In all honesty, I completely sneered at the idea of reviewing another Shrek game. I am surprised anyone would even touch this license due to all the past Shrek games. However, Activision has managed to create the best Shrek title to date, even though that is not saying a whole lot.
Before getting into the review, let me recap on Shrek’s video game history. It truly blows my mind to see the number of Shrek games released despite the fact that only one movie has been made. A Shrek game of some type has been made for PSOne through all the next gen systems of today. Not only has this ogre been on every gaming system, he has also been in numerous types of game genres. Platforming, fighting, brawlers, racing, and party games have all supported the Shrek name. Even though Shrek has dozens of games in his name, not a single one of them contains a speck of fun. In fact, the Shrek license is probably the worst gaming franchise in recent history. With all this said, I wanted to turn my head at this sequel.
Activision, with the help of the team that made True Crime, has taken the Shrek series in a whole new direction. Characters now look like they do in the movie as opposed to big-headed look of games past. Shrek 2 can best be summed up as a weak action RPG somewhat similar in style as Baldur’s Gate or Gauntlet. The player will take control of four fairy tale characters at the same time. While the player will physically control one of the characters, the computer will control the other three but the player can switch between these characters at any time. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses along with a unique super move. For example, Shrek is powerful, does not jump high, and can pick up movable objects. Ginger Breadman can throw his candy cane like a boomerang, and will jump higher. Fiona moves slowly but she can slow down time with a Matrix-like effect. As you can see, each character can best be used for a given situation. This makes the player frequently scroll through each character and helps to generate a sense of balance.
Switching between characters is not the only reason four characters are always on screen. The developers wanted to create a four-player co-op adventure. Up to four human players can all play at the same time, each controlling a different character. Plus, a player can hop into the game at any time because the game will recognize when another controller has been plugged in. Simply press Start to join the adventure. While this is a great way to get four friends to play this game, the PS2 lacks the simplicity of the Xbox or GC version because the multi-tap must be used for three or four player multiplayer gaming. However, this is not Activision’s fault. They are just making the best of what the system has to offer.
If you do not have any friends to play with, then the computer will control the other characters. For the most part, the friendly controlled A.I. will work with the player as they will closely follow behind. However, there are times when they will get stuck behind something or won’t fight the enemy that you want them to fight. The friendly A.I. is decent, but there is room for improvement. It would have been helpful if your comrades would pick up coins, step on switches, and fight as a team instead of individually. Your comrades will often get in your way too. You will wind up hitting them as they are standing and blocking your way.
The story follows the basic premise of the movie. Fiona and Shrek are now married. Fiona wants Shrek to meet her parents but her parents do not agree on Fiona’s choice of husband. Story elements are told through a storybook interface in between chapters. These rather quick scenes give the player a sense of what is going on without bogging down game play with needless wording. The story is even filled with clever one-liners that will sprout a smile on your face from time to time.
During gameplay, you and your three comrades will play through a chapter in the story by complete mini-game type objectives in a Gauntlet style way. Levels are pretty much linear so each objective will be hard to miss and they are usually quite simple. Things like gathering all chickens, finding hidden beans, and escorting blind mice are all necessities that need to be met. Occasionally, the game will throw a harder game objective into the mix like defending Cinderella while she shops or beating up Robin Hood and all of his marry men. These fighting objects are more difficult because the computer controller friendly characters will not fight how you want them too. They will often die half way through each fight.
Besides from playing through the main game with four players, each level will often end with a special one-character quest called “Hero Time.” In hero time, one of the playable characters will control all the action. While this part of the game is not the most challenging, it breaks up the standard game play frequently enough to generate some freshness into the game. In one stage, Donkey will have to rescue the princess in a run-a-way onion car by flying on top of a dragon. Fiona will have to sing to blackbirds in a button pressing game similar to Dance Dance Revolution and Shrek will have to round up an entire blockade of drunken men. Hero Time is close enough to be called a boss fight or boss event.
The camera in Shrek 2 tries to work with the player by automatically rotating and changing. However, there are times when the camera will just get in the way, especially when characters start moving in four different directions. The camera can only be controlled very limitedly with the right analog stick. Only simple scrolling and zooming can be done. There are even times when the camera will not let you change the angle at all. The problems with the camera could have been remedied by allowing more user-friendly control, especially when playing with multiple people or if your computer controlled A.I. character gets stuck behind something.
This game will not drop your jaw like FFX did, but the higher graphical quality is present in this game. Uniquely, this game offers to be played in Progressive Scan mode in the options menu. This is very unique for a PS2 game. Progressive mode helps to eliminate some of the jaggies that the PS2 will produce. The character models look better than in past Shrek games and the particle effects really stood out in this game. When walking on a grass field, blades of grass will fly up. When Shrek does his belly flop, dust will arise from the ground. The player can even attack walls and fences to allow environment interaction. Fiona’s Matrix slowdown effect is also quite cool. The game does have a few muddy textures from time to time like some of the water effects or in the background. Each character is overly animated to look similar to the movie. For example, when charactes converse, they will talk with exaggerated hand and body movements instead of just talking with a simple idle motion. But the static one finger point is noticeable. Modelers will often model hands of 3D characters with a thumb, a pointer finger, and the other three fingers clumped together to save on poly count.
One disappointment about this game is that each character does not have the same voices as in the movies. For example, Mike Myers does not do the voice of Shrek in the game. Instead of hiring these big named actors (which probably would have cost too much money), Activision hired sound-a-like voice actors. Each voice sounds very similar to the voices displayed in the movie, but it is noticeable that they are not the original actors. The musical score is melodic storybook quality that suits this game well and the characters will often speak clever one-liners that will create a laugh or two. GingerBreadman’s ginger snap remark was quite funny.
My biggest problem with Shrek 2 is the save feature. Yes, the game will save your data and there are check points, but if you cut the power half way through a level, you are forced to play the entire stage over again when you return. I’m not exactly sure why there are check points and a save any time feature when these functions are not fully utilized. I hate replaying the same part of a level that I just played just to continue on with the game.
Shrek 2 is probably the best Shrek game to date even though that does not really say anything big considering each Shrek game of the past was a complete disaster. Shrek 2 is like eating a one-scope single favored ice cream sundae. Why have this bland dessert when you can add bananas, sprinkles, chocolate chips, and hot fudge? Why play Shrek 2 when there are better games out there? If you are looking for a co-op action RPG, play Baldur’s Gate, Dungeons and Dragon Heroes, or a MMORPG. While this Shrek game will probably keep a group of young kids entertained for a while, older gamers will lose interest completing the simple storybook objectives. The game does has its problems with a weak camera control, computer A.I that could use a little bit of work, and some pretty dumb mini games, but the graphics are slightly above average and the quick one liners are comical. The game won’t take a long time to beat, but the replay value lies inside the multiplayer aspect. New levels can be unlocked, but only if you fully complete each stage. At best, Shrek would be a good rental for your younger brother and sister for weekend