Finding Nemo Review

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Publisher: THQ
Developer: Traveller's Tales

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

Based on the Pixar computer animated movie of the same name, Finding Nemo is a single-player action/puzzle game best suited to younger gamers. Set in a 3D underwater environment, each of the 15 levels includes various tasks and challenges which, upon successful completion, open up bonus mini-games. Over the course of the adventure, you'll play as Nemo, Marlin and Dory, sometimes interchangeably during the levels.

Rob de los Reyes

Those who bought the Finding Nemo game straightaway, probably used the free movie tickets that came with the game for the recent opening of the Disney/Pixar Finding Nemo movie. Happily, the movie turns out to be rather more adult-friendly than trailers made it out to be. While certainly designed as "family" entertainment, the movie is intelligent enough and paced well enough to keep adults tuned in – maybe even a little better than the children. The Finding Nemo game is designed for a similar audience, ostensibly for all ages, but really directed at young children and pre-teens. Even so, unless your child is a particularly adept game player, you'll likely find that adult supervision is a requirement not an option. Although the game challenges are simple in design, some of them are devilishly difficult in execution, even for experienced gamers. FI has never thought it an awful thing that a game should require a parent and child to work together to solve a game, but, other than the splendid artwork, there is rather less here to hold an adult's attention than you'll find in the movie. Moreover, to the extent even parents need more than a few repetitions to complete a task (as your reviewer did), it seems unlikely that young children will be willing to sit still on the sidelines. In short, it's probably worth a test run at the rental counter to see whether you and your child match up well with the difficulty before you drop your $40 on a purchase.

A couple of elements instantly appeal on load up. The screenshots don't do Finding Nemo justice in terms of its graphical attractiveness. Colors are bright and vivid, and little illusions abound to convey a consistent sense of being underwater. The full cast of the movie (or at least the major roles) appear to have lent their voices to the game, and they serve up a yeoman's effort to keep the choppy game dialogue punchy and comic. In other words, the game aesthetics stack up pretty well against the movie experience. Cut scenes come in two flavors: segments of the actual movie (you may want to be careful if you're worried about spoilers) and scenes rendered with the in-game engine. In the early stages, the cut scene to action ratio tips a little heavily in favor of cut scenes, but not so much as to kill the pacing, even on the slow-loading PlayStation 2.

The game is played in chapter format, each with further subsections. There are no save points as such along the way since, if you die, the only consequence is that you restart at the beginning of the subsection none the worse for wear. You even keep your progress with respect to the various collection tasks in each level. That much of the gameplay is an effective nod to the younger gamer. So, too, is the ability to advance through the levels. You need not complete any of the subtasks that create most of the game challenge – merely getting from one side of the level to another is enough to unlock the next chapter, and doing so is rarely a significant challenge. In fact, fundamentally, there are only two challenges: maneuvering and puzzle solving. The puzzles, including finding ways to match colored pebbles with little colored pedastals scattered across a level (a frequent subtask), are well-suited to the pre-teen set. And since there are rarely time limits imposed (unless you want to beat your own best time for completing a level), you can work on such puzzles at a relaxed pace.

Far and away the most prevalent challenge, however, is simply maneuvering. In general, levels and their subsections involve one of three views: side-scrolling, moving away from the camera, and moving toward the camera. You'll have little difficulty with one of the regular subtasks, swimming through bubble rings, when in side-scroll view. But the other two views can present significant difficulty as you try to figure out 3D placement on a 2D screen. You will swear up and down that you went through the dead center of a ring only to fail to register the score. And since you don't usually have the opportunity to backtrack during these segments or the option to simply replay a subsection, it's fairly easy to get bogged down trying to nail a single ring of bubbles. Since you need to complete all the subtasks in a level in order to unlock that chapter's bonus mini-game, you can expect to develop a fairly healthy and long-lasting loathing for bubble rings. Other subtasks, some necessary to unlock the bonus games and others purely optional, are similarly challenges in maneuvering. Some include time pressures, and others add swift tides or physical enemies to complicate swimming from A to B.

Most of the maneuvering problems aren't terribly difficult or are otherwise lightly punished. But the bubble rings aren't the only task along the way that can send you into heavy duty replay mode (e.g. a maze of mines solvable only by trial, error and the mastery of unresponsive controls). There are enough such difficult tasks that, absent a particularly adept child, parental involvement is a foregone conclusion. That may not be a substantial criticism for a hardcore action/adventure or shooter type game, but sidelining a child from gameplay for too long at a stretch risks sending them off in search of something with a little more instant gratification.

Games based on movie licenses don't come to market with a long history of success. Better than most such games, Finding Nemo does a decent job capturing the aesthetic sense of the movie upon which it's based. Along with the original voice talent, Finding Nemo picks up well on the bright, clean visuals (or purposeful darkness) found in the movie. But as is so often the case with movie-based games, the gameplay never really figures out how to translate an excellent passive narrative into a similarly impressive interactive format. Perhaps more serious, enough of the tasks are hard enough (and single-minded enough) that they may leave younger gamers frustrated or bored. Ultimately, there's no way to adequately convey the precise degree of difficulty you'll encounter with Finding Nemo – maybe you'll find none at all. The only real cure is a rental. And there is enough of the movie's charm here that if your little sproutling was a fan of the film, it may be worth a go.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 9, 2003 12:43 PM.

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