Attempting to fill the large absence of children's games on the 360 (or perhaps kick off the genre), Ubisoft released Open Season a week before the movie hits theatres. The story mostly centers on Boog, a loveable, domesticated bear content to live out his days in the garage of a local Park Ranger, and Elliot, a one-horned, wise-cracking deer constantly getting into trouble. At the outset of the story, Elliot manages to drag Boog into a mess and both are dropped via helicopter into the forest. The rest of the story details Boog's exodus back to his warm garage home and their misadventures along the way. It's an entertaining tale that made me curious about the movie. I would like to warn anyone who picks up the game before seeing the movie; it's obviously chock full of spoilers.
The level design is certainly linear in nature, but that's par for the course for a children's game. All levels are specific to a certain track which makes it extremely hard to get lost. There are about 25 levels to polish off, many of which are knocked out in 10 to 15 minutes. Levels environments range from sunny, grass-covered fields, snow-topped mountains, and underground mines. Levels remain locked in the main storyline until each one has been completed. Also, levels can be repeated at anytime to max out the bonuses on each section.
The majority of the time movement is pretty simple as well as the aiming mechanic. The camera can be inverted vertically or horizontally for maximum comfort. As levels become more varied throughout the game, the controls certainly adapt if you are riding a mine cart at 100 mph or lining up a soda can slingshot to take down the onslaught of hunters.
Getting around hunters is the main objective of each level and is accomplished in a number of ways. Boog and Elliot can sneak around them or perhaps close enough to scare them off with Boog's roar. Boog can throw Elliot at the hunters or the hunters themselves, along with a variety of forest creatures. Thrown rabbits will latch onto a hunter's face, skunks will release a mighty stink to send a hunter into fits, and squirrels will latch onto the head of a hunter. Squirels also toss a barrage of nuts at hunters if Boog can toss them into a nearby tree. After an attack, Hunters will look either confused or run off into the forest. To maximize the Wild point values for the level, it is required that all hunters are eliminated.
Wild Points are awarded at the completion of each level. These points are used for achievement purposes, but more importantly, The Wild Academy. The Academy allows Boog and Elliot to up their stats along the way. For instance, Boog can upgrade his throw strength, health meter, sniff abilities, and roar scare factor to name a few. The points are pretty easy to rack up and levels can be repeated to max out stats if the game's difficulty becomes troubling.
Beyond the main storyline, Ubisoft also included a variety of simple mini-games to breath a bit of replay life into the title. Competitive log rolling and rabbit tossing are just a couple of the games that can be played. Up to four players can jump into the action and battle each other. Also, all the games can be played as a tournament instead of one at a time. Perhaps the main flaw of the mini-games is that they are too simple. Kids will grow tired of the mini-games after a couple of rounds.
The fairly simple achievements are split into 46 tasks which award a boost of 1000 gamerscore points. While certain collection requirements need to be met, much of the gamerscore is snatched up by simply playing through the main storyline. Tasks include collecting badges and wild points during each run-through of a level. The majority of the achievements are pretty simple to pick up with a bit of exploration, but a couple levels seem designed for older gamers rather than the game's target audience. In particular, the Snow Blitz level requires the reflexes of 6 year old, Japanese DDR champ to complete in one run-though. All in all, the achievements will take an adult approximately 5 to 7 hours to finish while a young child will most likely require 10 to 12 hours to polish off.
Visually, the game doesn't look as good as the CG movie counterpart, but the graphics engine does a fairly decent job. Each colorful level is very much brought to life with wind blown grass, animals flocking around the forest, and evil hunters stalking their prey. The facial animations are quite funny, especially hunters during any of the various attacks. Also, the frame rate stays silky smooth, albeit few effects are in place to drag it down.
Beyond the positives, Open Season certainly doesn't maximize the power under the Xbox 360's hood. The graphics are blocky by nature and it's obviously built for the current quality lowest platform, the PS2.
The strongest aspect of the game is easily the audio. The voice clips are all taken from the movie which allows the game to be voiced by Hollywood actors. Also, I'm guessing the principal voice actors for Boog and Elliot recorded extra material for the game. The cast includes Martin Lawrence as Boog, Ashton Kutcher as Elliot, Gary Sinise as Shaw the Hunter, and Debra Messing as Beth the Park Ranger. Billy Connolly's McSquizzy the squirrel and Patrick Warburton as Ian the Elk are also pretty darn funny.
Beyond the excellent voiceovers, the musical score is light and bouncy. Also taken from the movie, the score accompanies the main storyline quite well and crescendos at the correct dramatic moments. The sound effects may be the only unique portion of the game and they match the quality of its auditory counterparts. Listening to a rabbit flippity-flop on a hunters face or scaring the daylight out of a hunter with Boog's mighty roar is wonderful.
While I usually dislike movies that release games concurrently to take advantage of popularity, Open Season is the exception to the rule. Perhaps the fact that it was animated may have allowed for a simpler transition to a gaming format. This is an enjoyable children's game which probably won't sell well on the Xbox 360, even to point-thirsty achievement addicts.
I recommend this game to parents with kids who enjoyed the Open Season movie or to achievement junkies looking for their next fix. It's worth a purchase for young children when the Xbox 360 price falls to the $25 to $35 range. Adults should give it a rent, as it takes less than six hours to fully complete.