Up (Xbox 360) review
"Fortunately, cooperative play alleviates some of that. Two people can pick up controllers and it's easy to join or leave a game with the press of a button. That allows a parent or elder sibling to save the day if kids are becoming too frustrated. It's a great way for a parent to connect with his or her game-loving offspring without having to spend forever figuring out how things work. It also means that the game could become the perfect choice for a few hours of fun when new visitors enter your humble abode."
What's Up? It's the game based on the latest Disney/Pixar feature, of course! Why should you care? Because you have little ones in the house and they'll be pestering you for the game the minute they become aware of its existence... if they haven't already. And if that doesn't describe your current lot in life, well, you probably shouldn't care after all.
Developed by Heavy Iron Studios, Up is the typical movie-based outing with a capital 'T,' an underline and maybe some funky yellow highlighting. Everything that you'd expect is here, from quirky story segments that don't resonate unless you've seen the game's theatrical inspiration, to not-quite-challenging gameplay to a general level of polish that's sufficient but unremarkable. In other words, the developer is capable of better, you deserve better, the price tag should have been lower and... your kids won't care because they'll still want you to buy it. Kids are like that sometimes.
As you may already know, Up tells the story of an old man and his young friend. The unlikely pair have taken to the skies aboard a floating house held aloft by an assortment of durable balloons. Now they'll experience a wonderful adventure together, meeting a strange cast of characters along the way--talking dogs, a colorful bird and an explorer, basically--and learning a thing or two about themselves, the value of friendship and the importance of keeping promises.
Gameplay assumes several forms. First there are two segments where you'll control a biplane swooping through the skies while other planes emerge from a zeppelin and try to shoot down the floating house. These scenes bookend a larger adventure, which can generally be described as a journey through a maze-like jungle. You'll avoid various nuisances such as porcupines, electric eels, birds, bats and so forth. Finally, there are two encounters with much larger creatures that again must be defeated using your wits and teamwork.
Up likes to make gamers think a bit, but it skimps on the variety. There are only around five or six distinct puzzles throughout the game and these are repeated often throughout its rather short duration. One example is the "ledge is too far for old man to jump to but boy can shimmy across a narrow wall and then drop down a rope so that his elderly buddy can climb it" challenge. That one comes up a lot. Another is the "old man climbs vines and then reaches down with his cane so that young boy can be pulled up to safety" scenario. There's enough depth to foster logical thinking in younger people, but veteran gamers are going to yawn their way through most of it.
Fortunately, cooperative play alleviates some of that. Two people can pick up controllers and it's easy to join or leave a game with the press of a button. That allows a parent or elder sibling to save the day if kids are becoming too frustrated. It's a great way for a parent to connect with his or her game-loving offspring without having to spend forever figuring out how things work. It also means that the game could become the perfect choice for a few hours of fun when new visitors enter your humble abode.
As far as overall difficulty goes, Up generally avoids issues by sprinkling the jungle with numerous checkpoints. They're easily reached, so there's very little backtracking required even if you find yourself frequently failing. That eliminates most of the frustration, but there are still a few events where things can get tense. One such challenge requires you to navigate a cavern while sticking to the light to avoid swarms of bats. Another finds you scampering along a ledge while avoiding pistons, which can be difficult in a single-player game where your computer-controlled buddy likes to wander beneath a hazard and then stupidly stand still for reasons unknown. Fortunately, you can repeatedly switch between the two unlikely heroes to keep them both moving appropriately.
Some moments require more dexterity, though, such as the occasional dog attack. When they occur, you must take control of either the boy or the old man and watch as canines circle. Then the hounds growl, crouch and soon after that will jump toward you. When they do, you have to press a button at the right moment to bat them away with your cane or backpack (depending on who you're controlling). Some of the later showdowns can go for quite awhile and younger gamers with poor reflexes might have trouble clearing them.
Perhaps the most demanding moments throughout the game, though, are those involving the biplane. This is true because the controls aren't nearly as precise as they could be. Swooping and gliding through the air is easy enough as long as you make wide turns and avoid brushing against the landscape or your airborne opposition, but aiming at anything is ridiculously difficult. Even firing in a straight line proves quite the challenge. Besides that, laying down a line of fire that is sufficient to destroy an enemy plane could take awhile and may lead to you crashing into your target and having to restart. This all comes together to make for an exasperating final stage where you must first shoot down a bunch of smaller planes before finally tending to their source as it litters the air with explosive mines. For the first time, the game provides a genuine threat. By that point, the sudden increase in difficulty feels out of place and unwelcome.
Still, such instances don't make up the bulk of the game. A more significant consideration for the parent on a budget is the length of the overall adventure and its surprising lack of variety. There are a total of 11 stages and most of them take only a few minutes to navigate. That might not be so bad if each stage were significantly different from the next, but that's not the case. You'll be looking at what appear to be the same few textures most of the way through, solving the same few puzzles with only slight variations. The developers included some unlockable content for those who are willing to explore every nook and cranny along the way, along with a slew of easily-obtained Achievements, but even that can be a bit of a joke since there are very few side paths throughout the adventure's duration. Likewise, the assortment of mini-games feels tacked on and won't likely engage anyone for more than a few minutes.
The final verdict is this: Up is a proficient adventure game based on a movie that kids will probably love. If you find yourself begged to buy it, you might want to check out the rental store first. Unless you have a lot of young gamers coming through your house, the adventure is too short to and too repetitive to keep any one person engaged for long. Pick it up if your family loved the film and you find the game for a steal of a deal, but otherwise hold out for something more substantial.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 11, 2009)
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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