Let’s be honest here. As a general rule most games based on movies, especially movies geared towards children, are garbage. They are poorly designed games developed to push the sales of a specific franchise. Because of this, movie based games have created for themselves a very poor, albeit very deserved, stigma. Very rare is the person who runs out to buy the newest game based on the hottest movie. Now don’t get me wrong, there are few titles that stand out from the rest as being great games (for instance Spiderman 2), but one or two good games every couple of years isn’t going to change the way people view these kinds of games. Luckily for us, Activision’s partnership with DreamWorks has been working to change that. With the release of the 2004’s Shrek 2 and 2005’s Shrek: Super Slam and now with Over the Hedge they are proving that movie based games can consistently be done well.
The general premise behind the movie is that a housing complex has gone up in what used to be a nice wooded area, and the humans have put up a giant hedge to keep the wildlife out of their nice new homes. Naturally, this isn’t going to stop our furry friends from getting the food and “necessary” supplies (i.e. projectors and satellite dishes) they need. The game starts as your party of rodents and assorted wildlife are reviewing a plan to break into a human house to heist some food for their winter stash. To the surprise of our furry renegades however, the humans have been preparing for just such an event. The first level takes you from back yards filled with lasers and iron maidens cleverly disguised as lawn gnomes to a living room filled with booby traps and motion detectors. Fortunately for you, the gamer, the controls are solid and easy to learn. After just a few minutes of play you should be familiar enough to be double-jumping over almost every laser you see.
However, if you thought traps and lasers were your only problems here, you are sorely mistaken. Meet “The Sniffer”, the local exterminator turned mad scientist. Along with planting all of the aforementioned traps he has also been brainwashing the other forest creatures to do his bidding, namely, to attack you. Through the course of the game you will encounter everything from rats with chicken legs for bats to rabbits who hop on you with their spiked feet to badgers and bears who want nothing more than to eat you for lunch. This brings me to the combat in the game. Most of the fighting is done by swinging your animal’s weapon of choice trying to knock out as many bad guys as possible while taking as few hits as possible, but you can take more control and create different combos by changing the timing of your swings or by holding down the attack button. Also, each character has their own special attack that will clear out all of the enemies near them.
During the game you will have the chance to play as RJ the raccoon, Stella the skunk, Verne the turtle and Hammy the squirrel. Similar to the gameplay in the Shrek games you will always have 2 characters in play: one controlled by you, the other controlled by the CPU. Also, the 2nd character can be controlled by another player at any time just by plugging in a controller and pressing start, making for fun and interesting co-op play. There are few differences between the way the four characters control or fight, but their personality, one-liners and banter during cinematic sequences is very funny and will have you switching characters just to hear what they will say.
Activision seems to have taken great care in translating the characters from the big screen to the Xbox. While the characters are (obviously) not as detailed as their movie counterparts, the fluid movements and fun attitude of each character more than makes up for the Xbox’s hardware limitations. The graphics throughout the game are crisp and bright, making good use of the lighting capabilities of the Xbox. The textures and surfaces in the game are very believable, if somewhat limited. For the most part, the game takes place in yards and the interiors of houses. So while the game looks good, the locations and scenery can get a little repetitive. Additionally, the camera angles are not adjustable and follow a set path, much like the Crash Bandicoot games. This can occasionally lead to missed jumps and enemies attacking you from off screen, but thankfully these problems don’t happen very often.
Every mission in Over the Hedge is defined by primary objectives and bonus objectives. While each mission’s primary objectives help to tell the story and are fairly easy to complete, there are also quite a few bonus objectives to be attempted. For instance, in a mission where your primary objective is to rescue an animal from the exterminator, your bonus objectives might be to knock out 20 or more rats and disable the guns on the side of the exterminator’s van. Also, in each mission you can collect hats for your characters to wear around (they also give you a boost to health), heist hardware for your home (like laptops and cotton candy makers), and cookies and chips can raise your life and special meters when you collect 20 or more of each. The later bonus objectives and collectibles can be quite difficult to achieve and definitely add to the replay value of the game while challenging even the most competent gamer.
The game’s levels are broken up into 2 or 3 part missions that can be accessed from a corkboard in the gang’s base of operations on the other side of the hedge. Here you can also listen to the rest of the animals as they have amusing conversations, change what characters you are controlling, browse through the hats you’ve collected or choose to play any of the mini games you have unlocked. Replaying a mission (and knowing what missions to replay) is easy to do. The corkboard will show you what missions you have available, and how many bonus objectives can still be completed for past missions.
As I mentioned before, by completing objectives, there are 3 mini-games that can be unlocked over the course of the game: RC Rally – where you race RC (radio controlled) cars around a track, Range Driver – which is a cross between golf and a shooting gallery, and Bumper Carts – a destruction derby using golf carts. Unfortunately the games are a mixed bag. At first they seem fun but after a couple minutes they just seem to fizzle out, mostly due to poor controls and a lack of interesting course design, especially the RC Rally and Bumper Carts games.
The audio in Over the Hedge is well done, but nothing spectacular. Activision does a good job using surround sound. You can almost always tell when and where there is a laser just off screen by the buzz of electricity. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every sound is super realistic. Still, the sounds all fit the game’s cartoon-y nature and work well within it. The games all-star voice cast from the movie however is curiously missing from the game (with the possible exception of Wanda Sykes). Instead we get voice actors trying to sound like the characters from the movie. It’s not all bad though, the characters in the game sound at least passably like the voices from the movie. Besides, who can turn down a good William Shatner impression?
One thing I need to mention is the extremely short length of the gameplay. This reviewer found himself having completed the game after only 5 hours of playing. You may want to consider this a rental if you’re not the kind of gamer who likes to go back to collect everything he missed the first time through the game. If, however, you ARE the type of person who likes to track down every elusive cookie and hat in your games, then you could easily add several more hours to this game, making it a much more worthwhile investment.
In the end though, you have to realize Over the Hedge is a game based on a movie designed for a younger audience. So if you’re looking for a great game for your kids (or maybe just a fun game that isn’t M rated), and you can look past its handful of shortcomings, Over the Hedge is a solid title that truly is “fun for the whole family.”