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Rango the Videogame
Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Behaviour Interactive
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:
Hear me out. I know you might think I am delusional or a potential victim of Stockholm Syndrome, but I genuinely believe that videogames based on feature films are becoming better and (in my opinion) enjoyable. Don't believe me? Give Rango the Videogame a shot. Based on the animated feature from Nickelodeon Pictures, Rango is a story about a chameleon that has a hard time blending into his new, western surroundings. The connecting tie-in accomplishes what so many franchise cash-ins fail to do; offer a great companion piece for fans of the film.

Produced by Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) of Star Wars fame, the visual fidelity offered to a console game is understandably pretty good. The characters and environments are the same assets taken from the feature film and exploring the rough and tumble world of a miniature Wild West is a visual delight. The titular character, Rango, looks like his on-screen counterpart and nearly all of the delightful animated quirks shine through for each colorful critter. It is a rare treat when a visual style can be as cohesive as Rango manages to be, and it should be seen to really be appreciated.

By far, the most pleasant surprise from Rango is the ragtime western soundtrack. Saloon show tunes and homemade bluegrass will surely bring a smile to your face as the happy tunes get stuck in your head. While the toe-tapping soundtrack outshines the mediocre voice acting, it isn't all bad. In fact, the worst I can say about the actual voice acted dialogue is that it doesn't include lead actor Johnny Depp. The sound-a-like is good enough, but it is very noticeable in spots and it does manage to take you out of the experience once or twice. To be fair, the target audience most likely won't really pay that much attention or really care for that matter. It just would have been nice to land such a big name.

If there were a rulebook on how to make a good, solid videogame based on a movie, Rango would be carrying that book in its back pocket. It doesn't always reach for the stars, but it does enough things right to leave a good impression.

Rule No. 1: Don't limit the storyline of the game to the storyline of the movie. In the film version of Rango, the animal-sized western town of Dirt is plagued with a drought. The water shortage threatens the livelihood of the residents and it is up to the reptilian sheriff, Rango, to be the hero for the good people of Dirt. In the game, the player gets to explore a bit more of the rich world of tincan outhouses and shoebox saloons. Sheriff Rango is called to action after someone finds a strange meteorite and Beans, the town's independent female, believes it might help answer the mystery of her missing father. Sheriff Rango decides before he closes the case on the mystery, he needs to spin a tall tale to rile up folks to help him out in his posse.

Rule No. 2: Don't be afraid to embellish. Most of the events of Rango are told through storytelling flashbacks and it actually serves to enhance the design of the levels. That small little storytelling trope adds color and flavor to an already imaginative world as the Sheriff regales his listeners with taller and taller tales of the events in question. Over the course of a handful of levels, Rango offers enough variety and spice to keep things interesting without getting stale.

Rule No. 3: Because of time constraints, don't be afraid to steal from the best! The perpetual burden of making movie-games is that the development cycle is often much shorter than most normal projects. So it makes sense when so many titles try to copy a formula that worked for bigger titles, but get frustrated when a third-person shooting section doesn't work for their "G" rated franchise. Rango has the benefit of a universal setting in the Wild West (albeit a much smaller version) and can afford to take risks from high profile titles. For example, one level of Rango has the miniscule lawman chasing down a runaway train and working his way toward the front before the villainous Bad Bill (a gila monster) makes off with the stolen goods. This specific sequence plays very closely to the beats and heart-stopping moments of Uncharted 2. Zipping by the gorgeous landscape and shimmying up the sides of a runaway train feels very similar to controlling Nathan Drake and Rango pulls it off surprisingly well.

Rule No. 4: Keep it simple, stupid. I never once felt like Rango reached beyond its grasp. In fact, everything that was introduced felt natural and almost expected given the expectations of a movie-game. Light RPG elements? Check. Solid third person shooting? Check. Simple yet effective melee combat? Check. One or two curve balls to keep things fresh? Yup, Rango has got that too. The aforementioned train chase and a stealth level all serve to keep Rango interesting long after most of its peers would have already been stale.

Of course, Rule No. 5 is that you should keep it quick. Rango only lasts a few hours through just under a dozen levels, but most importantly, it doesn't overstay its welcome. The combat and puzzles aren't particularly tricky, but it does succeed in being just engaging enough to keep going. It is a tough trick to strike a great balance of engaging gameplay and a quick pace, but here we have a game that does both, and does them well. My time with Rango never felt like a waste and more importantly, I was having fun. I know, right? I was shocked too.

Game Mechanics:
As I said earlier, Rango succeeds because it steals from the greats. Its adoption of well-accepted conventions makes learning the ropes a breeze. The combat mostly consists of two states: shooting and punching (what game doesn't?) The melee combat is fairly simple with a few basic combos to get the job done and an upgrade system to make certain attacks more effective, but the melee combat doesn't get enough mileage because of one very large oversight in the overpowered pistol.

Sheriff Rango's unique pistol is an upgradeable semi-automatic that can dispatch baddies with ease. Too much ease, in fact. Holding down the trigger lets out a barrage of bullets that can make supposedly difficult boss encounter a cake walk. Couple that with infinite ammo and that leaves no real reason to use fisticuffs when the cold bite of steel is the safest and surest bet.

I don't often look forward to reviewing these sorts of games. I feel like a broken record at times lamenting the fact that most games based on feature films never go beyond "meh" and at worst are just plain awful. Rango bucks both of those expectations, but only just barely. The positive feelings I have towards Rango may have been attributed to a recent viewing of the feature film before playing, but fun is fun. I was definitely surprised by the amount of enjoyment I got from Rango the Videogame, but the honest truth is that the overall experience was "good" but not "great." Though, let's not mince words, "good" is a huge accomplishment for a game like this.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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