Developer: Dreamworks / XPEC
The sound of a new game dropping through the letterbox is one of the joys of life. The sense of anticipation, the excitement that inside that padded envelope could lie something to entertain me for many hours in weeks to come or, indeed, even be part of my life for years.
And then you open the envelope and out drops... Shrek Forever After. Oh well.
My relationship with film tie-ins is not a happy one. Not that I’m alone in that because film tie-ins, as we’ve categorically proven before, mostly suck. It was then with a heart as heavy as, well, a fat green ogre that I slipped the disc into the PS3 and prepared to be disappointed.
Initial thoughts were deeply negative. The voice work is poor, with only Antonio Banderas as Puss in Boots, and Walt Dohrn as Rumpelstiltskin reprising their film roles. The girl voicing Fiona isn’t bad, and Shrek sounds suitably Scottish and grumpy but I could do a better Eddie Murphy impression. Hell, 90% of, say, Henley-on-Thames could do a better Eddie Murphy impression. Game play – and the in-game instructions provided by the Three Little Pigs - is repetitive. Fights are painfully easy but lengthy, while the dialogue is laboured and often unfunny. It was then business as usual for a movie tie-in.
But then something happens. Maybe it was the low expectations I started with but, an hour or so in, the game’s charms become more obvious.
First of all, it looks great, with Dreamworks’ involvement glossily obvious. The characters look like they should and move like they should, which already lifts this title above many of its rivals, while the backdrops – thanks to the structure of the new film – are the ones you’ll know and love, from the swamp to the Dragon’s tower.
There are the odd flaws, but for the most part, this feels like you’re playing the cartoon, and that’s exactly what you’d want if you were in the target audience of, what, seven plus?
So, the story. In the new movie, Shrek is feeling rather lacklustre and is in the middle of an ogre-sized mid-life crisis, his “ogreishness” long lost in favour of being a devoted family man. The early days suddenly look deeply appealing and, after the latest incident of domestic drudgery, he wishes he could just have one day as a real ogre.
Cue Rumpelstiltskin, a cunning little fellow who still bears Shrek a grudge. If Shrek hadn’t rescued Fiona from the tower, Rumpelstiltskin, with the aid of one of his slippery magical contracts, would have been King of Far Far Away. Shrek’s wish gives Rumpel the chance to redress things in his favour. He’ll give Shrek one day of terrorising peasants in return for just one day of his early life. Shrek signs, gets his day of unabashed ogre-y stuff and then discovers that Rumpel’s payment is the day Shrek was born. If Shrek was never born, Fiona was never rescued, they never had a family, he never met Donkey...
As with all magical contracts, there is a get out clause: true love’s kiss. Shrek has to make Fiona fall in love with him again in order to return to his old life.
The game skips merrily around this dilemma in straightforward platform / puzzle solving style. Action is simple and button-driven but with some extras for the completist. There are several hidden goodies located around the areas / alternate realities, but you will have to return to collect it all, as you won’t have all the abilities first time through. Fiona’s camp – she’s now leader of an Ogre Resistance movement – serves as a central hub where you can buy upgrades with the gold you collect through the game. These give you extra strength or additional abilities you’ll need in order to break bigger treasure chests, access hidden areas etc.
The story is the main event however, and you’ll need to switch between all four characters – Shrek, Fiona, Puss in Boots and Donkey – in order to progress and solve the (sometimes challenging) puzzles. Shrek has the strength, Fiona can set light to things, Puss can climb walls and Donkey can kick things down, and moving between them is easy, either by cycling through with R1 or pressing the assigned direction button. Most of the time this works well, but battles can be a bit painful. Those easy battles I mentioned earlier? Give it a couple of levels and the repetition will be replaced by frantic button mashing as wave after wave of pumpkin-throwing witches rattles through your health bar. You’ll often need to switch to another character but this can take a little too long to do.
Another flaw is the special ability notion. While these are fun – Shrek roars, Donkey sings in ear-splitting style, Puss does the big eye “love me” thing, Fiona can sound a battle horn through her ears – they merely serve to stun your opponents, which a) isn’t much help and b) gets very boring very quickly.
- Good looking
- Surprisingly challenging puzzles
- Lots of extras to find
- The voice work
- The repetitive nature of certain activities
- The slow switch between characters in fights.
The Short Version:You know what? Shrek Forever After isn’t at all bad. It’s not an essential purchase for the everyday gamer but, for fans of the films and those looking to keep the (much) younger generation happy, this is a very decent, well made title. And for those who find themselves “accidentally” playing it – middle aged game reviewers for example – there’s just about enough to keep the interest ticking over.