"Though it's not so much the case in the early stages, the pathetic double jump is going to provide numerous moments of frustration as players try to navigate architecture that absolutely requires high-precision jumps over bubbling lava, bottomless pits, and whatever else the game chooses to throw at you. Even in cases where a jump doesn't result in the instant loss of a life, it's likely to force you to backtrack and try the jump again... and again, and again."
THQ's latest attempt to turn a Nickelodeon cartoon into a hot game franchise is The Fairly OddParents: Breakin' Da Rules. It's the story of little Timmy Turner, a boy with two fairy godparents who grant wishes at his whim, all for the sake of teaching him a lesson. More than that, though, it's the story of a game filled with cool ideas and clever humor that ultimately fails to charm the way it should due to some fairly nasty defects.
As the game opens, Timmy is wishing that they didn't have to play by the rules anymore when making wishes. Before you can say ''Hey, that's a bad idea,'' the wish is granted and trouble ensues. It turns out the wish resulted in his arch-nemesis, Vicky, gaining control of the book while Timmy is stuck in the house with his 'real' parents gone for the weekend. This plot twist is pretty cool, actually, in that it allows for the developers to have a rather unique hub--Timmy's house--to function as a plot device and the entrance to the game's various stages.
Training mode and final challenge aside, there are eight segments of the house that each lead to what can only be described as an episode. For example, the player always starts in Timmy's room. He can touch the closet to access one mission, the television for another, or he can venture to other rooms within the house. He can even head into the back yard. This charming approach is a pleasant change from the expansive areas that have served as hubs in games such as Sonic Adventure or Banjo-Kazooie. You're never more than a few steps away from a stage. Not only that, but you can view a list of what you've collected from that stage before entering.
When first you play, you'll only have a portion of the house available, as the game eases you into the flow of things. The first area you'll encounter is a summer camp. Vicky has made a wish that the world will finally have proof girls are better than boys, and Timmy must race through to rescue the abducted members of his troop. To do so, he'll have to sneak past the little girls who are on patrol. Right away, things can be fairly difficult, as the player works to get used to line of sight and gets a good idea of how the play mechanics work. It's a good, fun level, but already it suffers from some of the more crippling ailments that afflict the game.
The first of these ailments is little Timmy's poor jumping abilities. Though he is capable of a double jump, something that makes most old-school gamers smile with delight, he may as well not have the move in his arsenal at all. A double jump feels downright pathetic, as it's just two short hops that together wouldn't make Mario break a sweat. Though it's not so much the case in the early stages, the pathetic double jump is going to provide numerous moments of frustration as players try to navigate architecture that absolutely requires high-precision jumps over bubbling lava, bottomless pits, and whatever else the game chooses to throw at you. Even in cases where a jump doesn't result in the instant loss of a life, it's likely to force you to backtrack and try the jump again... and again, and again (particularly in the dog and school stages).
This grows quite tedious, as you might imagine, and is worsened by the spotty controls elsewhere. Timmy assumes several forms throughout the game, each with slightly different controls. He'll be a canine for one stretch, a bulldozer in another, a super hero in the next. There's really great variety, but one thing remains consistent: Timmy just doesn't move the way you would expect. Very little of his movement ever feels natural, even by the time you've reached the final battle. It seems the developers should have spent a bit more time on this. It really gets in the way of what could have been a good game.
Something else that also interferes is the camera. If Timmy finds himself backed into a corner or creeping along a ledge, the camera won't swing around far enough. It will make about a half-rotation, then start wobbling when you try to move it further. While it's true that you can press 'Y' to look at the area from a first-person perspective at some times, this is an extra step that simply shouldn't be necessary. On a more positive note, at least the camera works smoothly if you're out in the open. However, there are plenty of tight corridors where you must make a series of jumps, and the stupid double jump causes you to fall short. So then you have to run back around and climb up a series of ledges all over again, and you'll be battling the camera the whole time. Again, the developers should have spent a bit more time in this area.
