I liked the Incredibles, the movie, a lot. We’ll get to the game in a moment. It’s not often I like a kids’ movie. I’d say it happens about once every five years. This is a curse, since I have a child and am frequently forced to suffer through her movies. The curse was recently extended into the world of gaming, once my editor discovered I not only had a kid (and access to a few others), but was willing to use them for the purposes of testing the kids’ games that littered the office. But since I loved the Incredibles (the movie) so much I figured I might like the game too, and bypassed the kids to take it for a spin myself.
Boy, was that a mistake.
Let’s start with the graphics. The movie was beautifully designed, animated and rendered, once again putting Pixar firmly at the forefront of digital art and animation. The game... looks good. Not great, but good. The characters look a little stiff and plastic, the lighting is totally unimpressive, and the effects are humdrum. On the other hand, it is free of any ugly anomalies and stays true to the movie’s art design. Still, I can’t help but feel it could have been a lot better with just a little more work, a theme that is repeated throughout the game.
Moving on to sound, the movie was fantastic. Not only did all the sound effects perfectly capture the slam-bang aesthetic of the superhero genre, but the dialog was genuinely witty and clever and the voices were a perfect fit. The game starts out on good footing by using a mix of the original voice actors and convincing sound-alikes, but then takes a nose dive into the realm of deep hurting by having them repeat the same few stupid phrases over and over again. There’s also a “helpful” tutorial voiceover, which can’t be turned off, that gets to be annoying about fifteen seconds into the game. The music is either the same or very close to what was in the film, which makes it work well enough.
How about the action? The movie was great, one of the best superhero movies ever. Clever nods to classic heroes coupled with interesting and amusing uses of the heroes’ powers. The game is much less engaging. Utilizing settings taken from the movie is good, but the action seems too generic and familiar to anyone that’s played games over the last ten years. It’s not bad by a long shot, but it could have been so much more. With such a classic set of powers on offer, I can’t believe the level designers couldn’t come up with more interesting challenges. It’s further hampered by some really dumb design decisions. For example, Mr. Incredible can’t jump while he’s carrying anything. Anything! It makes sense that he can’t jump if he is carrying something huge, but how about a bomb? Or a can of soda? That’s not very incredible...
The fighting is kind of weak and floaty. There is a combo system but it seems arbitrary and semi-random and the results aren’t substantially better than those you get by button mashing. It’s made worse by a terrible camera that seems to always be in the wrong place. It can be manually controlled via the right thumbstick, but there is no automatic re-center, which sucks. Seriously, we’ve had 3D games for a long time now, is there really any excuse for the continuing existence of bad cameras?
There’s the added bonus of downloaded content for Xbox Live users. The first download, a battle arena where you can hone your combat skills against a ceaseless wave of robot drones, is already available. It’s a nice idea, but who cares when the combat isn’t any fun? Maybe later downloads will be better, but really, none of the game is that much fun.
After coming to the conclusion that the game offered me nothing of real value, I gave it to the kids to try out. Maybe my carefully honed cynicism was interfering with my enjoyment of the game? After a few hours they reported back: it really wasn’t that great. They hated the camera and character quotes as much (or more) than I did and according to them it just wasn’t as cool as the movie, which was the same conclusion I came to.
The Incredibles is one of the rare kids’ movies that doesn’t talk down to kids and assume they can only “get” fart jokes and physical humor. It doesn’t commit the cardinal sin of assuming that because it is for kids, the quality doesn’t matter so much. The Incredibles the game, however, seems to take for granted that because it is aimed squarely at kids, it doesn’t have to bother being very good. That’s a shame. Given such great source material, they had the potential to create an awesome game but fell short. In the developers’ defense, I did feel that if they had taken some more time to polish the game and build some better levels, it could have been really cool. Alas, the demands of marketing dictate that the game and movie must appear simultaneously, come hell or high water. As a result, the Incredibles (the game) falls far short of the incredible mark left by the Incredibles (the movie).