â€œOh no,â€ I thought. Itâ€™s a film tie-in. Itâ€™s a platform game and it features mini-games. Should I drill holes in it? Should I grind it into powder and offer it to the next strong breeze? Should I just stack it with all those free CDs I get with the newspaper and for some reason never throw away? In the end I gave it a chance and fortunately, itâ€™s not that bad.
The ice age is coming to an end. The glaciers are melting, which means that soon the valleyâ€™s going to be flooded. You play the game as Scrat, a saber-toothed squirrel, accompanying the other animals from the film as they try and cross the valley to safety.
The story doesnâ€™t play a major part in this game, which is quite welcome. The cut-scenes are short and occasionally funny. They are also quite stylish when the camera pans around a static image in the style of an oil painting while Ray Romanoâ€™s commentary tells you whatâ€™s going on. With the opportunity to ransack the film for lengthy sequences, the developersâ€™ restraint is quite admirable.
So instead of watching, youâ€™re playing, which is how itâ€™s supposed to be. What you play is a fairly typical platform game aimed at younger players. You jump, you climb, you swim, you fight. Itâ€™s all very familiar. When did the double-jump move become standard, incidentally? It doesnâ€™t seem to bring a whole lot to a game, yet itâ€™s always there. Letâ€™s go back to the single jump, but make that further. How does that sound? A bit of speed wouldnâ€™t go amiss either. Maybe Iâ€™m pining for Sonic, but a lot of these games feel very sedate.
As far as fighting goes, even the attacks are recycled. You have a standard attack, a roll attack, a ground stomp, a spin attack and you can fire pebbles. I didnâ€™t use the roll attack or the spin attack at all and conceivably you could complete the game without using any of these.
So in terms of controlling your character, so far, so samey, but what do you have to do? Most levels involve finding sufficient nuts and then squeezing through a crack in the rock which signifies the end of the level. They mix it up quite nicely, though. Sometimes you have to really explore the level to track down the nuts. Sometimes you have to do a favor for another character. On other occasions you might have to solve puzzles in order to access different parts of the level. Itâ€™s well-planned throughout and frustration is kept to a minimum. You can save at any time and never lose much ground when you reload, so you wonâ€™t have to replay tricky sections. Once you know where youâ€™re going, itâ€™s not a problem anyway. Then there are the mini-games.
When I see that a game contains mini-games, I try and stay out of its way in case it whips out a knife and forces me to play it. When a game is stuffed with them, itâ€™s usually just a way for the developer to say, â€˜this gameâ€™s got really varied gameplayâ€™, when in reality the main gameâ€™s hopeless and theyâ€™ve tried to salvage the product by shoe-horning in as many lamentable extras as possible. The typical mini-game will involve pressing one or maybe two buttons and it will be no fun whatsoever. At best, youâ€™ll finish it the first time. At worst, itâ€™ll hold up gameplay and frustrate you so much that youâ€™re forced to break something â€“ like your own arm.
Ice Age 2â€™s mini-games are as they should be. Theyâ€™re relatively easy and merely offer a momentâ€™s respite from the platform sections. There are two main types: Those that work within the framework of the main game and those that require different controls. With the first type you might be shepherding baby birds as if they were sheep or carrying eggs around from nest to nest. With the second kind, you might be sliding down a water slide called â€˜the Evisceratorâ€™ or you might be ten-pin bowling with penguins as pins.
I really quite enjoyed the bowling. All you do is choose the direction of the ball and the amount of swerve, but the penguinsâ€™ expressions as they teetered over and rolled around genuinely made me laugh. And Iâ€™m not just saying that. People always write that something made them laugh when it clearly couldnâ€™t have because it turns out to be as funny as opening an Excel document. This did make me laugh. I was actually a little bit disappointed that the bowling wasnâ€™t available from the main menu, but as far as mini-games are concerned: Less is more. On another fairly memorable occasion, you control the power of a mammothâ€™s fart, which then fires Scrat through the air. You have to get the power just right to land where you need to be. Interesting.
The environments could have been a bit uninspiring â€“ frozen water. But the key is that itâ€™s the end of the ice age, so there are sections that are all greenery to balance out the frozen wastelands. In fact, the game looks great. It sounds great too. Talk to one of the other characters and they might be played by Denis Leary or Jay Leno. The music is atmospheric and the sound effects are appropriate, if nothing special.
My biggest gripe would be the size of the game. It really is astoundingly short. I donâ€™t like it when reviewers tell you how long a game takes, because it inevitably takes me twice as long, at least. Iâ€™m rubbish. But even I finished this in no time. This wouldnâ€™t be so bad if there were more scope for repeat plays or a multiplayer option, but the only reason to play again is to unlock interviews with the voice artists, most of which youâ€™ll have earned after completion anyway. Is this really something that would spur you on? Iâ€™m not sure the target audience for this game would be that bothered. â€œWow. I get to hear a fifth celebrity talking about doing funny voices. The first four were great. I bet this oneâ€™s even better.â€
Essentially, this is a well-constructed game. It looks good. It plays well. It keeps you interested. But soon enough youâ€™ll have finished it. Itâ€™s good at what it does, but youâ€™ll wish it did more.