It is hard to imagine, but before entering myself into the world of gaming journalism I rarely touched a game aimed specifically at the younger demographic. Titles like these are not meant for me, and so far that logic has worked out well enough. However, when I finally get to sit down with them, I find myself enthralled into the world. I am not sure if it is because the game focuses on pure, simple entertainment; or because I really don’t have to think about my next movie nine times out of ten. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the latest kid movie-to-game adaptation, and from my short romp through the game I have come to this conclusion that I am starting to enjoy these types of games more and more. Perhaps it is because they are slowly increasing in quality, or perhaps I am just getting too old to memorize forty-button combos.
Dawn of the Dinosaurs allows players to jump into the shoes of their favorite characters, and toy around with a wide selection of game types. There are Marble Madness style levels where you need to roll an egg down the mountainside, chase levels where you must jump over water and powerslide around corners to catch up to your prey, and the traditional platforming levels that coincide with almost every game of this type. The story is told as flashbacks. Diego and Sid are narrating the events while looking at cave paintings, talking to an unnamed character. Everything flows along nicely, and anyone who has seen the movie will see and recognize their favorite characters, as they all look and sound just like they do in the movies.
The most important thing you can remember about Dawn of the Dinosaurs is that it is aimed at children. From the start you are introduced to fairly simple controls and puzzles that are obvious long before the game teaches you how to solve them. This is perfect for the demographic it is aimed for. I also found myself enjoying the game types the further I got into the game. The platforming sections make up a nice chunk of the opening game, alongside the egg-rolling endeavors. Later in the game though you get to play levels that feel inspired by side-scrolling shooters and even a Panzer Dragoon style outing that had me crying nostalgic tears of joy. The amount of variety in the game types really helps in keeping you interested throughout the entire experience.
The couple areas where things got rough mostly involved tedium. While there is a surfeit of game types, some of them go on for far too long. For example the whip-cracking levels seemed to dominate the middle-half of the experience. These levels went on much longer than the earlier and later experiences, and almost felt disconnected at times. These levels are also a bit more challenging than the opening excursions, at least for the age group Ice Age is aimed at. When you consider that the game can be ran through in less than three hours, clogging up the middle of the game with tedium and a bold challenge increase seem like peculiar decisions. Granted it does not deter you from finishing the game, but I did find myself wondering when I would get back to the slightly faster-paced antics found earlier on.
Even though you can breeze through the game in one sitting, there are a lot of extra items that should keep you interested for a little while. As with most games nowadays there are collectibles to be found and upgrades to be purchased. Each level has three crystals to collect. Collecting these isn’t terribly difficult, but you will likely not find them all on your first go. You can revisit any level you have completed to collect them, and even earn some Achievements/Trophies if you manage to collect all of each type.
There is also a multi-player mode that you can play with your friends, but it really isn’t deep, or enjoyable enough to warrant extended periods of time, it also kind of stinks that most of the games are not available from the outset. You are required to earn them through playing the game, or purchasing them using the fruit scattered around the levels. You can also use this fruit currency to purchase some of the sough after crystals, but none of the ones you have to earn by exploring the levels. A co-op mode like the ones found in Monsters Vs. Aliens and other recent kids games would have been appreciated, but as it stands there is just enough here to make the game worth checking out.
Thankfully everything about the game mechanics work well. Controls are smooth, the camera isn’t too fussy, and the platforming elements are rarely frustrating. Combat is performed with just two buttons, and everything just feels right. The only issues I had control wise were areas where you had to aim with the right stick such as the shooting gallery, or the aforesaid Panzer-style areas. It seemed a little hesitant and wonky at times, but the checkpoint system is so forgiving, dying never really becomes frustrating.
Visually the game lacks a certain flavor of next-gen-ness, but for what it is worth everything runs silky smooth. The environments should be familiar to anyone who has seen the movies, plus as you can imagine everything is on a pretty straight path, so no exploration. Even the hidden items are usually in plain sight. Sounds measure up a bit higher with the actors from the movie reprising their roles. Queen Latifah, Ray Romano and John Leguizamo all lend their talents to bring the characters from the movie to life, and all of them do an excellent job. The music fits the mood and the sound effects are standard fare, but for the subject matter Ice Age does a good job of portraying the universe it is supposed to be set in.
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs continues the trend of solid movie-to-game conversions. Couple this with the idea that it is also a kids game that usually translates to quick cash-in and you get a two-for-one bonus of good news. If your kids are fans of the movies then there is no reason not to pick up this enjoyable romp in the universe. Lack of co-op hurts the overall score, but what is here is a fun romp from beginning to end. I trust there are no hardcores out there considering picking this up, and if you are (even just for Achievements), rent it first. The game clocks in at less than three hours with a skilled gamer at the helm, but kids interested in taking Sid and his friends on a fun journey will find plenty to love.