The two flaws I mentioned above, which affect this game to a greater extent than you might imagine, would be enough to kill lesser titles. However, The Fairly OddParents: Breakin' Da Rules does have some more things in its favor. Chief among these is the flawless use of the license. I've only watched the cartoon a few minutes, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see all the connections to the television show. For one, the characters look just like their animated counterparts, even in the middle of gameplay. Cosmo and Wanda are particularly well-done. Vicky is handled nicely, as is Timmy. Whenever the game calls for something new in the line of animation (which it does with delightful frequency), the artists have supplied the appropriate frames of animation. Timmy yawns when you're not moving him, freaks when he almost falls from a ledge, and grins when talking mischievously to his babysitter. It's quite the sight.
Characters aren't the only portion that benefits from terrific art direction, either; the environments themselves look as if they were yanked directly from the cartoon show. While some effects such as a school bus rolling to a stop aren't as detailed as the rest, there are numerous fine touches that make the presentation nearly perfect. And if you're doubting the execution for even a moment, you can also unlock special video clips from the actual cartoon, if only for the sake of comparison (apparently, the Playstation 2 version even has a whole cartoon on the disc, though that's not true of the GameCube).
Even more impressive than the visual touches (at least to me) were the lines read by the show's voice actors. It really adds a lot to hear the actual actors delivering the lines. And if for some reason you're not able to hear the lines be delivered, text accompanies each spoken word and matches quite nicely. It's even color-coded so you can tell who is speaking. This was probably included as a feature because, to be honest, you really don't want to miss some of the humorous lines that transpire in this game. It definitely has its share of amusing moments.
It's a good thing the scenes tend to be so humorous, too, because you'll be seeing them quite a bit. I was disgusted to find that even if you witness a cutscene, you'll have to watch it again if Timmy should happen to lose all his lives. You can repeatedly mash the 'A' button to speed things up quite a bit, but it still grows quite tedious. There's also a segment where Timmy passes a save point (more on save points in a minute) and advances through a school hallway to acquire some rocket shoes. He then rides those along through an obstacle course of sorts. When his wish is granted, he'll catch a funny little cinema before the action continues. And if he dies even one life shortly thereafter (which is quite likely to happen at least a few times), then it's back to the same old cinema.
Although this irritating fact may have been circumvented with a good save system, the developers decided to limit the number of in-level saves. Timmy can only save when he finds magical blue doors. Quite frequently, he may save at a door after getting through a previous area, then grab an important item, die all his lives, and have to keep collecting that item again each time he continues. The fact that he snagged it won't be remembered unless he gets to the next save point. In this manner, the game penalizes you for saving too quickly. If you're familiar with the area, you'll have a good idea of when you should save and when you shouldn't, but first-time players won't have that luxury unless they find a guide of some sort. Even worse, some doors can be located off in side-rooms. If you fail to explore each new area fully, you might miss one of the save rooms, die, and end up having to repeat twice the amount of the level that you should.
Also, because this is a game that is mostly about item collection, I expected that I would be able to complete a stage, head back to Timmy's Room, then return at my leisure to make a quick dash through a stage to find whatever I may have missed. Not so. If you complete a stage but miss one of the tickets necessary to unlock a cinema, you then must go back through the entire stage to collect the missing item, and you have to save once you've done so. There's no 'exit this level' option on the pause menu, and there really should have been.
For this reason, I found the game to grow repetitive quite fast. The thing is, that just shouldn't be the case. There's such a great variety from one stage to the next that it shouldn't feel like old hat every time you enter a new area. Timmy will visit alternate dimensions, the suburbs outside his home, and even different time periods. He'll become a dog, a bulldozer, and a super hero. He'll gain special abilities that allow him to cut down trees, clean up soap scum, and grapple to new ledges. The sheer variety in this one little game is simply amazing.
But like I said at the start of this review, the game ultimately fails despite its charm and humor. Jokes will wear thin and a level's newness will fade well before you reach its end, victims all of the camera, controls, and questionable save system. That's not to say that you shouldn't play this game. If the license interests you, or if you just like unique platformers, be sure to rent this one. If you have kids, it may even be worth a purchase. It's just that when there are so many high-quality titles sitting on store shelves and collecting dust, this one is a little too odd for its own good.
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 21, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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