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Reviewed: Shrek 2
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: June 11th, 2004
Page: 2

Graphically, Shrek 2 is everything one would expect from a movie title... that is to say, enormous amounts of time seem to have been spent on designing levels and characters, but a few things are overlooked.

For starters, the best graphics (if you have multiple systems) are found, surprisingly, on the Gamecube. The Gamecube's screens just seem tighter and show slightly less aliasing, which I'm guessing is a function of the GC's being natively progressive scan. The Xbox came in second on my HDTV, not too far behind, and then there was the PS2, whose lower graphical capabilities made a lot of textures just not look as vibrant.

In terms of character design, the game seems dead-on. The characters seem to have been designed to be viewed with the camera far away, and indeed, for 95% of the game that's how you're going to see them. Li'l red is impeccable, the Big Bad Wolf (in drag) is well done, the fairy is... well, I couldn't really tell, she's just that small. In terms of the main characters, Donkey is well done too, as is Fiona. Shrek's head - most often seen in close-ups - and Fiona's could do with a few more polygons, but on modern systems that's still relatively excusable.

The fighting system in Shrek 2 is entirely simplistic - up to four players can be playing, but if you have less, the remaining members of the party are AI-controlled (you can switch to them with the L and R buttons). Each member of the party has a running attack, standing attacks, and a "special" attack. The trick is learning how to use each character - some, like Fiona or Puss in Boots, are entirely melee driven, able to just wade in and flail around. Some, like the Fairy or Li'l Red, are better held back to attack at range, merely because they can. And some, like Donkey or the Big Bad Wolf, are best used by flailing away with their special attacks (Donkey's is a one-shot kill if it connects with anything; Wolf's is a huff-and-puff air blast that knocks enemies far away, as well as doing decent damage).

Upgrades to the characters come in the form of items purchased at Larry the Leprechaun's shop, found only in certain secret areas in certain levels. They can be worth it, but they're not essential to the game. Plus, they're costly, requiring playing through old levels a few times merely to hunt down the cash needed to buy them. Worthwhile if you have the patience to repeat levels, lousy if you don't.

Level design is where the game is both brilliant, and starts to fade. Levels in the game come in two sorts - the obstacle course, and the hub. Obstacle courses are exactly what their name implies; there's a set of tasks to do, all in a row, each one opened by finishing the previous. The first level, Shrek's Swamp, is this way. Obstacle courses may have one or two small ongoing challenges (such as freeing all the Seven Dwarves from captivity) but for the most part they're a collection of fights, item collection ("get 20 eyeballs to open the gate!") and minigames, such as Fiona's 'singing' for dinner. Obstacle courses usually also rely on incorporating one "Hero Time" section, a spot where instead of controlling all four party members, one member has to go it alone, utilizing the heck out of his/her special ability to get the job done. Puss in Boots' Hero Time, for instance, was an obstacle course of tightrope walking.

"Hub" levels are just the opposite - Jack and Jill's farm is a great example. In these levels, you can take on any challenge you like, in any order, and half of the level may indeed be skippable. They're usually full of minigames (such as the four-player-only egg catcher game), and require tons of exploration to find secret coin stashes or items. These levels and minigames are a nod to other party games (including the rather abysmal <i>Shrek: Super Party</i>), which assume that there will be four players at all times - but, when you do have four players, they're quite fun.

Control-wise, the game's best played on the Gamecube, surprisingly. Nintendo, when designing the GC controller, rather rightly assumed that many games require rapid button presses upon a singular button, and planned for it in design - thus, you have the reinforced A button for battle mashing, and the rest of the buttons for when solving the game's "puzzles" and exploring levels. Camera control on the C-stick is decidedly solid, but then again, that's what the C-stick (and its predecessor, the C-buttons on the N64 pad) were intended for to begin with.

The PS2's got the next best controls, arguably because of its flat buttons. The Xbox controller, while being great for games like Halo and, indeed, most games, falls a bit flat here as its buttons don't respond quite as well to being hit in rapid succession (though, to be fair, I've worn out multiple PS2 pads with the same abuse, while still being on my original Xbox controller).

Unfortunately for the game, the voice acting is BAD. Just plain BAD. None of the movie actors reprise their roles, the accents are overdone, and the constant insertion of catch-phrases (such as "Ogre Power!" from Shrek) into battle will send adults screaming from the room in 5-10 minutes. Add to that a pretty horrid voice for the narrator, and another one for the Magic Mirror, and you're possibly better off playing the majority of it with the sound turned off completely.

Should you buy this game? The answer is, are you or do you have small children - because that's what the game is designed for, to appeal to small children with short attention spans. For them, it's a 4-star game; for adults, sorry to say, it barely rates 2.

Added:  Saturday, June 12, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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