The summer movie rush is finally here and with it comes the usual abundance of game tie-ins. Now while most of you are certainly leaning towards the proverbial mutants and men wearing tights there is one title that you may have overlooked. Based on the DreamWorks animated picture this DS game is an unusual mix of stealth action and Tomb Raider style puzzles that seamlessly meshes to form a surprisingly deep and engaging game. Add this to the fact that developer Vicarious Visions has thrown in some nice dual screen implementation and you have a game that every DS owner should definitely check out. While the license is sure to cause hesitation I can assure you that this is one game that doesn’t follow the pattern of movie games in general.
While most gamers are probably tempted to check out this game on the consoles it is worth noting that this version is entirely different from its big brother. The portable incarnation opts for a more adventure/stealth approach and it actually works quite well. You take on the roles of three of the main characters from the movie, RJ the raccoon, Verne the turtle, or Hammy the squirrel and the objective is to save your neighborhood before it can be transformed into a swimming pool. The game starts you off as RJ for a sort of training mission, teaching you the basics such as carrying items, throwing, and of course the typical platform jumping. The rest of the game is divided up into missions where the objective is simple, sneak in and collect specific items to help stop the demolition from happening. Some of the levels even require you to use two characters and switch between them working together to accomplish a single goal. Thankfully switching is made easy with the quick touch of a button in the lower corner of the touch screen.
The basic gameplay is very similar to old school Tomb Raider, your character moves around on almost a grid-like path, but fear not the controls are a lot more intuitive than the early Lara adventures. Your surroundings are what make the game unique though, seeing as all of the characters are barely a foot tall the world is a giant playground where normal household items can become obstacles and puzzles all in themselves. Imagine a game like Toy Commander or even the movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids and you will get the idea. The true appeal of the game world derives from the fact that normal everyday items are the key to puzzles and hazards in the game world.
As I mentioned earlier the game also involves a sort of Metal Gear type of stealth element, but instead of avoiding genetically engineered soldiers you will have to keep an eye out for things such as cats and dogs that patrol various areas of the house. This is where Vicarious has implemented the second screen very well. While the game takes place from a third person perspective the second screen actually serves as a top-down view of the level. Think of this like Snake’s soliton radar system in Metal Gear; in it you can see the vision cone of any patrolling animals or humans and plan your route accordingly. The screen can also be used for targeting items in the level, for instance if you see an enemy that you want to attack, simply tap them on the bottom screen and when you are within range the cursor surrounding them will turn green meaning you are now within striking distance. A very unique and helpful mechanic and a great example of how to utilize the touch screen on Nintendo’s handheld.
Visually Over The Hedge is pretty amazing, in fact I would go on to say that this game is as visually impressive as almost any first party title including Super Mario and even Mario Kart. What is even more impressive is that the game is running two 3D engines simultaneously on each screen just like Mario Kart; both of them running at a smooth as ice 30 frames per second. The levels are also designed with great care in mind and really show that a this game is more than a cookie cutter effort to cash in on the movie license. There are a few hiccups in the design for instance you cannot look up and down in the first person perspective which is peculiar considering the default camera is set to an angle to give the appearance of the characters being small. This also becomes awkward when trying to view areas below you from an elevated position. There are also a few clipping issues and hit detection with certain items, but these are all minor gripes when compared to the overall grand scheme of things. This game is designed well and really deserves to be given a look by all DS owners tired of the same old crap.
While most DS owners will pass this over with the idea that movie licensed games suck, I would easily recommend this title to anyone who owns a DS. The developer obviously took the time to craft a unique and fun game play experience that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Forget the fact that it is based on a family-friendly movie license and you may even end up enjoying this amazingly addictive title that makes great use of the DS’ capabilities. Don’t let the movie license deter you from this stellar title, as you may end up missing out on one of the more impressive DS titles released this year.