Tom & Jerry: War of the Whiskers Review

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Publisher: NewKidCo
Developer: Vis Entertainment

Platforms: Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Call it baby's first beat 'em up. Developer Vis Entertainment and publisher NewKidCo have put together a fighting game aimed at younger gamers featuring the characters of the Tom & Jerry TV cartoon. As in the cartoon, the melee action is stylized rather than gory and features an array of colorful, cartoony backdrops and "weapons" like snowballs, watermelons and pasta. The single-player challenge mode unlocks characters that may then be used in other modes, including multiplayer events.

Rob de los Reyes

Tom & Jerry: War of the Whiskers is a tale of two games. The visual designs are first rate, from the charming and original "arenas" to the genuinely amusing "weaponry" to the entertainingly silly animations. Sure, this is a kids' game, but many of those features are appealing even to adults, if on no other grounds than change of pace. But then there's another side to War of the Whiskers. Oddly for a game aimed at children, the single-player mode is brutally difficult. Even on the "Easy" setting. The problems there partially evaporate when you play against a friend, but much of the difficulty is in the design of the fighting not the skill of the AI or any complexity in the control scheme. As such, you may want to let your tyke take a run at this one from the rental counter first. If he can catch the rhythm of the game – and particularly if he has a friend or sibling (or parent) to play with – the infinite replayability could turn War of the Whiskers into a full purchase.

In a world full of serious, push-the-envelope fighting games, there really is something warming about War of the Whiskers' cartoon trappings, even if you have no special affection for Tom & Jerry. Gone are the standard fighting arenas of warehouses, docks and airports. The battles here take place in kitchens, ski shacks, beach fronts and myriad other colorful and unusual battle zones. Environments are partially destructible and each has a special active element. In the kitchen map, for example, the refrigerator is leaking water, covering the floor. Periodically, the refrigerator rumbles to life (rumbling your controller as a warning) and freezes all the standing water. If you're caught in the water, you freeze into a cube, ripe for a swat from your opponent. The maps also offer an array of silly, but thematically relevant weaponry of both ranged and melee varieties. In the case of the kitchen map, such weapons include chairs and stools, but also watermelons, eggs, utensils and so forth. In brief, unlike some fighting games, the environments are not mere backdrops, but almost like game characters unto themselves. The more time you spend with them, the more apparent their cleverness becomes.

The weapons are, naturally, not just decorative but functional. In fact, they seem to be too functional. By design, your punches and kicks are relatively ineffective unless you work your way into a berserk mode (complete with a cute animation in which you turn red and shoot steam out your ears). For the most part, the weapons are your main engine of destruction. Most fights involve a great deal of mad dashing for newly spawned weapons. As such, learning the spawn points is a priority, which is the sort of challenge a child should be able to handle. It's really just a matter of repetition. Successful use of a weapon generally causes several things to happen. First, your opponent will be temporarily stunned. Second, if the blow is particularly fierce (as is almost always the case with a melee weapon), your victim shoots out little health kits that may be recovered by either fighter to regain health. Finally, with a really good whack, you might flatten your opponent into a classically cartoonish disk, springing back into shape after a delay.

The effects are all quite amusing to watch, and there's no denying the satisfaction of flattening someone or the classic cartoon humor of the electric shock/flashing skeleton bit. The trouble is that such effects are far more devastating than the sum of their parts – they create a nasty cascade effect that makes it difficult to recover from a losing position. The weapons are plentiful and, once you know the map, you'll know where to find them. The AI always knows where to find them. What happens is that once you get hit by weapon, you're stunned. While you stand helpless, your opponent moves on to the next item. Often, you barely recover from the stun before the next weapon hits you and stuns you again. If any of the health kits pop out, your opponent also has plenty of time to gather them up en route to the next weapon and your inevitable re-stunning. It is the definition of adding insult to injury – you're locked in a cycle of helplessness, and your opponent heals up all the while. What's more, your opponent is also powering up his punches since successful hits raise the meter that allows him to go berserk and do even more damage.

The flip side of the coin is that once you've learned a map well enough, it is possible to turn the tables. The result is an unsettling streakiness. Sometimes you'll be "on" and rattle off 10 straight victories. More often, given the strikingly efficient AI, you'll be just a bit "off" and punished with a dozen straight losses. Remove any one of the elements of that cascade effect during the fighting and the problem likely goes away, although it would certainly be a shame to lose any of the funny little animations. In any event, although the cascade effect remains in place against a real human opponent, most people won't be as effective as the AI at gathering and using the weaponry, and you can set a handicap to increase or decrease the relative strength of the player characters. As such, you won't feel the cascade effect nearly as much during multiplayer gaming, thus freeing you to enjoy the silliness. On that score, it's just too bad that you'll have to work through the single-player game in order to unlock characters for the multiplayer modes. Fighting as the little duckling is quite funny, if you can unlock him.

But then, maybe you and your wee one will have a better sense of how to put together a string of wins than this reviewer. If so, there are some genuine treats in the single-player game. The Frankenmouse level, featuring Jerry's battle with the robotic, fire-breathing cat is a particular pleasure. While the graphics aren't lavish in a high-poly, deep-textured sort of way, they are bright, clear and cleverly conceived. The characters are engaging, each with a little taunt move – you just have to be able to get them. Absent tricky combo moves for the fighters – a perfectly appropriate choice given the target audience – the characters are a bit generic in action. Certainly that could be repaired without adding difficulty to control schemes. But, aside from simplicity for its own sake, there is another virtue. You notice the maps more. Fortunately, they prosper under such scrutiny. String some wins together, and they're yours to enjoy.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 29, 2003 10:55 PM.

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