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Shrek 2
Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Luxoflux
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Movie licensed games have been caught in a strange shift lately. In the past, whenever a movie tie-in was released, it was a pretty safe bet that the game would quickly find itself at the bottom of the bargain bin. In recent years this trend has been changing with games such as EA's Lord of the Rings games or the recently released Riddick. Shrek 2 occupies a unique place as it is certainly not destined to wallow in the depths of $9 bargain games, but doesn't quite reach the top of the mountain.

All of the game's characters are faithful renditions of what you see on the big screen. While the quality isn't as high-quality as what is seen in the movie, it is pretty close. Characters are detailed enough that they showcase some of their personalities. Even enemies showcase a bit of personality, such as the 'West Side Story'-like Merry Men (of Robin Hood fame). There's nothing more intimidating that a group of men in green tights armed with three years of jazz and tap lessons.

The biggest complement I can give the game is that the levels are massive and do a great job of leading into one another. You actually feel like each area is connected to the last, but at the same time they feel like their own little areas. Every area of the game has some kind of story book tie in and while it doesn't feature as many in-jokes as the movie, there are still a few chuckles to be found. A number of landmarks from both movies are also present in the game. I even caught a glimpse of what looked like Farquaad's elaborate tomb from the Shrek 4D attraction at Universal Studios.

None of the actors from the movie reprise their roles in the game. The stand-in voices do an excellent job overall, though the lines come up a little too often and get old. Younger players may enjoy it more, but I got a little tired of hearing Shrek comment on his bodily functions every 5 minutes. Some of the familiar tunes from the movie are present, as are some more original tracks. These are well done and fit the game's environments nicely.

Shrek 2 follows the plot of the movie, albeit rather loosely. After returning from their honeymoon, Shrek and Fiona, accompanied by Donkey, set out to visit the in-laws in Far, Far Away. Of course, the king isn't too thrilled that an ogre was the one to awaken their daughter (instead of Prince Charming) and, with the help of the Fairy Godmother, tries to have Shrek removed from the picture.

The game is a traditional action-based affair, but manages to give the genre its own unique spin. During your adventure you'll control four characters which include both major and minor characters from both films like the Gingerbread Man, The Big Bad Wolf, Puss n' Boots and Little Red Riding Hood. Each party member has their own special abilities. Shrek is the strong-man of the group and Donkey has a powerful kick. An ability that I feel needs special attention is Fiona's time-slow ability, which is a great nod to the visual gag used in the movies. There are some overlap abilities, but this didn't bother me much since it was really just a way to make sure you had certain abilities at all times, like the very useful double-jump.

Levels end in mini-games known as 'Hero Time'. Whereas the rest of the game focuses on your group, 'Hero Time' mini-games allow only one of your characters to shine. These include a wide variety of games, like a rhythm-based singing mode with Fiona (again, a nice play on a visual gag from the movies) and a flight through a narrow canyon with Donkey and Dragon.

A majority of playtime is broken up between solving puzzles and all-out beat 'em up action. The brawler parts are some of the weaker parts of the game, since it takes away from the more interesting puzzle elements. These actually prove to be a little more difficult since you don't have as much control over your other party members during fights.

Much of the game's focus is on team-based play and the developers did an excellent job of working uses for each character into levels. Granted, some of the visual cues for using these abilities will be a little too obvious for more seasoned gamers, but younger gamers should enjoy it. There are a few areas that come across as a little too hard and might lead to frustration. The biggest flaw with these areas is that you have to switch between characters with near flawless timing, otherwise you have to restart. Thankfully these areas aren't that numerous and the game is rather generous with save points.

Some of the mini-games prove to be more challenging than anything the game throws at you. This is especially evident in areas like the canyon flight with Dragon, which is longer than it needs to be and unforgiving since I'm sure Dragon could take a hit or two before crashing.

Game Mechanics:
Levels are usually long and there's always something going on in them besides trying to make it to the end. I guess the best way to say it, while keeping with the theme of Shrek, is that levels have layers. You can choose to run through each level and finish the game with no problems. However, there are more things to do in each world if you're up to it. Every level has a set of objectives that can be completed. These range from things like saving the Seven Dwarves or finding all of Jack's Magic Beans. These secondary objectives add a little more replay to the game and can provide considerable challenge. I've still yet to complete a few in the earlier levels. Completing these challenges unlocks things like pictures for your scrapbook.

Controls are a little slippery, but still playable. Getting into Shrek 2 is very easy, due in part to the helpful, yet unobtrusive, in-game help. During the first few levels, the Magic Mirror will appear near a puzzle area. If you want to figure out how to solve the area by yourself, you can. But, if you'd like the help - it's there. This is something I wish more games would do since I hate when games force you to read through instructions on even the most obvious of issues. Switching between characters is as easy as pressing the shoulder buttons.

In the end, Shrek 2 is a good game, but is clearly more for younger gamers. The game is just hard enough to give them a challenge without causing fits of rage, and there's enough to find in the game to keep young players busy for more than a week. Older gamers might get some enjoyment out of the game, making it a good rental, but don't' expect to be blown away.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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