good, the sounds are excellent, and the story is … well, animated movie quality stuff. Unfortunately, there are a few puzzles that require a bit of razor sharp timing and anyone not interested in some continual scene replay action while you fight through that section might lose interest.

imageDesign

Of the two, I enjoyed Bolt more in that when controlling Penny, you used stealth-based gameplay to negotiate the surroundings and solve simple puzzles. The Bolt character (the dog) was more of a melee fighter with laser eyes, hurricane barks, and ground shaking stomps. In Ice Age, the variety was less noticeable in that all characters had both melee, throwing/distance attacks, and some form of area effect attack; which is what I mostly relied on (the “ground stomp area effect” attacks) and little else … I just kept using that X-X-Y combo and won every fight without taking damage.

Bolt does try to add something in the way of improving the power of your attacks (through finding new collectibles), but as the designers continue to introduce tougher and tougher enemies, there’s really no net difference.

Both games are on-rails runs through a 3D world with different levels providing a markedly different look but zero difference in gameplay. Where Bolt takes you through industrial warehouses and work yards, along speeding trains, or through jungles, Ice Age is housed in a world of Jurassic ferns, caverns with bubbling tar pits, and along cliff faces conveniently covered in vines or the bones of long-dead beasts … all the better to climb across or jump on!

Gameplay

imageOf the two, I had fewer control problems with Bolt and liked the game for the most part. It had a fixed camera so you were unable to swing around to line up jumps or peek around corners. Still, I didn’t have troubles (usually) with the jumping and the stealth aspects are so rudimentary that not being able to look around a corner won’t give you much in the way of problems. Ice Age did have a free-positioning camera so you could line up jumps or look ahead, but that seldom helped significantly for the troublesome areas.

Ice Age is largely a 3D platforming game where timing of actions and precision movement is critical to accomplishing a goal. With the family/animated film subject matter, you’re looking for the challenges to be fewer and, overall it is but are several puzzles where I had to play the same section many many times.

One of the more entertaining levels required you to run one of the characters over snaking vines or sliding down the same; great fun, usually. One such puzzle, however, without foreknowledge of the course, you would absolutely die. And die many times. Why? Because by the time you’d spot an obstacle requiring you to jump to a nearby vine, your controls would lock you into the collision course and you’d die. Yup, by the time you’d see the end of the vine, you simply could not jump. So, you play the level again and, before spotting trouble, jump … and you’d be OK until the next problem. And when you got to the next maneuver you’d crash, die, run the course again, and so on, finding the subsequent problems. That was the level I was on that my wife heard me yelling at the TV … I believe I was saying, “jump! jump! Please just jump!!!! WHY! WON’T! YOU! JUMP!?”

imagePresentation

Both games had excellent production values, with Ice Age benefiting from having the movie voice actors providing their talents to the game. As I noted above, aside from a few problematic levels, the game is a pleasure to look at and watch as a cartoon. High marks for both in this category!

Achievements

Now, time to separate the games.

I played these games for GamerScore. Yup, after swearing off playing trash games just for achievements and GS, I found myself within spitting distance of a friend … who taunted me a bit and I decided to give him a run. While it’s not really part of this review, I’m happy to report he’s now 600 GS behind me and I can get back to fun games. Enough of that aside.

I’ve played Bolt through and, upon getting to the end of the game, I had 23 achievements yet to get (of 37). I then spent an hour or two “farming” for the easier to get achievements and whittled that number down to four missed achievements and, at that point, decided I was done. The game just wasn’t that fun and 860 GS from it was good enough. The achievements that I’d missed were three for finding collectibles and one for a timing-related achievement (Combo Master: attain a 30-hit combo). Collectible achievements usually aren’t so bad but Bolt fails in that it simply says, “somewhere in the game you missed 3 power upgrades and 1 health upgrade”. It should add, “good luck finding it”. Even with a guide, unless you have perfect recollection of the items you’ve already picked up, you’d have to play the whole game through a second time.

Then, a couple days later, it galled me to being so close to 100% on an easy game that I ground out the last few cheevos, with the liberal help of the Internet. <sigh> Glad that was over with.

Let’s contrast that with Ice Age in which I finished the game with a similarly daunting task of finding all of the five different crystal sets (16 crystals in each set) across 21 levels. Sounds bad but it’s made awesomely easy in that the game will tell you which levels have which crystals and which ones still need to be collected! Let’s be clear, I’ll use a guide to find the collectibles but having a clue as to what’s missing, what’s not, and where it is is the key difference in whether I enjoy the process or not. In this regard, Ice Age stands head and shoulders above Bolt for fun and usability. Oh, and I’ve already collected the crystals and picked up another cool 215 GS for the troubles! … and it only took about a half hour!

So, for games with collectibles, having some sort of in-game help finding the items is really critical. I liked how The Simpson Game did things by having “ghost” collectibles floating in the place you’d find an item if you’d already collected it; short of that excellent mechanism, the Ice Age system works fairly well. I still have 300GS worth of Ice Age achievements to bag so the jury is out on whether the game holds up for easy GamerScore collecting on the whole. I’m hoping it will.

Side note: it doesn’t. I went back to mop-up the non-story achievements and most of the remaining items are timing-based. I hate timing-based achievements. One timing puzzle required you to control a character standing on a egg, negotiate some objective hazards, and weave to the finish line. I attempted this a dozen times or so, registering a best time of 57 seconds; when I looked at the time required I decided to quit: I’d need to whittle that time down to 45 seconds to get the cheevo.

imageFor me, it’s just not worth spending hours learning a single maze or puzzle. The sheer repetition is crushing.

Coda

imageIn the end, on the whole, I wouldn’t rate either game as excellent or exceptionally poor. You’re playing these games as fans of the franchise (in which I’d imagine the presentation would push either game to the exceptional level) or for achievements (in which the games cough up some good GamerScore in reasonably short time), so your mileage will vary based on why you’ve picked it up. I was all about achievements, so it was worth it, just not exceptionally fun.

I have my GamerScore: Mission accomplished … can I now please get back to Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3?

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