July 17, 2009

Disney's Up - Xbox 360

Up is another movie gem from the animation studios of Pixar. The recently released game from THQ is loosely based off of the motion picture about elderly Carl Fredricksen who departs on a great adventure to South America by the unconventional method of tying balloons to his home and flying away. Unexpectedly, Junior Wilderness Explorer Russell finds himself along for the ride after having visited Carl in order to offer his assistance to him in any way that he could. In the video game you continue on the adventure with Carl and Russell as they trek across South America and the Amazon while avoiding being snared by the evil Charles Muntz. The transition from the big screen to the various gaming platforms was not a big stretch for this title. I have always been a fan of Pixar movies, and having a son who watches almost nothing but Pixar I was eager to take this title for a spin.

Carl and Russell are the two characters that you use in this co-op adventure game. You use the unique abilities of each character to advance through the levels. The game can easily be played in single player, switching between each of the characters, or you can play the game with a friend in two-player co-op. The latter is where I found the game plays the best. This adventure game is very similar to other movie tie-in games where you must collect objects throughout the game, and in this case you collect Merit Badges and Quest Cards. Merit Badges and Quest Cards work in tandem. You collect Merit Badges until you reach a certain number which then causes a Quest Card to unlock. On the Quest Card you will have a certain criteria of things you have to do to unlock bonus content and hidden materials within the game. The bonus content is mostly the cinematics that you watch throughout the game. This is great to have if you or some of your children want to re-watch the story. There is also some concept art that you can unlock for your viewing pleasure too.

Throughout the game you will have to use the abilities of Carl and Russell to overcome obstacles, puzzles, and to defeat any baddies that you may come across. There are quite a few specific moves for each of the characters. Russell can use his pocket knife to cut ropes and use his own rope to pull Carl up to those out of reach places. Carl can use his cane to climb up to those hard to reach places. The weapons of choice for the duo are Carl’s cane and Russell’s back pack which can take care of any pesky enemies in a pinch.

Each character has a specific set of special abilities. Carl's hearing aid can be used to scare off enemies and he can also make balloon animals to distract an enemy and stun dogs. Russell’s special abilities include the use of his bugle which can be used to scare away bats and dogs and he also has a water bottle which can be used to heal Carl and himself. Finally, both characters can taunt an enemy to distract them from attacking their partner.

The controls work well in Up for the Xbox 360. I found that there was only one major issue and this occurred during boss battles. They just didn't seem as refined as they should be when fighting a boss. Take the first boss battle for example, which is battle against a gigantic snake. During this fight Russell has to lower his rope from a log and Carl grabs on to use himself as bait to get the snake to lunge. At the last moment you have to move Carl out of the way forcing the snake to bite down on electric eels. The controls here did not work that well, and more often than not I ended up snake food and really frustrated. It took me about 15 times to complete this boss battle and it was not due to a lack of skill, but the controls themselves. Boss battles on other occasions also end up being a victim of poor play due to this lack of responsiveness.

If you tire of the single or co-op story experience then you should head over to multiplayer games which allow up to four gamers to play on the same screen at once. You will be challenged to shoot it out in a dog fight in your biplane and be the first player to defeat five other dog fighters, pop 100 balloons, or be the part of the first team to take out the engines & rudders on the opposing team’s dirigible! Being an aerial dog fighting fan I really enjoyed the simplified experience of just shooting and not worrying too much about instruments or strategy. The multiplayer mode in Up is good old fashioned fun.

The graphics in Up on the Xbox 360 are very similar in style to those of the movie. I found that there were only a few differences between the virtual and theatrical versions, which of course can be expected given the transition from the big screen to the home console. The cinematic scenes show no differences from movie and they were enjoyable and pleasant to watch. The attention to detail in the game's environments is fantastic as each level is bright, colourful and full of life. Technically speaking there were a few issues with collision detection as you can unexpectedly get stuck in a spot once in a while and the animation slows down if you try to do any action that seemed out of the ordinary. Apart from these minor setbacks the game runs pretty smoothly.

The sounds and noises throughout Up are bring the game alive with such things as monkeys chattering, birds chirping and faint sounds of butterflies flapping to name a few. To compliment the sound effects there is instrumental music that plays throughout the background which creates a great atmosphere. The voice actors, who are from the actual movie, do a great job of expressing the emotions and conveying what the characters were feeling throughout the game. Along with the regular dialogue between Carl and Russell is a built in help feaure via voice work. This is for inexperienced players where the two main characters will give hints to what action you should take to complete a puzzle or how to move on to the next area of the game. The only complaint I could really make about the voices was that they seemed to repeat at time and causing them to become slightly annoying.

Overall Up for the Xbox 360 is a decent experience with the only drawback being that it is so much like other movie tie-in games, with no innovation or new features to compliment the game. That being said the co-op play and multiplayer action is one of the best features of this game and adds more value to the title. I think that this game will be a hit with families who love to game.

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