"You just never know what a mission will involve until you accept it. Some have you completing mini-games, others have you sliding down huge slides and collecting stars, others have you rushing to the highest points of an area and still others ask you to run toward through cluttered environments while an enemy chases you. If you donít feel like completing a mission at the moment, you donít have to."
Most seasoned gamers cringe at the thought of another license-based game. They look at a shelf lined with cartoon-inspired games and instantly they recall horrible play control, lifeless environments and other issues that kept past outings from working well at all. Such attitudes are understandable, but theyíre also unfortunate because they can prevent that person from playing the occasional gem that breaks all the rules.
Ratatouille, which is based off the Pixar film, is one such title. The levels are large and full of secrets, the graphics are first-rate and the whole adventure stays fresh throughout the 10 or so hours itíll take many players to uncover everything. Perhaps most importantly, itís a great game even if you donít know your Remy from your Mickey.
As the adventure begins, youíre introduced to Remy. Heís a rat living in the French countryside. His job is to collect food for the others in his colony. He dreams of greater things, though, and one day a series of circumstances takes place that forces the rat colony to relocate. Remy, who has always hoped to work in a first-class restaurant, suddenly has the opportunity to do so.
Players will watch the story unfold at key intervals, but more often theyíll participate in a very hands-on fashion. Ratatouille is primarily a three-dimensional platformer, but it also includes cooking mini-games that nicely tie into the overall picture. These are quite simple and mostly boil down to pressing a series of buttons as prompted on-screen, but they contribute to an atmosphere that most titles lack. They also are engaging enough that some players may practice them from the ĎExtrasí menu, just to improve their time.
The three-dimensional platform action is what makes the game so much fun, though. The developer definitely took the right approach here, by providing an interesting (and upgradeable) level hub that ties other areas together. You can head up some pipes to find the streets above you, or move through a shaft to gain access to the kitchen or even the marketplace. There actually arenít a lot of distinct environments in the game, but that doesnít matter because the ones that are there provide so much to do.
One stage, called ĎThe City of Lights,í has the player distract a dog with a bone in order to gain access to the area beyond. This entails navigating a series of high ledges, in a fashion similar to something you might have experienced in a game like Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. Remy has dexterity to spare, and can cling to the top of narrow spires, or skitter along a window sill. Sparkling trails of light let you know where there are footholds. Itís also possible to swing from window shutters and creep along garbage cans and other refuse. The whole time, the game feels molded to its character. This isnít a generic title; you feel like youíre leading a rat through Paris.
Once that mission is complete and the dog has bounded off after the bone, youíll soon find yourself exploring and disabling mouse traps. Touching one can prove fatal, so you have to gather spoons from nearby window ledges, then snap them in the traps. However, a dog patrolling the area will try to eat you if he notices you. If youíre in danger, a meter pops up on the screen to let you know. Then you have to duck for cover quickly or face the consequences. Stealth moments have nearly killed many a fine game, but here and elsewhere in Ratatouille, theyíre executed perfectly. Whether youíre crouching behind crates or moving forward along a range top with only a pasta strainer for cover, sneaking is thrilling and intuitive.
You just never know what a mission will involve until you accept it. Some have you completing mini-games, others have you sliding down huge slides and collecting stars, others have you rushing to the highest points of an area and still others ask you to dash toward the screen through cluttered environments while an enemy chases you. If you donít feel like completing an assignment at the moment, you donít have to. You can also run around collecting stars and other items. These can be used to score you a lot of points toward game unlockables that include video interviews, concept art and cheats. If none of that interests you, fine; you can just explore.
Exploration might lead you to a bonus stage. Those warrant a special mention because theyíre quite likely to appeal to older gamers looking for a little more challenge. Each one is centered on a food type. That theme is implemented throughout the level. For example, one area will find you running across grapefruit halves, riding on kiwi ledges and circling bananas and lemons as you dodge whirling strawberries. Such stages are out in the open at first, but in later environments are located in more out of the way places. They also get quite difficult, since youíre moving around over bottomless pits. Finding all of the stars can be pleasantly taxing, since thereís always a rogue group of them that are hidden off the beaten path.
The variety and the sense that you control the plotís progression will keep most people playing just to see what comes next. Whatís also nice is the lack of moments that remind you that youíre playing a game. Charming visuals lack the jagged edges you might expect, and pop-in is kept to a bare minimum even when youíre looking out over a wide expanse. Remy is animated like a dream. Itís fun to watch him dash and skid around the stages, since he seems to have his own way of doing nearly everything. The one-liners he mutters sometimes get old, but youíll put up with them and leave the volume turned up because the music in the background does such an excellent job of contributing to the gameís distinct atmosphere.
All in all, Ratatouille is the sort of product most people wouldnít expect from a game that arrived before its theatrical inspiration. If Pixar had never made the movie but someone made a game about a rat, it could hardly have turned out better than this. Whether you loved the movie or havenít seen it, give the game the same chance you would any other. Your reward will be several hours spent with one of the most enjoyable titles in ages. Who would have guessed that it would take a rat to inspire a license-based game that doesnít stink?
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 02, 2007)
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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