I believe it’s a boon at this point that I have not seen Shrek 2 in theaters, as I’m certain it would most likely taint my judgment in this review. While I’m quite sure that the game follows the general storyline of the cinematic presentation, trying to create an interactive experience that models the humor and drama of the big screen can, and often does, fall quite flat. Without knowing the grand proportions of the movie, I think I can safely say that Shrek 2 has passed the ugly test, making it a decent addition to the franchise.
Speaking of the story, much of Shrek 2 hovers around Shrek and Fiona’s sojourn (along with the inimitable Donkey) to Fiona’s parent’s place for the initial meeting of the son-in-law. However, Fiona’s royal heritage means mom and dad aren’t necessarily open to the idea of anything but the homogenized, Arian version of Prince Charming. And so, your second honeymoon is spent in the ensuing trials as one of three characters you’re allowed to play at certain points in the game: Shrek, Donkey, or the suave newcomer musketeer, Puss in Boots. I love saying that name.
The game progresses nicely from square one, and does a decent job of tying the action in with the storyline. Smaller sections in the beginning are an adequate introduction to the controls, and getting used to the pervasive third-person control schematic is largely academic. Moving is taken care of with the standard FPS buttons (A,W,D,S) while spinning, jumping, and attacking are all set up on the mouse. Definitive child’s play.
I’ve always had a bit of a personal problem with platformers on PC. Control is often a little sluggish or slippery, and in gameplay that sometimes demands pinpoint accuracy, this can drag the whole thing down. Shrek 2 is VERY forgiving, which will appeal to those under the age of eight, victims of advanced arthritis, or uncoordinated trolls like me. However, there are more than a few places where mercy is sneezed at, and your platforming skills are tested. I wouldn’t recommend this title strongly for the advanced gamer, but there are some areas that seem like they’re not really refined for the target audience of children.
Combat really isn’t all the interesting. In fact, here it mainly serves as an incidental obstacle, and not something to focus on. In areas where battling the stupid, mundanely-patterned enemies isn’t consequential, one can blow right by them and save themselves a great number of wasted mouse clicks. What makes interaction with the enemy a bit more entertaining are the items one can purchase along the way. Many are quite useful, and some are even mildly amusing to experiment with. As with any platformer, there are the dreaded coins to collect, which can in turn be spent at strange and incongruous drive-thru menu stands. Everything from invisibility potions to a love elixirs can be purchased here. Some are even useful in getting access to secret areas. These hidden troves are filled with more-of-the-same collectibles (coins, health bars, etc.), and if you’re lucky, there’ll be wanted posters of fairy tale characters. Shrek has been charged, as an aside, with cleansing the countryside of these unwarranted criminal bulletins. Every third poster collected opens up a secret world (that doesn’t ever change, I might add) filled with coins – it’s a dud reward for the hunt, since I was never short on money and really felt no need to “beat the clock” running through the coin-infested bonus area.
Almost any game modeled after an animated cinematic effort automatically has a leg-up on game emulations of real-life movies. The facial expressions of the characters in Shrek 2 did a great job of promoting the tale-telling ambience. Lip synching was a bit off though, but didn’t detract from the fantastic voice-overs. Just watch the sub-titles and you’ll be fine. The graphics were much better than bland, but didn’t do more than show up, and in many spots I found heavy collision detection problems and pop-out issues – as in a heavily forested area suddenly giving way to 360-degrees of cloud-filled sky. Not a show-stopper, but sloppy.
I can’t rave enough about the voice-overs. The stand-in voice actors that took on the personas not only of the movie characters, but the big-name actors behind them from the movie, really pulled their weight. Well... except for Shrek, who thankfully doesn’t do as much talking as he could have, considering that this is his game. The Mike Myers’ vocal stunt double is as flat as Calista Flockhart, and doesn’t bring much color to the character or the game. Sounds funny, but if it were up to me, I would’ve named this game “Donkey”. Eddie Murphy’s energetic babbling is aped with expertise here, and I was actually thankful that he rarely shut up.
That low gameplay score up there? That’s because this thing is damned short. If anyone over the age of 15 puts in more than four hours into this, it either means they’ve left it on and forgotten about it, or they’re supplementing the play experience by simultaneously experimenting with stem cell research. Kids may not immediately understand some of the topical and cultural humor in the game, but, unlike the movie, Shrek 2 – the game – is aimed squarely at them. Neither skill nor patience is really required to get through Shrek 2. For the most part, it’s simply a matter of going through the motions and enjoying the fairy tale along the way.