Zathura is a third person adventure game based on the movie of the same name which was released in November of 2005. I did not see the movie, but based solely on the game itself I’m glad I didn’t. Zathura is mostly average across the board, and once you beat the game in about three to four hours there’s no reason to let this game occupy space in your house. The entire game feels generic and uninspired. Any gamer worth his salt can tell developer High Voltage Software was hired just to cash in and make a quick buck on whatever success the movie enjoyed.
The game’s main heroes are two young brothers named Danny and Walter (with the third character being a robot later assigned to protect the boys). In the opening cinema, the brothers are left alone in their house while their father goes off to work. Danny, the whiny brother, upsets Walter, the tough bully brother, so Walter ends up trapping Danny in the basement. From here you gain control of Danny. Right away you can tell that while this is not an ugly game, it definitely won’t win any awards for best graphics. This basement level gives a very accurate picture of what to expect throughout the game, bland graphics, boxes as far as the eye can see, lots of empty spaces, and awkward controls.
As Danny, you find a magical board game called Zathura. Danny then brings the game to Walter and as they begin to play, very strange things start to happen. Strange things like killer robots appearing out of nowhere, their house floating in outer space, the game transporting them to different worlds, and the fact that neither of the two boys seems scared or confused that any of this could happen. The overall animations in the game are just okay with everyone’s movements being stiff and janky, but Danny and Walter’s facial expressions are nonexistent. The boys show almost no emotion when their lives are in danger, when they get separated, or when they are reunited. Its like “whatever” to them. Their voices aren’t much better, either. Walter acts like a tough kid but he’s still just a kid, although you’d never know it to hear him. Things like maybe never getting back home and getting shot at don’t really seem to phase him. And Danny is just as bad. Yes, he does show more emotion, but it’s not fear, it’s just him complaining about Walter and threatening to tell their father on him. His whining is so annoying that I sort of wished that Walter would leave him in space so I wouldn’t have to hear his voice.
The action in Zathura is nothing to write home about. The camera is lazy and often difficult to control. There are even some platforming levels where the camera is fixed in some of the oddest most demanding places you could think of. So, while the jumping sections are very easy, you’ll still misjudge the jumps because of the strange views you are forced to take and the sometimes sluggish controls you are forced to use. The controls menu only gives you the option to enable or disable controller vibration, so there’s nothing you can do to change the camera situation. You can’t change the button layout in the controls menu as well so it’s either take it or leave it. Combat is shallow with any of the three characters only having two moves with slight upgrades to those abilities to add the illusion of some kind of variants of your powers. Shooting enemies is basically impossible without locking on, but even when using the lock-on, the aiming mechanics feel rather awkward, although it does get the job done eventually. And when you don’t have to shoot the bad guys you can just button mash until your heart’s content. That’s pretty much all there is to the controls. One plus would be that since everything is so simple, it’s extremely easy to pick up and play.
The missions are so easy they could insult many children’s intelligence. Objectives range from the inane "chase your hamster while your house is being blown apart" to the ever boring "break boxes to find the button to open the door, shoot enemy turrets (and maybe mini saucers), break boxes to find the button to open the door", and so on. Everything from enemies, to turrets, to the environments, to the many, many boxes (which are almost the only destructible objects in the game), are far too repetitive with each room looking almost exactly like the one you just exited. And the worlds are generic at best with the lava levels, futuristic machine levels, and jungle type levels.
Zathura has its fair share of bugs also. For example, every time you get some alternate ammo your weapon switches to that ammo so you’ll often find yourself using the special ammunition by accident when you maybe wanted to save it for when you face off against one of the few bosses in the game. The lip syncing is laughably bad. Enemy lasers go through doors and walls at times. Enemies themselves appear and disappear into thin air. Machine turrets shoot at nothing, and your own turrets are too slow and unresponsive.
Couple all these problems and shortcomings with the fact that the game can probably be beaten in less than five hours for even the most inexperienced of gamers and you have a game that should’ve started out as a budget title. But instead, Zathura initially retailed for about $40 new. The mini games throughout the campaign won’t make you want to replay any part of the adventure because they feel more like chores than fun little breaks in the story. There are no extras to keep you interested in the game except for the theatrical trailers to the Zathura and Jumanji movies, which is nothing at all to get excited about. So even if curiosity gets the better of you, make sure you rent this game instead of wasting your money on the purchase. You could also rent the game and buy the Zathura/Jumanji two pack movie set, which is actually only about $5 more than this game.