DreamWorks has been on a roll lately, both in the box office and in the world of gaming. Last year we received Kung Fu Panda; a delightfully hilarious comedy that coincided with a surprisingly excellent videogame counterpart. This year they have delivered yet another top-tier film and Activision and developer Beenox return to deliver a complimentary interactive experience to accompany the movie. Monsters Vs. Aliens is a classic idea of pitting some of the world’s most inventive monsters against an impending alien threat. Much like the movie each character in the game possesses unique abilities that assist in taking down the extraterrestrial threat. This has worked out to Beenox’s advantage as they split the game into three unique sections to keep things fresh from beginning to end.
At its heart Monsters Vs. Aliens is an action/platformer, but the team has opted to break up the action with each character. Susan (Ginormica) spends her levels skating from point A to point B all while avoiding obstacles and taking down enemies. The best way to compare these sections is to an on-rails segment complete with button-press segments and plenty of cinematic action. The Missing Link supplies the action portion and acts mostly as an action game. There are minor puzzles to solve and bosses to fight, making his segment the most action-oriented within the game. Perhaps the most interesting section though belongs to B.O.B. This slimy creation can stick to walls and ceilings making his levels feel more like complex puzzle solving than anything else.
The benefit of all of this is that it keeps the action varied from level to level. Of the three types I personally had the most fun with Susan and The Missing Link’s levels because they usually refused to let up until the end. Initially the levels are compact and enjoyable, but towards the end there are some painfully long scenarios that have you repeating actions over and over ad nauseam. In addition to simply plowing through each level you can also collect DNA that you use to unlock new mini-games and special abilities. After each level you unlock a new strand on the DNA chart. Each branch of the chart plays host to either artwork, movie stills and of course new mini-games. Completing these mini-games will earn you medals, as well as the ability to purchase new power-ups for your characters.
The biggest problem that plagues Monsters Vs. Aliens is that it becomes too repetitive, too quickly. For instance the first time you use The Missing Link to unscrew a giant turret from the side of a ship, or mount a missile turret and pummel it with your fists, it is exciting. Once the four hundredth turret has been disposed it starts to feel a little monotonous. Towards the end of the game this becomes a common occurrence as it feels like the developers ran out of ideas and decided to just make previous obstacles longer, and more frustrating. During each level you earn score multipliers that can increase your DNA intake, however every time you are hit you lose one multiplier, and they are not as easy to build back up. It is also worth noting that if you are going for high scores or leaderboards, you lose 2,000 points every time you bite the dust.
Even with these problems there is a great deal of fun to be had here. The level designs are clever, if not a bit predictable, and everything plays surprisingly smooth. There are many instances in the game where you will find yourself manning a rocket launcher, or as B.O.B. partaking in a shooting segment. The best part about Monsters Vs. Aliens is that outside of the final chapter, there is rarely a moment where you are spending too much time performing the same actions. You can complete the core game in just less than five hours, but it feels forced towards the end because of the monotony that plagues the final few set of levels.
There is also a co-op functionality that can be played, but it isn’t the traditional type you would expect. Instead of taking control of two of the characters, the second player instead assume the role of Dr. Cockroach. A cursor appears on the screen, and he can then blast enemies or pick them up in a tractor beam. It is an interesting take on the cooperative mechanic, but it is not without its drawbacks. It doesn’t take long before mindlessly hammering on the trigger becomes mundane, and your co-op partner is likely to lose interest rather quickly. As I mentioned earlier there are a host of mini-games that you can play within the DNA chart. These mostly consist of scenarios you encounter in the single player such as launching rockets to take down waves of enemies, to running through various levels in a set amount of time. If you want to earn the full 1000 Achievement Points on the 360 version you are easily looking at 10-12 hours of game time depending on your skill.
Visually the game suffers from the stale movie game feel. While we certainly don’t expect visuals of the same caliber of the movie, there are certainly better looking games in this genre. The textures leave much to be desired and the models and levels are blockier than you would come to expect this generation. It definitely feels like the game was built on Wii first and then ported up. Thankfully the sound design is much better, thanks mostly to the fact that some of the actors from the movie have reprised their roles. Seth Rogan delivers as B.O.B. while Reese Whiterspoon fills the giant shoes of Susan. Sound effects are passable and the music feels dynamic at times, and at others non-existent. Overall the presentation feels irregular and uneven.
Monsters Vs. Aliens is a solid effort that should appeal to the audience it is aiming for: fans of the movie and younger gamers. There are segments that will prove frustrating for inexperienced gamers, but the penalty for dying is so small, it likely won’t deter them from playing. The co-op mode leaves a bit to be desired, but I can see parents taking down enemies while the kids have fun smashing everything in sight, so perhaps it suits the game better than you would imagine. If you or your kids are a fan of the movie the game is a solid effort that offers some great moments. Not quite the best licensed game, but still above and beyond most of the drivel currently out there.