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Shrek Forever After
Score: 72%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: XPEC Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Shrek Forever After looks like it was developed exclusively for the Wii or the PlayStation 2. Of course, this is a review for a PlayStation 3 game, so that's simply a roundabout way of saying it's not a looker. It's not ugly per se; the best word for the visuals is "unimpressive." The character models look decent enough, and the camera angle remains fixed and isometric throughout. This is a good thing; you can see the jaggies from far away. When the game takes control away from you for an in-game cutscene, it occasionally makes the mistake of zooming in -- magnifying the problem areas. It's hard to knock the technical inadequacies of this game too hard without acknowledging the merits of its art design. Shrek Forever After gets that part right. The developers certainly know how the kingdom of Far, Far Away is supposed to look, even if they fail to make it pop like it does on the silver screen.

Shrek Forever After sounds great, for the most part. I've only seen the first Shrek film; my ignorance might go to the game's credit when I say that the music may very well have been pulled directly from the film's original soundtrack. There's some original stuff here, but the credits list music from the first three films. A lot of it repeats too often, but overall, I don't really have any serious complaints. The voice acting is 100% love it or hate it; it really depends on if you like the characters themselves. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, and Cameron Diaz don't reprise their roles, but Walt Dohrn (Rumpelstiltskin) does, and it's not a phone-in performance. The rest of the voice actors more or less get their characters right. There are some jarring moments that relay the feeling of playing inside the film's trailer; the brawling sequences feature songs like Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" and The Hives' "Hate to Say I Told You So." While throwing down with a bunch of witches and walking trees, I heard Parry Gripp's "Do You Like Waffles." A graveyard rumble later in the game is set to "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. Whoa.

Shrek Forever After follows the recently-released film. Our lovable hero has become a jaded celebrity. In his desperation to return to normalcy, he does something incredibly stupid: he signs a contract with Rumpelstiltskin, who is well-known for his deception. This contract's fine print and exit clause give Shrek an ultimatum: he will be erased from existence if he does not experience true love's kiss.

Shrek Forever After is full of light action, adventure, and puzzle elements. You'll journey through Far, Far Away, beating up bad guys and solving puzzles all the while. It's very simple stuff, which means it succeeds as a family game. This is made even better by the fact that there's four-player co-op. Shrek Forever After is predictably shallow, though; some gamers, young and old, may find themselves wanting for something a bit more meaty.

Playing Shrek Forever After requires you to suspend your disbelief a bit more readily than you'd expect, because from the start, you have the ability to switch between four characters: Shrek, Donkey, Puss in Boots, and Fiona. At several times during the game, certain characters are said to be in certain places, even though they're with you the whole time. This sacrifice of logic was done in the name of a better game, so it's somewhat forgivable.

Shrek Forever After's tutorial is delivered by the Three Little Pigs, obnoxious faux-German accents and all. The tutorial is thorough and practically lasts throughout the whole game; the different gameplay sequences don't always call for explanations, but the game usually respects players enough to give them the choice of whether or not to ask for help.

As long as you know how to press the (X) button, the enemies in Shrek Forever After will be completely at your mercy. This is an easy game by design, and anyone who spends enough time with it will finish it. A defense mechanic would have made the game easier (and a bit better), but it's simple enough as it is. Powers and upgrades can be purchased at Cookie's store with all the coinage you'll no doubt be saving up; they make the game a lot easier, too.

The puzzles are extremely easy, as well. Even if you forget which character does what, the game will help you out without asking. The four characters have different skills, and the game will literally tell you to switch to the character whose skills are needed. If you get inexplicably stuck, you can pay the Three Blind Mice for hints. However, it's never worth it. The game is especially easy for those who are playing cooperatively; two to four heads are better than one, and some of the puzzles require more than one player to solve.

Game Mechanics:
Shrek Forever After is replete with shallow mechanics. Of course, this is in service to the game's "everyone and their two month-old cousin" difficulty level. As I mentioned in the segment above, combat is a single-button affair, and it's generally used as filler between puzzles and story sequences. The attack button is also used when you want to go knocking on the environment; this always results in showers of random gold pieces. There are some barely-explained power-ups, which are tied into the Ogre Meter seen on the left side of the screen. You'll probably ignore all of that stuff as you plow through the game, though.

The only mechanic in this game that isn't paper-thin is, for lack of better words, ripped off. The game in question may shock you: it's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Magic Mirror shows up early in the game, and his abilities allow Shrek and company to travel between the two realities. In one reality, Rumpelstiltskin is king of Far, Far Away, and Shrek is a wanted ogre. The other reality is, of course, the normal one. Don't ask questions, just go along with the ride. This mechanic actually works well with the premise, and it makes the level design more impressive. Still, it's borderline mechanic theft.

Each character has his/her own set of special abilities. Most of them are a bit contrived, especially the context-sensitive ones. However, they work with the level design to keep things from getting too stale. Shrek can let out a terrifying (?) roar, but he can also carry heavy objects. Donkey can sing (again, ?), but he can also mule kick to open locked doors and rotate objects. Puss in Boots can purr and give people sweet eyes, but he's also the one who does all the swashbuckling. Fiona deals with everything fire-related and also has the ability to sound like a foghorn. (Okay...)

Shrek Forever After is a surprisingly harmless game, especially for a licensed product. The level design is solid, the mechanics are workable (if shallow), and new ideas keep coming until the end. The target audience will undoubtedly be pleased with Shrek Forever After, but most gamers will justifiably ignore it.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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