The Shrek franchise is one that Dreamworks has milked to high heavens. If it was a cow, its udders would be as sore as Mel Gibson’s reputation after that recent tirade. I’ll admit, I enjoyed the first Shrek but not when it was shoved in front of my face every five seconds. The same happened with the sequel, which is kind of enjoyed too, and then the same with the third one and the same is currently happening with Shrek Forever After which is supposed to be the final chapter in the franchise, although I highly doubt that. Dreamworks really love to push everything they have, which I suppose is a good move when their main rival is Pixar who, apart from Cars, has yet to make a truly bad film. So, as with each new film, a game has been in the works. As with each new movie tie-in game, it’s not very good. As much as I want to criticise it, I need to remember it’s a kid’s game first and foremost. The problem is, I have no idea why a child would enjoy playing this, but we shall get to that later.
Shrek Forever After is based around the latest in the Shrek franchise. Shrek, our ogrey anti-hero, is tricked into signing a contract with Rumplestiltskin to get back to his ogre roots after having enough of the fame and fortune he has recently acquired. Unfortunately for Shrek, old Rumpy is a bit of a character and makes it so that Shrek was never actually born. While Shrek is enjoying his new lifestyle, unaware that in this alternate world where Rumplestiltskin is king, none of his previous friends recognise him because he has never existed. And so Shrek sets out on a quest to get out of this contract and get the world as it was before, thus follows cheesy jokes, encounters with old and new faces and “epic” battles; standard fare for Shrek.
It’s just a shame he must force the player to come on this badly structured, unfunny quest of his. I may be old and bitter but I don’t see how this differs from the other generic movie rubbish out there. I’ve heard people saying that this is the best game of the Shrek franchise which makes me never want to go back and check those out.
You can either go through the game alone, with the ability to switch between the four characters of Shrek, Puss-In-Boots, Donkey and Fiona or grab three other people to join you. Unfortunately, this co-op mode can only be played locally and not over Xbox Live, though it’s great for families to get together and play together in the same room. The gameplay focuses around the abilities of the four characters. Shrek can carry stuff, Puss can climb stuff, Fiona can set fire to stuff and Donkey can kick stuff. These abilities are all needed to solve various puzzles around the game. Most of these puzzles usually consist of “move this thing there, set fire to this thing, kick that” so as not to tax the minds of the poor youngsters, but wait, there’s something to counteract how easy the puzzles are: how difficult they are to complete! The horrific camera, which is often blocked by trees, cliffs and rocks due to the spectacular angle it was decided would be good, makes it near impossible to move anywhere. There are points when I was hitting enemies I couldn’t even see because a tree was obscuring my field of vision. It’s a fixed camera too, so don’t think moving it will help because it’s as stuck as this pencil I drilled into my arm due to how boring this game is. Figuring out whose skills are needed for each puzzle is pretty easy; however, due to the useful thought bubbles that pop up near an object you can interact with, it makes it much easier to flick through your characters to find the right one.
Then there is the fighting. Oh the fighting. Most of it takes place in an arena style setting, with you being unable to leave until you have defeated the waves of enemies. During this time, some form of licensed music plays. I am sure that most of the money the developers had was spent on getting this money in their game. I’ll admit, it was great to hear The Hives during one battle and I did get really pumped up as I beat the wood out of some trees to Hate To Say I Told You So, but some soundtrack choices are terrible, especially after hearing Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation for the hundredth time; a song I can only stand in large doses when watching a marathon of Freaks and Geeks. The combat is pretty much a one-button affair. Keep tapping A to start up some combos. You can use the special attack for each of the four characters but it mainly only works as a buffer between you and enemies, startling them momentarily. It’s handy to get out of a tight spot but not very useful in actual combat. I can see the appeal for children but, as an adult, I got bored rather easily.
There are areas I did enjoy. I loved the idea of the Mirror being able to switch you between alternate dimensions; that of your normal life and of the Rumplestiltskin ruled life. It was quite enjoyable to see how areas of the world had changed between the two dimensions and solving puzzles by doing so was quite interesting too. Some of the boss battles were also quite challenging and I think I had the most fun playing those.
Shrek Forever After is not a good looking game. It looks like it was made for the PS2 somewhere in the middle of its life span, which is not good to say we’re quite far into the 360’s life span. Everything looks dull, flat and muddy. Even where colours would normally pop, they just feel dull. The voice acting is a pretty marmite affair. Personally, I hated it, it was just too phoned in and it felt like I was listening to a troupe of extremely bad impersonators at a terrible back street comedy club. The voice of Rumplestiltskin, however, was fantastic having been voiced by the same guy who plays him in the film. The sections with Rumplestiltskin were actually enjoyable, despite the supporting cast. I would’ve much preferred the game if it was just a few hours of Rumplestiltskin getting angry and hitting stuff.
Maybe I’m just a cynical old fart, and it’s probably a bad idea I’m even reviewing a kid’s game, but I really did not enjoy Shrek: Forever After. I’ve had worse gaming experiences but I’ve also had much, much better. As with many film tie-ins this feels very rushed and it’s evident here more so than usual. Prince Caspian managed to do a decent job with the time frame it had to get a game out. Shrek Forever After just feels like a three day week, four hour day job for about a few months. Very little care has been put into this game to capture the fairy tale magic of Shrek, although the same could probably be said of the films as they’ve gone along. Oh well. It won’t be long before we hear more from Shrek anyway.