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Up (Wii) artwork

Up (Wii) review

"By the time the credits roll, you will start to question whether or not the first half of the game was as good as it first appeared – or if you were simply blinded by how well it mirrored some elements of the film."

Retirement isn’t for everyone. Some people dread the thought of watching life go by while others stay active and productive. Sure, their days of bar hopping and late-night parties may have been replaced by early dinners and prescriptions for Boniva. But that doesn’t mean they’re ready to pack up, sell the house and move to a shady retirement community.

No one was more against that than Carl Fredricksen. Old and slow but far from lifeless, Carl hated the idea of selling his home. When builders came to town, hoping to demolish everything in sight to make room for newer, more marketable buildings, Carl was eventually forced to leave. And after strapping several thousand balloons to the roof his of his house, he was able to take his home with him.

Thus begins the journey of Up, a breathtaking and adventurous comedy with a powerful and emotional touch that makes Bambi seem like a happy movie. For the purpose of this game, the developers removed most of the drama, instead focusing on the aspects of the movie that seemed appropriate for a virtual world. The results are light and amusing. Story developments are presented in black and white form, mirroring the format of the “Spotlight on Adventure” film that plays in the movie.

Ed Asner, who reprises his role as the grumpy Mr. Fredricksen, brings the same level of charm to the Up video game that he brought to the big screen. Russell, his unlikely sidekick, is amusing in his own right. Both are playable during solo games (you can switch between them at any time) or co-op.

As playable characters, Carl and Russell are very easy to control. The button layout is predictable (press ‘A’ to jump, hit ‘B’ or swing the Wii remote to attack) and won’t raise any eyebrows. But the way the characters move is very endearing. Their animations closely match those of their big-screen counterparts. Carl is the most notable, walking slowly and hunched over with his makeshift walker (made of a metal rod and four tennis balls). That walker doubles as a kid-friendly weapon, which can be used to destroy plants and insects or to ward off wasps and a pack of attack dogs.

Russell’s movements are much more youthful. There’s a literal skip in his step as he moves through the jungle. His weapon of choice is none other than the over-filled backpack he carries throughout the film.

Since these two are almost never apart in the movie, the developers wisely kept them together in the game, creating numerous situations where they both must be used. Carl, it turns out, is pretty strong for his age. He can use his walker to lift himself up onto ledges. He’ll do the same for Russell, who isn’t tall enough to climb up to high platforms. But Russell has the ability to swing from trees, shimmy across ledges and lift ropes down to Carl when a ledge is too high for him to reach.

Visually, these simple interactions are undeniably likable. If you’re a Pixar fan – or merely in love with this movie – it’s hard not to fall in love with the first couple of levels. From aerial dogfights (with dogs in the cockpit!) to walking Carl’s house through the jungle, Up is all but irresistible. Portions of Michael Giacchino’s epic movie score are used in the game, and though only the happiest and quirkiest songs are included, they are powerful enough to enhance the charm and appeal of every stage.

It’s that appeal that will initially turn you on to Up. Based on this review thus far, you may be under the impression that Up is a rock-solid movie game that defies the odds and is worth a purchase. To be clear, it has defied the odds – this game is worth playing if you’re a kid or a fan of the license. That’s better than most movie games. But once you get past the film-inspired moments, Up isn’t as charming as it is tiring.

As far as the controls are concerned, Up is a 3D adventure. The levels, however, are very linear, forcing the player to roam from point A to point B. In most circumstances, this wouldn’t be a problem – or even worthy of a complaint. But the camera is a mess. The player has zero control over it, and if (when) it gets stuck, you won’t be able to complete a task as simple as walking through a stage. Even worse, the game tries to be cinematic by manipulating the camera at certain moments, typically while Carl and Russell are standing in a specific location. This was a horrible inclusion; not only will it cause the camera to lock up (a problem the game already had), but it can also be confusing when the camera shifts back and forth as you move through the area.

If Up fails as a linear adventure, it doesn’t fare much better in the area of combat. Given the game’s target audience, you’d be crazy to have Devil May Cry-sized expectations. But would it be so wrong to expect some variety? The latter half of the game moves from the simple antics of solving weak puzzles (such as pushing a boulder out of your way) to a series of atrocious battles with dogs. Once or twice, these battles aren’t too bad. But after the tenth bout with bow-wow, you’ll be begging for the game to conclude.

Your only objective is to stand around and wait for the dogs to attack one by one. When they do, quickly press the 'B' button to deflect their attacks. The only redeeming quality here is that when a dog is stunned, Carl can tie a balloon to his belly to make him float away.

In addition to the canine catastrophe, Up suffers from two pathetic boss battles: a snake and a crocodile. Their weaknesses are almost identical. To defeat the snake, you must swing from a rope and dodge quickly, causing the snake to hit its own head. To defeat the crocodile, you must hide in a hole and jump out before it attacks, causing another head injury.

By the time the credits roll, you will start to question whether or not the first half of the game was as good as it first appeared – or if you were simply blinded by how well it mirrored some elements of the film. After reexamining those levels, you will be happy to know that they are still cool. However, it’s unlikely that anyone will be compelled to play through them a second time. Players will enjoy them once, no question. But once is enough for the first five or six stages – and too much for the rest. Which unfortunately means that, while Up is a game that Pixar fans should definitely play, it is not a game that anyone should plan to purchase.

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Freelance review by Louis Bedigian (June 29, 2009)

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