Happy Feet

December 11, 2006

As with every other tentpole children’s release that graces the local multiplex, Happy Feet comes to the small screen early in the form of a video game adaptation. Although many gamers have learned to keep a cynical distance from movie-licensed games, it’s a sure bet that kids who were fans of the movie will want to get their hands on it. However, while kids might be begging for this game after leaving the theater, older gamers may be disappointed by how unfulfilling Happy Feet truly is.

In Happy Feet, players take on the role of Mumble, the dancing penguin star of the film, as he races downhill on his belly, swims, and – of course – dances. Unfortunately, though the gameplay sounds varied, the different play styles seem more like uninspired minigames than the actual meat of a game, and as a result, they become tedious quickly and lack replay value. The dancing portions play much like a rhythm game might, pressing the correct button in time with the on-screen cues, and that may be the most enjoyable of the three. Downhill racing and swimming are superficially the same, with each stage requiring Mumble to beat an opponent or simply collect items as he goes. The main difference between the two is the little penguin can jump and do some aerial tricks during the downhill stages.

Gameplay aside, Happy Feet does manage to capture the movie’s aesthetic very capably. The environments are attractive and the color palette in the game is vibrant, perfect for its intended audience. Happy Feet especially manages to remain faithful to the movie’s characters, with the film’s voice actors reprising their roles and the character models themselves looking much like they do on the silver screen. Likewise, the soundtrack enforces and enhances the game’s whimsical feel.

The worst claim that can be leveled against Happy Feet is that it’s mundane and repetitive. Most versions of the game have that in common, but the Wii manages to breathe some life into the game thanks to its control scheme. Players use the remote to steer their character instead of an analog stick or d-pad and, while it may just be novelty talking, it’s more fun. Similarly, the dancing game is much improved with the functionality of the remote – at times, it can seem as though you are conducting in time with the music. However, even the Wii title, sadly, can’t rise above mediocrity, though it’s easily the best among its peers.

Happy Feet is sure to please kids, at least for a while, and in that sense the game is a success. Still, the game is fairly insubstantial and could have benefited from some platforming in between its minigames, a la Rayman: Raving Rabbids. Happy Feet is a simple game that can at times be fun to play, and will at least leave you smiling before it eventually leaves you cold. Especially if you’ve seen and enjoyed the movie, Happy Feet is worth the price of a rental, but doesn’t have the longevity required to justify its cost as a purchase.

Score: 60%

Score: 2/5

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