Monsters vs. Aliens Review
Written : Tuesday, April 14, 2009
By: Nate Gillick (GT: ThrawnOmega)
Rivalries and the meeting of previously separated entities is an aspect of pop culture that seems to be growing with time. Superheroes who generally worked solo (looking at you, Batman) have partnered up with dozens of others across the pages of comic books. Freddy fought Jason, and Aliens and Predators clashed on the big screen... Heck, even the seemingly impossible duo of the X-Men and Star Trek: The Next Generation has come and gone (it's real, look it up). So, while we all await the inevitable Hannah Montana/Jonas Brothers super-album, Activision has given us a game based on DreamWorks newest animated film to pass the time, which pits monsters against an alien invasion.
Meet B.O.B, the brainless blob.
Monsters vs. Aliens tells the story of B.O.B., a lovable but mentally vacant gelatinous blob; The Missing Link, a half fish, half ape creature unthawed from a block of ice; Dr. Cockroach, whose insect-like appearance is an unfortunate side-effect of one of his experiments; and Ginormica (aka Susan), a young woman hit by a mysterious space rock, which caused her to grow to an enormous size. They lead a boring existence, kept secure in a government monster containment facility until the government can find a use for them. When an alien entity begins its invasion of Earth, and the military is powerless to stop it, the only hope seems to be to unleash the monsters. That's as involved as the plot gets, as most of the game proceeds from taking down one giant alien robot to the next, with little sense of an advancing plot, and characters barely develop beyond their cut-and-paste bios. Humor in the game is very hit-and-miss, as the game includes as many amusing lines and pop culture references adults will chuckle at, as it does groan inducing "jokes." While it has some good moments, few are likely to play this for the story.
Ginormica, B.O.B, and The Missing Link each have their own distinct play style. Ginormica skates through her levels using cars as skates where she skates forward automatically, with players moving her left or right, and controlling when she ducks, jumps, or grinds off of walls and rails. As she goes, it may be necessary to smash attacking robots out of her way, crash through barriers, or take down giant robots in various quick-time events. Her levels seem to fly by, as obstacles and enemies keep coming, making Ginormica the most fun to play as.
B.O.B on the other hand oozes his way through his levels, and the developers did a good job designing levels to play off his amorphous nature. He can slide across ceilings and walls as well as any floor, and has the ability to push himself through grates in floors or walls. B.O.B's levels are mostly maze-like in design, as players maneuver him from wall to wall and through/over grates to get him to his objectives. Besides the maze action, B.O.B. also has several sections throughout the game where he parks himself on a plasma platform and becomes a living turret, gunning down his enemies like there is no tomorrow. Since he can also create an extremely powerful shield, it's almost impossible for B.O.B. to die, making these sequences fun, but almost totally devoid of any challenge.
Giant alien robots invade San Francisco!
Lastly, The Missing Link is the most combat focused, but also the least interesting of the three characters. He comes packing the standard variety of punches and kicks, as well as a supremely powerful charge attack that makes it easy to wipe out every enemy on the screen at once. The reason The Missing Link just isn't that fun to play boils down to the design of his levels. Where B.O.B's levels display some creativity in maze design and Ginormica's are fast-paced on-rails sequences, The Missing Link's levels are insanely repetitive, involving only combat with enemies, taking out turrets, some laser dodging sequences, and unscrewing robot parts in an endless loop, with each level looking and playing far too much like the ones before it.
Dr. Cockroach is technically a playable character as well, but really that's just what the developers have decided to call the targeting reticle for this game's co-op mode. While playing through the story, a second player can take control of a targeting reticle, and use it to assist in combat by shooting lasers at enemies, or picking them up with a tractor beam to get them out of the way. There's also numerous eye-like robots in each level which seem to exist solely to give the second player something to shoot at. Co-op makes an already easy game even easier, and seems designed so a parent could assist their child's game, or perhaps give kids something to do while a parent plays.
As players progress through the levels, they'll collect tons of DNA particles, which work as currency to purchase the game's unlockable content. Such content ranges from concept art, to more meaningful additions, like upgrades to health, better co-op attacks, "deleted" levels, and character commentaries, which can be heard by replaying the the mission the commentary is for. Like the dialogue of the main game, some of the commentary is hilarious, and some of it is terrible. Interspersed between the unlockable content are numerous monster challenges, which must be cleared to be able to purchase more content. These challenges have players replaying sections of the game, trying to complete sections without getting hit, clearing an area with enough time remaining, or just scoring as many points as possible.
The biggest complaints that can be leveled against Monsters vs. Aliens are that the game gets highly repetitive, and plays like every other movie-based game out there. If you've played any games like Shrek, Bolt, Wall-E, or any others, you may feel like you've already played this game a thousand times. While Ginormica and B.O.B's levels are mostly enjoyable, even they become tiresome down the line, as the game fails to provide enough variety to the action to keep things fresh for the game's entire seven to eight hour length.
Half fish. Half ape. All robot slayer.
Visually, Monsters vs. Aliens has all the hallmarks of a game that was developed to be simultaneously released on every system known to man. Bright colors can't hide the fact that the level of detail here is pretty low, with the game's front menu being downright hideous. The music here sounds pretty generic and won't be remembered by anyone when it's heard, though there often doesn't sound like much is going on in the background. It's nice that some stars like Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogen lend their voices to the game; the hit-and-miss quality of the jokes should be pinned on the writers, not the actors.
Monsters vs. Aliens has a pretty generic list of achievement points; rewarding players for completing the game, and doing so without dying often. Additional achievements will come naturally for combat feats and using certain abilities. Thankfully, there aren't any achievements for hunting down collectables, but the high-end achievements for 10 million points and 500,000 DNA collected will require some grinding to complete, and artificially extend the amount of time players will spend in the game. At least 700 points should come easily enough in one seven to eight hour playthrough.
While Monsters vs. Aliens definitely has some fun moments, repetition begins to set in during the second half of the game, making the experience feel increasingly stale as time wears on. Every great line is met with one equally repugnant, making it hard to walk away from the game with positive feelings on the story. Monsters vs. Aliens provides a perfectly decent, though mostly generic, way to pass the time, and is worth a rental for people looking for a family game, or achievement junkies looking for easy points, but there are certainly better options out there.
The music is generic and will leave no lasting impression. It's appreciated that the movie actors lend their voices here but if the lines they were given weren't so hit and miss, the dialogue, and unlockable character commentary, could have been excellent.
Clearly Monsters vs. Aliens was developed to be released on every conceivable platform simultaneously, and thus the visuals maintain the graphical standards not too far above the original Xbox, though slightly shined-up in HD.
The controls are easy enough to pick up and play with, though targeting with B.O.B. in his turret mini-games, and his ability to spit out objects, could have been better.
Repetition begins to kill the fun in the second half of the game, and the dialogue is too hit-and-miss. Every line that might make you chuckle will be met with one that's groan-worthy. The game provides some fun moments, but gamers who have played other games based on animated films will probably feel like they've already played this game a dozen times.
Thankfully there are no collectables, but the elation that gives me is countered by the fact that a couple of the achievements are a real grind. This generic list should pose little resistance to most gamers, and could easily be completed over a weekend.
Monsters vs. Aliens provides a perfectly decent, though mostly generic, way to pass the time. If not for the hit-and-miss nature of the dialogue and repetitious gameplay, Monsters vs. Aliens could have been one of the better licensed family games out there but instead, it just falls short.