The Polar Express, the upcoming animation movie featuring the voice talents of, amongst others, Tom Hanks, is set to become this year's family film of choice for the holidays. It's got all the classic elements of a successful Christmas movie: snow, presents, the North Pole, adorable little children and, of course, Santa. But do all those ingredients translate into a good computer game? I'm afraid not... not this time anyway. For this game's sake, I hope that the movie becomes a roaring success, because that usually helps sell a few more copies of licensed games. On the basis of the game's quality alone, this is far less likely to happen.
So what is wrong with this game? Well, for one, I managed to complete it within 2 hours, and had more continues at the end of the game than I had before I started. Am I the world's best gamer? Definitely not. The Polar Express offers loads of different gameplay styles or variations, but none of those are either very challenging or very entertaining. The first half of the game takes place aboard The Polar Express, playing several mini-games in order to retrieve a couple of lost train tickets. Your main adversaries here will be the "evil toys" that stole and hid the tickets in the first place, and your tasks range from pushing boxes around (Pengo, but much easier) to getting a ball past a tennis-playing puppet (Pong, but much easier), to hitting targets (more toys) using either balls, toys or food. There's also a section where you have to sneak by the cook without being heard, but Splinter Cell this is not.
Other levels include running across the top of the train, dodging obstacles along the way and skiing downhill in order to catch up with the train. DDR-influences ("repeat these steps") are also present, and later on you'll be faced with a conveyor belt maze with switches. I thought that that absolutely had potential, but there is just NO way of getting it wrong... such a shame. A platform level where you have to climb up a huge pile of gifts reminded me a bit of the Pandemonium games, with the camera scrolling along as you climb up around this pillar-o-gifts. Too bad Pandemonium's a better game, even though it's about 8 years old now.
One thing this game has plenty of is diversity! I appreciate the incredible amount of different mini-games that have been included into The Polar Express, but although I realize this is primarily a kid's game, I still feel that most levels are TOO accessible, making for too short a gaming experience. Most mini-games have been done before in one way or another, and most have been done a lot better too. I could see youngsters with next to no gaming experience liking this game though... not having the references that most gamers will have when playing this game.
As far as production values go, this game is a bit of a mixed case. It's got some really well made cutscenes, some decent voice acting and okay graphics. Although I haven't seen the movie yet, I bet it looks a lot like it. But just like with the gameplay, we've seen better. Take the Harry Potter games for instance, looking at some screenshots, you might think that the graphics are somewhat similar. However, in most of The Polar Express' levels, the camera is fixed and the graphics don't look as vibrant as they do in Harry's adventures. And although the Potter games tend to give you a feeling of devalue, thinking back of the previous game in the series, they still manage to innovate enough for them to be interesting and playable additions to the series. The Polar Express never manages to surprise or innovate, and it's all over way too soon. Give this to your kid at Christmas and unfortunately they will be looking for their next game all too soon.