Games 7/2/08: Wall-E, Don't King Presents: Prizefighter, Sea Life Safari

Wall-E
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3
Other versions available for: Nintendo Wii, Playstation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS, Windows and Mac OS X
From: Heavy Iron Studios/THQ
ESRB Rating: Everyone (cartoon violence)

We’ve come to expect a certain measure of well-intentioned prosaicness from Pixar-branded video games, which typically blend together some concoction of fan service and gameplay that is, depending on your level if cynicism, either tried and true or tired and trite.

“Wall-E” doesn’t exactly rock this boat, delivering a mostly unimaginative but generally fun experience that’s subject both to moments of technical bewilderment and moments of surprising ingenuity.

“Wall-E” pits you in two-and-a-half roles, allowing you to play as Wall-E (the junker bot) in some levels, Eve (the slick white robot) in others, and a third arrangement that won’t be detailed here for spoiler purposes. Gameplay consists primarily of platforming and puzzle-solving during the Wall-E levels and third-person shooting and flight missions in the Eve levels.

Creatively, Heavy Iron Studios doesn’t exactly reach for the stars. Most of “Wall-E’s” objectives consist of stuff you’ve seen countless times — missions that have you collecting X amount of some object or flying through X amount of rings or checkpoints to reach the next level. The execution is mostly there and the gameplay suffices, though it’s largely pedestrian stuff that sometimes falls prone to disappointing visuals and technical hiccups (namely, rare instances of bad collision detection and a sometimes-erratic camera).

Occasionally, though, “Wall-E” tosses out a gem. Finding the optional secret items on each level, for instance, often means solving a puzzle that’s a little more inspired and challenging than the base material. And while the game never completely turns a page during the course of the story, it does sprinkle in a few platforming challenges that are honestly good enough to feel right at home in a game starring Mario or Ratchet and Clank. Some Wall-E-centric challenges involve his ability to compact different kinds of trash, and completing both the requisite and optional portions of these challenges is a genuinely satisfying endeavor.

That said, while “Wall-E” the film is a treat for any age, “Wall-E” the game remains pretty squarely aimed at younger players hungry for fan service first and gameplay innovation second. The split-screen multiplayer offerings, as well as all those optional story challenges, give the game some legs for its intended audience, but skilled players likely can see and master the entirety of the game within a day or three.

—–

Don’t King Presents: Prizefighter
For: Xbox 360
From: Venom Games/2K Sports
ESRB Rating: Teen (blood, drug reference, language, suggestive themes, violence)

The arrival of “Don King Presents: Prizefighter” is a welcome one, though not for the reason 2K Sports wishes it was.

Compared to the rather pedestrian presentation found in EA Sports’ most recent “Fight Night” game, “Prizefighter” is in a class all its own. The career mode centers your character inside a live-action documentary — starring King himself, among others — and the twists that occur on film translate into some pretty clever stipulations that you must overcome in the game.

Conversations with your manager also open up opportunities to revisit — and participate in — revered matches featuring the likes of Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Jim Braddock and Larry Holmes. (The graphical filters, ranging from sepia tones for classic matches to 1970s-style oversaturation during more recent bouts, are a fantastic touch.)

“Prizefighter” further sweetens the career pot by giving you some fun ways to build up your created boxer’s attributes. You can skip the training mini-games if you want, but they’re surprisingly enjoyable, and each comes with its own leaderboard for bragging rights over Xbox Live.

Speaking of which, “Prizefighter” delivers what you’d expect on the multiplayer front. You can establish tournaments, tweak match stipulations to your liking, and pursue a number of Achievements if you want to pad your Xbox Gamerscore.

All of this makes for a pretty attractive package that’s one ingredient away from putting EA Sports on notice. Unfortunately, that one thing “Prizefighter” lacks — the incredible “Fight Night” engine, or something approaching its quality — just so happens to be the one thing that matters more than all those aforementioned features put together.

To put it kindly, “Prizefighter’s” fighting engine is wildly unrefined. Whereas the “Fight Night” engine handsomely rewarded smart, defensive boxing, “Prizefighter” is riddled with technical issues that make this nearly impossible on even the easiest setting. Collision detection, in particular, is unacceptably deceptive, with punches that should miss often connecting and knockout punches often hitting the other boxer’s shoulder or armpit rather than his face. It’s hard to dodge a punch when it almost doesn’t matter where it lands, and you’re better off just mashing the punch buttons and outgunning your opponents, who often come out swinging just as recklessly thanks to some thoughtless artificial intelligence.

Unfortunately, that alone makes “Prizefighter” hard to recommend. Welcome though its innovations unquestionably are, it shares the shelf with a two-year-old game that nonetheless looks better, plays better and costs half as much at this point. For now, the belt remains in EA’s possession.

—–

Downloadable Game of the Week

Sea Life Safari
For: Xbox Live Arcade
From: Wanako Studios/Sierra
Cost: 800 MS Points

Xbox Live’s Arcade channel rarely ? OK, never ? is home to meditative experiences, but “Sea Life Safari,” which stars you as an underwater photographer charged with snapping high-quality photographs of 50 different creatures, certainly changes that. Collecting three-star photos of every creature is a challenge, but it’s a soothing rather than frantic endeavor. The environments look nice for an XBLA game, and the expressive, semi-cartoony nature of the creatures you’re photographing makes them fun to interact with even after you’ve checked them off the to-do list. (Your best photos are saved for later viewing, and you can choose to keep quite a few more in your in-game album.) “Safari’s” lack of multiplayer and lack of anything to aspire to after you get the shots gives it a longevity problem, but it stands out so starkly from the rest of the XBLA lineup that completists drawn to the concept will get their $10 worth over time. If nothing else, it’s a great game to return to whenever you need a break from Xbox Live’s typically manic nature.