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Monsters vs Aliens


Repetition is the scariest monster in this licensed platformer hybrid
What's It All About:
As a movie, Monsters vs. Aliens is very amusing, taking bits from classic monster and sci-fi movies and combining them into a family-friendly action-comedy, with excellent animation and an all-star voice cast. A group of super-powered monsters wrangled by the government, including Ginormica, a giant woman named Susan; The Missing Link, a half-fish, half-ape creature; and a gelatinous blob named B.O.B., is called upon when aliens attack the earth, using giant robots as their weapons of choice. Their powers are formidable, but their fighting skills are less so, making it tough for them to take on the alien hordes.

As a game, Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't change much from what it is on the screen, as you essentially play through the movie, scene by scene. The movie concept is followed through in the transition to disc, as the game has the feel of a DVD, broken down into scenes and supplemented by special features. But the bells and whistles mean little if the game is just another licensed crapfest, or worse a waste of real promise.

Gameplay:
You get to play as one of the big three monsters, but you don't get to choose. That's because each stage has an assigned character, since they each have their own way of playing the game. Ginormica always has her "skates" on, and plays racing/evasion levels, while The Missing Link is all about brute force attacks, tackling brawler missions mainly (with a very small dash of puzzle game) and B.O.B. has the platforming genre covered, along with some puzzle-solving (mainly in the form of mazes.) It would have been fun to play this as a full platformer/brawler, switching between characters for various advantages, but instead you're playing with very specific skills. As a result, every Ginormica stage feels the same, along with each Missing Link stage (only B.O.B. benefits from some slight variety in stage design and style.)

From the menu screen, you can see the path ahead of you, and it's not too long, though the many cut scenes that tell the story pad things out a bit. You bounce back and forth between the characters, allowing you to get some different kinds of gameplay in, but after a while, you'll start to say "This again?" especially when you reach a boss battle or one of the big missions The Missing Link undertakes to defeat giant robots. Having the team's off-screen leader Dr. Cockroach telling you to do what you just did again, and again and again makes it hard to enjoy the same repetitive actions, as it becomes more a game of endurance than skill, as you battle to pay attention to the simple gameplay, which can be blown through with ease by most experienced players. An adjustable difficulty level would have been nice, since the final battles ramp up the challenge to a ridiculous level when compared with the rest of the game.

Though the game is relatively short and simple, there are some enhancements that expand upon the main playing mode. If you have a friend available, a second player can act as a helper, similar to the star mode in Super Mario Galaxy, taking control of a reticule (representing Dr. Cockroach's weapon) to kill enemies and collect goodies, including DNA particles, which can be used like cash in the DNA Lab, an extensive collection of unlock-ables that are revealed as you progress through the game. Among the items you can access are bonus challenge mini-games, concept art, movie stills and in-game power-ups. The most unique of the bunch has to be the commentaries, further playing up the DVD concept. Activate these features and you can replay a level listening to a character talk about the experience of the scene, with game developer tracks available in later scenes. While unique touches like this (and the credits you can play) are appreciated, they need to unlocked in order, which means you can't skip stuff you aren't interested in. Thus you'll be buying stills and art to get to the challenges, a situation that really shouldn't be forced on people who have already battled their way through the nightmare of yet another mindless beat-em-up stage.

Achievements
There are 45 achievements worth a total of 1000 gamerpoints, and you can knock off more than half of them just by simply completing the game. The rest require you to play with a partner and fully explore the DNA lab enhancements, while there are six secret achievements, which require you to play super great (or do something pretty silly.)

Online Play
There's no online aspect for this game.

Controls
The controls are simple, as one might expect from a game aimed at younger players, and frequent on-screen prompts and hints (which can be turned off in the options) make sure you won't forget what to do next (and it's impossible to miss the God of War-style button-mashing instructions.) Nothing is overly complicated from a control standpoint, but sometimes it gets too simple, as some complicated moves that could possibly be fun to navigate, like the Missing Link's swinging move, are done by a single button press (and you don't even have to time it right.) Even the best move, where the Missing Link freezes his enemies, lines them up and unleashes a multi-hit attack, only requires you to hold a button and then highlight the foes with your analog stick. On the plus side, the controls are certainly responsive, with only the throwing mechanism being at all problematic (with aiming being an issue at times, especially when there are multiple targets on-screen.) Surprisingly, for a game where your perspective changes frequently, the movement controls are intuitive and forgiving, though some of B.O.B.'S levels can frustrate as you try to move from platform to platform.

Graphics
The graphics are pretty nice for what's essentially a kids game, with an up-to-1080i presentation of some rather deep level design, with some massive, deep stages that would impress any gamer. Though no one would confuse the look of these characters for the CGI wonder of the film, they are well animated, with some really nice moves for each character, like Ginormica's skate jumps and Bob's amorphous stretches. The cut-scenes maintain the look of the game, so there's continuity there, though loading times seem excessive, and there are cut scenes where they seem to be unnecessary, preventing you from moving forward at times. The overall style of the game sticks to the '50s sci-fi aesthetic, which works well for the title.

Sound
The Dolby Digital sound in this game might be even more impressive than the video, bringing the majority of the main voices over from the film, and supplementing them with strong, yet not annoying background music, and really solid sound effects, the kind that really pull you into the game. All the blasts and buzzes, and aircraft whizzing by sounds great in surround sound. The only issue with the sound is the limited amount of dialogue available for Dr. Cockroach, who is always talking to you, giving you info about your mission. Because he's head so frequently, the repeats in his dialogue can grate on you quickly.

And in the End...
There are elements of Monsters vs. Aliens that could be part of a really enjoyable game, but they are served up over and over again, and with an nonadjustable level of difficulty that's too easy for anyone who's graduated middle school, before becoming too difficult for the kids enjoying it. Though it's a solidly-made game, it's very short, and despite that it still lacks enough variety to make it enticing enough to play for any real length of time. One wonders what the developers could do with an original IP and a game not tied to a movie-release deadline.