Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian Review
Written : Thursday, May 14, 2009
By: Alan Pettit (GT: The Pants Party)
Ever since there have been video games, companies have been eager to convert other media based on it for a profit, most notably children's movies. And ever since there have been movie tie-ins, there have been huge failures. Everyone remembers E.T. from Atari, right? Hundreds of thousands of copies had to be simply buried in New Mexico just to get rid of them. Flash forward a quarter of a century and what have we learned? Not much, apparently.
Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian is based on the comedy of the same name featuring Ben Stiller and a slew of other excellent actors. That is the last time I will be using the adjective "excellent" in this review. The plot is loosely similar to the movie, facing Stiller's museum security guard character Larry Daley with the task of stopping an evil Pharaoh (Hank Azaria) from recovering the pieces of an ancient tablet, bringing all the museum exhibits to life to fight against each other. Yeah, a silly premise, but it is a comedy aimed at younger audiences after all.
Each ingot gives your flashlight a new power.
The gameplay is equally toned down for the younger audience. Might at the Museum 2 is a generic action/platformer, where Larry can use his trusty keychain as a lasso to scale or swing through over a dozen different museum locations. He can also employ his flashlight as some sort of conduit for the various tablet pieces you are recovering at each museum location. From bringing paintings to life or mending broken objects, to taming wild animals and empowering electrical devices, your flashlight is your best friend. There is no "combat" so to speak. Larry can use the flashlight to "ask" paintings and animals to take down the various bad guys throughout the game, or use magical objects in the same manner.
Considering the short length of the game, you may have realized by now that "over a dozen museum locations" was maybe a bit of an overstatement. Each level is basically one small section, maybe broken up into a few smaller rooms. The largest level is a warehouse "flying" level with Amelia Earhart helping you in a bi-plane, but even that section is no more than a few minutes long. To progress from one level to the next, you need merely talk to what I call a "helper character" and then solve a simple puzzle to collect the next tablet piece or open a locked door to the next level.
One thing the game sort of has on its side are decent controls and a workable camera. Many of these "kiddie platformers" tend to have unresponsive, muddy controls and a crazy-pants camera doing whatever it pleases. Thankfully Night at the Museum actually lets you do what you want, when you want. Unfortunately, with only a few sparse moves (jump, keychain lasso and flashlight powers) everything gets increasingly repetitive as you go. Use the keychain and jump to platform around, then choose a flashlight power and solve an easy puzzle. Rinse and repeat.
I can see the entire level from here!.
Each level has various side missions, collectibles and mini-games to keep you busy, though all of them are extremely easy and none are time consuming in the least. In fact, at just about two hours of game time, you'll suddenly realize you've gained all the tablet pieces and be thrust into the game's "climactic" final battle against the Pharaoh Kah Mun Rah. Using all your tablet powers you will need to solve various puzzles to empower a series of obelisks that will weaken and eventually defeat your foe.
The development time on this could not have been very extensive, and considering developer Amaze Entertainment's other works (Eragon, Pirates of the Caribbean) you couldn't really expect much, but the graphics are pretty terrible, worse even then anything they've done in the past. The overall level layouts are solid, but their animations and character models are awful. The main character doesn't even look anything like Ben Stiller! Maybe if Ben Stiller's face was flattened by a steamroller and he lost about forty pounds, but even then it would be a close call. Graphics are supposed to improve as you grow Amaze!
The voice acting is slightly better than the graphics, Ben Stiller taking the plunge from movie to game and reprising his role so the character at least sounds like it should. I couldn't tell much if the other characters were the same as their movie counterparts, but to be honest I had almost tuned out the entire soundtrack after the first few levels. They weren't bad enough for me to notice, so I guess that's a positive thing if you really think about it. The sound effects were decidedly worse though. I'm not sure exactly what a keychain used as a lasso or rope swing might sound like, and you can be sure neither did Amaze, but what they made up for it probably wasn't the way to go.
My keychain will protect me!.
The achievement list when I first looked at it seemed to be a little challenging, with quite a few collection achievements and various side-tasks that I thought might be hidden, but how wrong I was. With the small level designs, there are very few places to hide things so I suppose Amaze just didn't even bother. The majority of the collectible items are simply sitting in plain view, with a few tucked in behind a few boxes or around a corner you might not be required to visit. Once you have collected every collectible and done all the side-quests, you'll have your entire 1000 points. This takes barely longer than the game itself, no more than two to three hours tops.
Overall, this was clearly a throw-away profit grab for Amaze and publisher Majesco. In fact, this was Majesco's first foray into the 360, but they have a multitude of titles on the Wii and DS with similar poor ratings and quick turnarounds. If it makes them money, more power to them, but I can't honestly sit here as a gamer and encourage anyone to purchase this. It is worth a rent if you're into gamerscore since you can knock it out in a single night, but other than that, just steer clear all together.
Decent voice acting from Stiller, if a bit lazy, caps off probably the best thing about the game... but that's not saying much.
If you can't even get the star of the game to look right, you're not going to have much success from there. The level layouts are fine enough, but overall bland for such a small space.
The controls and camera work well enough that you won't get frustrated, but perhaps if you'd been at it for more than the two hours of the game's length the repetitiveness might start to get on your nerves.
Bad graphics, short and lame story mode, no extra features of any kind ... a total throw-away.
While the list looks good enough, there is actually no challenge at all in it. Two hours to play the entire game and knock out all the achievements is hardly saying you "achieved" much of anything.
This game is bad, but at least its playable. It is extremely short, but that is actually a positive for it, which is something you never want as a developer. Stay clear at all costs unless you need a quick gamerscore boost.