Rocky and Bullwinkle Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Zen Studios

Platform: Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360

The characters of the classic 1960's cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle emerge on the Xbox 360 in this downloadable collection of microgames featuring Rocky, Bullwinkle, Nell, Dudley Do-Right, Boris and Natasha.

Kyle Ackerman

I am a Rocky and Bullwinkle fan. Actually, I'm a fan of the cartoon ensemble, particularly Peabody and his boy Sherman, as well as Boris and Natasha. As I write this I'm wearing a Bullwinkle T-shirt. That's probably why I found the Rocky & Bullwinkle game to be such a disappointment. Rocky & Bullwinkle is a collection of microgames in the style of WarioWare. But it fails to push the boundaries of gaming as the WarioWare games have, and it fails to satisfy that craving for more moose and squirrel that Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon fans demand.

Second-Class Microgames

The WarioWare games redefined our understanding of games. Even back when WarioWare was only for the GBA, it showed us how obsessively compelling games could be when they only involved a single button and lasted but a few seconds. As the WarioWare games migrated to the DS and Wii, the games found fascinating new ways to use those system's controllers. The Xbox 360 may be a more conventional controller, but it has no shortage of versatility – six buttons, two analog sticks, a directional pad, two triggers and two shoulder buttons provide a lot of control variety. Yet only a few of Rocky and Bullwinkle's more than 100 microgames use more than a button or two.

Some games use the controller well, such as the games that have you signaling from a lighthouse or matching a dog's shadow by pushing the analog sticks in directions indicated by the screen. But most rely on timing a single button press or mashing the two triggers. Worse yet, may of the games are hard to control. Around 25 of the games are intended to work with the Xbox Live Vision camera. Not only does the camera provide shoddy control, they are impossible to play without the camera (such as the games that involve shearing sheep or pulling turnips). The joy in many microgame-style games is in figuring out how to play, but some Rocky and Bullwinkle games never work. Also, the controls are very simplistic, unresponsive and jerky. For example, one game has Rocky plucking apples from a tree, but Rocky can't move diagonally – that microgame offered all the precision control and entertainment of a game embedded in a web page's banner ad.

Poor Peabody...

The microgames in Rocky and Bullwinkle just aren't that hot, so what about the cartoon presence? It pains me to say, but Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, Dudley and even the Fractured Fairy Tale players are badly represented by the game. It just doesn't capture the feeling of the 1960's cartoon. A lot of simple things would have made this game more satisfying to true Rocky and Bullwinkle fans. For one, it would be nice if the game used a lot more actual footage from the classic cartoon – for example, what about using the title sequence as you begin a random block of microgames?

The sound bites, while drawn from the cartoon's audio, only rarely actually pertain to the microgame at hand. It feels like selected clips from the show were inserted willy-nilly before and after games. And when footage is shown, it is shown in tiny frames and without sound as more of a montage to give the game flavor rather than real content. The characters, too, felt artificially inserted into the microgames. The same games would have worked perfectly well with generic characters. If a set of microgames had somehow been built into the replay of a cartoon or fractured fairy tale from the show, it would have been infinitely more satisfying.

Most importantly, the art felt wrong. The style of the characters was right, and I could accept the fact that the colors were much more intense than in the cartoon, but whenever a character moved, it completely broke any Rocky & Bullwinkle aura that had been built. In the game, the characters move like paper cut-outs or rough flash animations. When done well, that kind of style feels like South Park or Homestar Runner. Coming decades earlier, Rocky and Bullwinkle was crudely drawn without nearly enough frames, but was very fluid – the jerky feeling of the animations in the microgames made it feel crude.

A Cartoon Too Far

So what's the appeal for the 800 points ($10) that this one costs? You can play hot-seat multiplayer games with up to twelve players. Unfortunately, if you had a dozen Rocky and Bullwinkle fans, they might break your television. And if you had a dozen gamers, they'd likely find a way to delete this from your Xbox 360. It's not worth bothering – if you need a Rocky and Bullwinkle fix, go order the DVDs.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 22, 2008 4:58 PM.

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