Everybody likes Parfait!  Unfortunately not too many people liked last years Shrek title.  Activision is at the helm this time, so its time to take a trip to Far Far Away and see if the license gets its just rewards, or if a good Shrek title is still just a fairy tale.

The graphics in Shrek 2 is powered by a completely 3D engine that manages to capture the quaint ‘slighly-off’ look of the world of Shrek.  Each character is rendered with a great amount of detail and they capture the look and mannerisms of their cartoon counterparts.  The world itself is richly colored and populated with plenty of small details such as flowers you can trample and Tim Burton-esque architecture. 


You will be traveling through Far Far Away with the likes of Puss in Boots, Donkey, Fiona, Gingerbread Man, Lil’ Red, the Big Bad Wolf, Fairy, and Shrek himself.  Each character is animated separately with their own feel and attitude.  Donkey plods along, Shrek waddles, Gingerbread Man runs in a stiff cookie style, and Lil’ Red skips along with her basket, just to name a few.  The same detail is placed into the attacks for each character.  Donkey uses his hooves, Gingerbread dispenses Peppermint Wrath with a candycane, Lil’ Red is the master of the rotten apple toss, and nobody huffs and puffs like the Big Bad Wolf. 


The only knock against the graphics for Shrek 2 is a familiar one common to most multiplatform titles.  The title suffers slightly from low polygon count for some areas and characters.  This is probably due to the title being on all three platforms, so having to work with the lowest common platform’s power means that some of the fantastic capabilities of the Cube and Xbox get left out to fit it on the PS2.  You’ll see this again with some of the generic baddies as they are often simply color pallet swaps, or put plainly they are the same character but with a different color shirt and hat.


It sounds worse than it is, the graphics are no slouch and they will certainly not distract too much from the overall game.  The animations are great and keep a very steady framerate throughout.  The team did a great job capturing the ‘feel’ of the world of Shrek and that goes a long way.

There is no way that a production company could hire Eddy Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Mike Meyers, Antonio Banderas, and the rest of the all-star cast of the Shrek 2 movie to do voice-overs for the game.  That said, it becomes very important that the ‘sound-alike’ actors really do sound at least remotely like the original actors.  I’m not sure how many people they went through to get these actors, but they do a great job of imitating the original cast.  Throughout the game there are little one-liners akin to the original movie such as Donkey’s epiphany “In Spanish, a Donkey is called a Burro…so that’d make a little Donkey a Burrito” and similar cut-ups.  The Gingerbread Man will say things like “Oooh…there went a gumdrop button” when he is damaged, but it never is distracting and they don’t say those things very often.  It adds to the game’s overall feel and makes for some very funny moments that matches the subject matter.


The sound effects are fairly standard fare for a title like this and are neither distracting with one exception.  At times the voice will simply cut off at the end of a level and move into the level summary screen.  Its a minor oversight, but it does mean you might miss out on the end of a funny joke at the end of a level.  Not too big a deal really, but its a bug that I figured they would have caught.

As I mentioned in the graphics section, Shrek 2 uses a completely 3D engine.  This is going to sound familiar, but this brings one big issue to the table; the camera.  The camera system makes some areas far more difficult than it has to be and sometimes you can’t swing it in a 360 degree arch for some odd reason.  Moments like these are somewhat common in the game, but thankfully it won’t wreck the game.  For the most part the camera is fairly responsive, but having to adjust it often lends a little frustration to the equation.


The controls are fairly straightforward using the left analog stick to move the character around, the right analog rotates and zooms the camera.  X is used to make your currently selected character jump, Square makes your character attack, although if the character uses a ranged weapon you can also hold it down to aim a targeting reticule.  The triangle button activates a special ability (if you have ammo to do so) and the circle button is an action button used for throwing switches.  The R1 and L1 allow you to scroll through your four characters to select them. 


The learning curve on the control system is almost zero.  This is a title you can pick up and start playing immediately without being a ‘callus thumbed’ gamer.  This will really help for kids and casual gamers alike as they will be fighting the bad guys and not the control scheme.

The world of Far Far Away is merely the catalyst for the underlying movie-tie-in storyline for Shrek 2.  Fiona wants Shrek to meet her parents, King Harold and Queen Lillian.  The King and Queen have thrown a grand royal ball for Fiona to celebrate that their daughter has been freed from her ogreish curse, but little do they realize that she has found her true form as an Ogre herself.  Shrek, Fiona, and a few of their friends set out with the couple to the land of Far Far Away and set the stage for our game.


The gameplay is a linear action game punctuated by sincerely funny moments such as “Hero Time” and the occasional cutscene.  You will travel through the land solving various problems for the denizens of the swamp as you travel to Far Far Away.  You will use your characters to the fullest to solve the puzzles presented, but the whole thing doesn’t turn into anything too cerebral.  For instance, you will have to knock over a tree to move forward, and some quick discussion from the team and its decided that Donkey should give the tree a ‘gentle nudge’.  A quick burro-blast kick later and you can progress across a raging river that would otherwise stop you. These simple puzzles won’t stop you in your tracks for long, but present a welcome distraction from the otherwise linear gameplay of the title.


Another welcome distraction is “Hero Time”.  Hero Time is where your character will have to work by themselves to accomplish a particular task.  On one level you must sing to the blackbirds, but your true objective is to pop their little heads to make yourself some blackbird pie.  A Dance Dance Revolution style ‘press the right key at the right time’ system allows you to sing along with the tune to accomplish your slightly disturbing objective.  Similarly, as Donkey and Dragon, you will chase down a runaway carriage that will have you thinking back to the Death Star scene from Star Wars.  Sometimes you will also have Hero Time with all four characters, such as the battle against the feisty Puss in Boots.  Timing and a little practice will defeat him and he will join your party for a while.  Its all very fun and keeps the ‘boredom fairy’ away from our favorite slightly-askew Fairy Tale. 


Throughout the game you can collect coins that will allow you to meet up with Crazy Larry’s Leprechaun and shop for upgrades for your parties attack power.  You can increase their health, speed, regeneration, and special abilities, which will really assist you in the later levels. 


To ensure that you are not overly frustrated by some of the more difficult aspects of the title (e.g. the Puss in Boots battle) you are given unlimited lives and frequent checkpoints.  As you progress through a level the game will auto save, and should you fall into a river or otherwise lose all four of the characters, you are reset back a few minutes to give it another shot.  This, combined with the easy to grasp controls will make the gameplay fun for the whole family.

Shrek 2 ramps up its difficulty beautifully with the later levels requiring a few tries to get through them.  The addition of the unlimited lives and frequent checkpoints makes the title more fun that frustrating.  The title itself will last for around 15 hours, but it will probably take a while to find all off the ‘magic beans’ that unlock the ‘snapshots’ that show off some of the more humorous aspects of the game.  There are a total of 70 snapshots but if you unlock enough of them you can open up an additional 5 bonus levels!  On top of that if you collect all 70 of them you will get some new secret bonus material on the upcoming Shrek 2 movie.  Some of the levels are a great deal of fun and you can go back and replay them as often as you’d like which extends the gameplay of the title a little bit.  Overall, there is enough difficulty to keep it challenging, enough humor to keep it funny, and enough distraction to keep it engaging.  Great job Luxoflux.

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