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Monsters vs. Aliens: The Video Game
Score: 81%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Beenox
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Platformer/ Action/ Themed

Graphics & Sound:
I'm fascinated by the regularity with which the world works. Roughly a year ago, DreamWorks released Kung Fu Panda for kids and an accompanying videogame tie-in, which wasn't all bad. Now, roughly a year later, DreamWorks has released another animated movie that is great for kids and a new licensed game to go along with it.

Monster vs. Aliens is fortunately one of those events where it becomes very apparent that someone behind the scenes understands what their audience wants.

Being on the current generation of hardware definitely improves the visual appeal of a game based on an animated movie. The visual style and flair translates easily onto high-def systems. All of the big screen characters look bright and vibrant, while at the same time acting believably. Sometimes the only nuances that a computer-generated object need to be believable are to incorporate realistic animations. Monsters vs. Aliens manages to look great and convey the same level of care into its sound design which is usually rare in the genre.

Although I haven't seen the silver screen version, the soundtrack and voice acting left me genuinely impressed. The best I can glean about the voice acting is that it's a mixture of movie dialogue and specially recorded lines just for the game. Unfortunately, there are at least two moments when all of that hard work is spoiled with truly horrible last minute approximations. Although, when it comes down to it, a 10 year old really isn't going to notice things like that. But what they might notice are the repetitive lines.

Amazingly, the soundtrack captures the mood and atmosphere of retro Sci-Fi movies and even a little bit of a Ratchet and Clank influences throughout. If anyone has seen a cheesy movie from the 50's or 60's about giant brains or aliens that threaten to kill the entire human race, then you might have a good idea of how the soundtrack sounds.

I just want to repeat that I haven't yet seen Monsters vs. Aliens in theaters yet. So, my description of the story may not be the most accurate, but it starts with a normal woman named Susan who is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day. The radiation from the astral rock transforms her into a nearly 50 foot tall unstoppable force called Ginormica.

She is then abducted by military general W.R. Monger, who is in charge of a secret organization of monsters. These are government monsters living in captivity and they soon realize that they are humanity's last hope against an alien menace.

Each of the four chapters follows the same formula and each of the three characters has their own time to shine in each level. Basically, each chapter poses the same premise. A giant robot breaks free and Ginormica, The Missing Link, and B.O.B. have to save the day the best they can. Each member of the team has a very specific role they play in tackling the giant robots.

Ginormica is usually first and she skates her way to success roller-derby style. Each of her levels is a time trial skating sequence where the speed is already determined, but you have to avoid threats and obstacles. Occasionally, you can jump and pull off a few tricks to make it snazzy, but you are really supposed to be making it to the end as quickly as possible.

The Missing Link is easily what most people will take away from Monsters vs. Aliens. His sections play more like a brawler and combat game than anyone else's. He has some simple combos in his arsenal and he can usually be seen climbing the side of each level's giant robot. While The Missing Link may be a half ape/half fish, he is most certainly all mechanic because he removes screws and bolts from the side of each robot to disable certain weapons and key pieces. Although his sections are simple and repetitive, there is some enjoyment to beating the crap out of baddies and watching them explode. The best thing about his levels are the variety, one minute you spend beating up a set number of baddies before you can progress and the next you are avoiding laser fire in an old-school tribute.

My favorite moments are B.O.B's levels. Straight up old school platforming, B.O.B's gelatinous body can slip and slide his way around the levels and solve various puzzles. Occasionally his levels have a 2-D perspective and it then becomes more like a Mario or Mega Man game. The ends of his levels are the most enjoyable. B.O.B. fights a boss by standing on a plasma plate so he can shoot plasma bullets. If you take Gradius or the Gummi Ship sequences from Kingdom Hearts and mix it with Time Crisis, then you have B.O.B's shooting sequence.

The amazing thing about each level is that it supports drop-in Co-op. Press Start on a second controller and Player 2 controls the anthropomorphic Dr. Cockroach. Although he doesn't do the fighting directly, he has some special gadgets to dispense of the enemies quickly. It is a great addition for families with multiple youngsters.

I hate to say that only 10 year olds will enjoy Monsters vs. Aliens, but it is fairly obvious who they are catering to. During each level, you are supposed to be collecting DNA molecules that act as currency in a bonus area called "The DNA Lab." In the lab, you can use your points to buy concept art, power ups and unlockable mini-games for a good distraction. It equals out to roughly a little more than one mini-game for each level. So there are 25 levels in the main game and about 30 - 35 mini-games available in the lab. I think the only people that would try to collect everything are also the only people that had to have someone bring them to the theater to watch the movie. I'm not saying you can't enjoy it if you are over 10 years old, I certainly did, but I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to get through the game and never touch the mini-games.

If I had to give Monsters vs. Aliens a bad mark for anything, it would be its difficulty curve. Most of the time, it is a cake walk and the variety in gameplay is the only thing that kept me stimulated. I struggled to stay awake often because of certain repetitive sections. As I slapped myself to wake up, I return to consciousness only to discover that I am going to repeat the same bit of the level over and over again. Mostly with B.O.B., the difficulty comes out of left field and makes me wonder if the developers tested and balanced that section before releasing it.

The completion time was around six hours, but sometimes it seemed longer because I played some of the mini-games in between the Story Mode. There is so much to do that you would be hard pressed to earn every unlockable and trophy in less than 25 hours. Although, I liked Monsters vs. Aliens quite a bit, I would never spend that much time with it since I don't need those trophies that badly.

Game Mechanics:
Since there are technically three separate gameplay devices within Monsters vs. Aliens, that means there are three different control schemes. As I mentioned already, Ginormica has levels where you have to avoid obstacles while skating your way to the end of the level. Everything works fine; it just needs to be fine-tuned. Moving her around the roads or tracks feels a little loose. I often saw myself overshooting my intended area because I could never get the finesse right. Most often it happens after she jumps. She has a double jump that performs tricks and reaches well-placed pickups and items, but the act of double jumping adds a meter or so to her traveling distance and I fell to my death many times because I was too greedy.

While Ginormica's problems exist because she has an unneeded animation, B.O.B's problems are because he doesn't have any at all. Since he is just a big ball of slime, he slides around the levels. Since his sections are 3-D platforming, it is sometimes frustrating to move him where he needs to be because it is hard to tell what direction he is truly facing before he moves. They compensate for this by adding edges and bumpers to his level, but when there aren't any safety nets, be prepared to take things an inch at a time. While both B.O.B. and Ginormica have attack buttons, you can finish each of their levels without attacking at all. It is only when you play as The Missing Link when attack combinations really come in handy.

The acrobatic half ape/ half fish handles himself fairly well. (Square) performs a light attack and (Triangle) is for crowd control. The combat system isn't very deep and you can blast through most of it by mashing on (Triangle) until everyone is dead, but you don't do it for extended periods of time. The variety in level design is great at changing the pace and stimulating you just enough to keep playing.

This year has seen some pretty good attempts at successfully translating a film or T.V. show into a fun game. Afro Samurai started the year off right, then Riddick comes back to show everyone that it's still possible to make a game that is more interesting than the movie it is based on. While Monsters vs. Aliens may not have had an M rated license to run with, the developer Beenox still made a fun game and then added the license after the "fun" was established. While it isn't without its shortcomings, Monsters vs. Aliens is still a solid pick for families and kids looking to revisit their favorite top secret team of alien-fighting monsters.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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