Everyone’s favorite sarcastic ogre is back from his movie debut to grace the gaming world with yet another movie-licensed game. No, we’re not talking about Vince Vaughn (sorry Vince). Of course we mean Shrek, as portrayed by the remarkably talented Mike Myers. Shrek the Third represents the umpteenth game from the hit comedy franchise, with multiple titles and game types spanning nearly all genres and platforms, including consoles and handhelds.
The focus of Shrek the Third for PSP involves beat-’em-up style missions with plots loosely based on the movie. You’re are given the chance to play multiple characters from the big-screen hit, including the lovable and oafish Shrek, his beautiful princess-turned-ogress Fiona, the dragon-loving Donkey, the dashing Puss in Boots, the seductively narcoleptic Sleeping Beauty, and historically inaccurate newcomer Arthur. Gameplay involves beating the tar out of hordes of enemies, including ruthless pirates, medieval jocks, wicked witches, and annoying little gnomes, just to name a few.
As a general rule of thumb, many (if not most) movie-licensed games rely too heavily on their intellectual properties to carry the weight of quality. Surprisingly enough, Shrek the Third does not necessarily follow this trend. The combat system is actually quite good. Characters have normal attacks and power attacks, the latter of which can be charged up for timing and added damage. Each characters moves are at least slightly different, giving a greater sense of playing the character, and not just a differently skinned model. Examples of this include Puss in Boots’ ability to double jump, Sleeping Beauty’s ability to hover as she falls (a la Princess Toadstool from Super Mario Bros. 2), and Arthur’s ability to block more damage than other characters with the use of his shield. All characters are also able to perform finishing moves after dazing an enemy. This can occur after landing a good combo, hitting an enemy with a thrown object (more on that later), or performing a special move.
As characters defeat enemies in combat, they charge up a “fairy dust” bar. This mystical mix can be utilized at certain moments to perform special moves that are specific for each character. Depending on the character, the player will get a number of different results. For example, activating Shrek’s fairy dust attack causes the verdant lug to emit a gaseous cloud, causing all enemies in the vicinity to choke on his noxious fumes, while Sleeping Beauty can put enemies to sleep or seduce them to the point where they will fight each other. The multitude of moves not only adds pleasurable variety, but also gives players tactical choices. Shrek and sweetheart Fiona benefit from an additional move. Activating their fairy dust attacks when their bar is full results in “ogre power”, the beatdown equivalent to Max Payne’s bullet time. Time slows down, and the ogres move more quickly, dishing out more damage and making complex combos much easier to perform.
As players proceed through the single player storyline, they are tasked with multiple quests for each level. Completing these quests rewards the players with coins that they may then use to purchase extras from the game’s store. Some of these quests seem to stay the same from level to level, such as collecting Far Far Away mugs or performing a certain amount of finishing moves. Others are completely specific to the level and enemies you are fighting. For example, in Cap’n Hooks level, destroying the mythical captain’s surly looking statue nets the player a quest reward, while freeing nerds from lockers in the Heroes School level will accomplish the same.
In addition to questing, players collect coins on the field of battle as well. Levels in Shrek the Third are chock full of destrucible items, many of which are filled with food (which restores health) fairies (which grant fairy dust), or coins. In addition, many of these items can be picked up and hurled at enemies for extra damage and ranged combat. Players are also rated on their performance at the end of each level. Depending on the number of quests completed, baddies beaten, items destroyed, and collectible items, well, collected, the player is awarded additional coins. Players are also rated based on overall performance, and are given additional coins for stylish combat. Using the same three hit combo over and over again will not net you much, but if you mix it up with power moves that send enemies flying into the air, you style will be better. If you manage to catch those enemies as they fall, and toss them into their equally malign brethren, your style score skyrockets.
Shrek the Third also offers players the chance to engage in the Castle Capture mini game with other players via wi-fi. This was difficult to test, as I don’t know many PSP owners who have this game. Having said that, players are treated to a version of this game during the single player experience. For those of us old enough to have played Artillery or Scorched Earth in computer lab at school, Castle capture is basically a third person version of those classic titles, albeit populated with Shrek characters.
All is not necessarily well in the land of Far Far Away, however. The game does suffer from a few varied maladies. Camera angles are sometimes difficult to deal with. Changes in camera perspective can cause players to run off cliffs or head back the way they were coming from without knowing it. Level designs do not always easily convey how a player should proceed. The object areas and collision detection are not the best, either. In a few instances, during battles with larger-than-life bosses, it seemed to be almost impossible to land a blow. The large scale monsters seemed to have an area around them that would push players back, making it nigh-impossible to land the sort of blows that were required to defeat the villain.
In conclusion, Shrek the Third is a mixed bag. In my opinion, this game is excellent for what it is, especially if it’s is grouped in with other games based on intellectual properties. These games usually spend too much on obtaining licenses, and hope that the IP will carry the title through to being a best seller. Shrek the Third differs by offering a game that is actually worthy of play, even without the IP. With each character conveying a somewhat different style of gameplay, players should find new surprises in each level. The game’s voices and dialogue, while comedic and entertaining at first, do grow old. The camera angles and level design could also use some tweaking to make them more user-friendly. The minority of younger players that have PSPs will most likely enjoy this title, as will Shrek buffs and those looking for a simple yet varied beat-’em-up. Those looking for game of the year, however, may want to rent this title or pass it up completely.