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Stuart Little 2
Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Magenta Software
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:
There's nothing more bizarre than the world of licensed games. Most bizarre of all is how a good game like Stuart Little 2 can even be made, considering competing influence from Producers, Sales, Marketing, Branding and Development people. Oh, and it is a bit strange that we have a sequel to a game that wasn't made. Yeah, unless I'm seriously off here, Stuart Little Numero Uno has never seen the light of day. Maybe we'll have a prequel after this game... :)

Magenta Software has managed to tweak most every bit of the PlayStation's graphics capabilities, bringing in nice visual touches and some smooth character models. Movie 'clips' can be earned, and although they are done in the game's engine they are still fun to watch. Because the game really follows the movie, kids who enjoyed Stuart Little 2 in the theater will recognize not only the locations but many of the plot events. And, the voices are done well, to seal the deal. Characters such as Snowball, Margalo and Falcon play a pivotal role in the game, so count on seeing them along with miscellaneous small bad and good characters Stuart runs up against.

As mentioned, following the course of the movie has begun to seem like the winning formula for licensed games. Why nobody ever thought of this as a 'rule' is a little strange, considering the fact that people are likely drawn to a licensed game because of what they saw in the movie. But, interpreted games have on the whole seemed wrong to me while games that followed the plot of the movie/show/book or at least drawn strictly from the source material have done very well. Stuart's efforts here go toward defeating Falcon, who leads a band of nere-do-wells in New York City and has a passion for shiny baubles. Falcon is trying to coerce Margalo to carry out bad plans, but Stuart aims to put a stop to the whole Falcon issue once and for all.

We take on the role of Stuart and have a chance to do a little training immediately. The training introduces gamers to some basic Platformer rules, and gives you a chance to feel out the controls. Stuart Little 2 is a standard platforming title in the sense that you get to jump, explore, throw objects, attack enemies and do some mini-games. The unusually fine thing here is how well everything is integrated and the solid execution across all fronts. Within each level, a very open-ended system for clearing the level can be seen in the 'jeweled ring' system. To move into a new area, you need to collect these rings. Any level will contain 6 rings, each earned through a different set of objectives. For example, a mini-game successfully completed might earn you a ring, and finding a certain number of objects will do the same. The idea is solid, and the execution is well done. So, in the beginning only a few rings will be needed to move along, but objectives for the number of rings needed to move on become more challenging. This type of 'bank' concept for progress in a game has become very popular, and fits the platforming genre well.

The mini-games are really fun, and just tooling around each level is a blast. The full range of activity is available for Stuart, like climbing on objects, using balloons to float around the level, and pushing blocks to solve puzzles or reach new heights. The enemies you'll face will generally be defeated by a swift tail-spin, but you can also throw objects at them. Health power-ups work as you'd expect, but add different dimensions to your strength by giving lives, health and the amount of health you can have in total. Obviously, all staples of good platforming action.

Stuart Little 2 does present some difficult moments as you explore and try to figure out how to collect all the items because you don't always have the skill or the health level you'd need to take on an enemy successfully or understand how to overcome a difficult challenge. Generally, the helpful Margalo will suggest things to you, and you'll find her jeweled pin in places where a hint is available. The hint system is a nice way to adjust for gamers who may not have the same level of experience or track record with these type of games. Still, looking at the amount of action available here, no seasoned veterans of young platforming action titles like Spyro or Croc should be disappointed.

Game Mechanics:
Various options are available to adjust the way the game is played, but the biggest difference in this and some games that have suffered from poor camera work is the choice between Active and Passive camera. Sure, there are still times when the camera just won't line up the way you want it to, no matter what. But, a majority of the time you'll be able to count on the camera (meaning it was coded well) or adjust it to your liking with the shoulder buttons. You can also use shoulder buttons to go into a free-look mode and survey your surroundings when all else fails. Controls during mini-games are kept simple, to the extent that most mini-games don't require much more than the D-Pad or analog sticks and the occasional push of a button. Learning the Stuart Little 2 control system is a cinch with the tutorial. Players who can scan the manual and pick up nuances from experience with other similar titles can jump right into the action by skipping training, but there's nothing like a good training section to open the door to less experienced gamers.

PS2: I had trouble using the accelerated options for the PlayStation driver on a PS2. With both Smooth and Fast selected, Stuart Little 2 refused to load. The Smooth option didn't seem to create problems, but neither did it make a huge difference in appearance, so I bagged it and went 'out of the box.'

Good license games are a wonderful thing to behold. Not that you'll see this one making the kind of splash we'd see from obviously huge tie-ins such as 'Lord of the Rings' or 'Spiderman,' but Stuart Little 2 has many great things going for it as a game. The people involved with the project appear to have had a steady diet of the better 3D Platformer titles released for the console over the last 5 years, and they didn't fall prey to many of the potholes other games have encountered in the way of stretching the characters thin by creating a generic, un-fun game. Stuart Little 2 may not be breaking ground, but is most definitely fun, and worth adding to the shopping list for any fan of the movie.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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