With such a memorable bunch of characters, a brilliant T.V. show and some superb movies to boot, it’s quite surprising that the Muppets have largely failed to make a major impact on consoles thus far.
The latest attempt to buck that trend is the PS Vita exclusive The Muppets Movie Adventures, a platformer that takes its inspiration from the big screen with five bite-sized missions based on typical movie tropes.
Each mission pits players as one of the Muppets and begins with a short cut-scene to set up each storyline, which is read out loud by a narrator and doesn’t actually feature the voices of the Muppets at all. Add to the fact that animation is virtually non-existent during the intros, with static images taking precedence over big screen cinematics, and you’ve got an uninspiring start to a game that doesn’t really get much better.
Incredibly, the voices of the Muppets don’t feature in the game at all with updates on the unfolding five tales provided entirely by text-based pop-ups that lack the kind of humour we’d expect from such a roster of colourful characters. Nevertheless, there are four playable Muppets and a range of themes on offer that children should identify with.
Scene one, for example, features Captain Greenlegs, the swashbuckling pirate (Kermit), who has to escape capture and get past the Red Coat guards to the safety of his ship. Next up, it’s Princess Miss Piggy, who takes on the Evil Wizard and attempts to save the world and her beloved Kermie in the process.
Act three focuses on Sheriff Animal, who is back from retirement to save Frogstone from the evil oil/tomato sauce baron, Constantine (Kermit), while The Great Gonzo steps in for the fourth scene to save the town from an outbreak of vampire vegetables.
Finally, Kermit steps back in for the finale, in a space-based mission where he’s tasked with finding parts of his ship’s generator so he can escape from an alien land.
On paper, it actually sounds like quite good fun with a decent range of mission-types and themes offering some varied levels and backdrops. In reality, however, it turns out to be a run-of-the-mill, entry-level platform experience that lacks excitement or immersion and fails to capitalise on its core theme: the Muppets! In fact, you could remove them entirely from the game, replacing them with any generic bunch of characters, and still have exactly the same experience.
Gameplay consists largely of platform-hopping, avoiding obstacles by timing jumps correctly and dispatching the bad guys with the likes of a laser gun and tomato catapult. The highlight comes from some lovely-looking backdrops with the likes of a haunted mansion and towering castle giving each mission its own unique flavour, with added depth coming from the ability to access multiple planes.
However, the move-set is limited with players mainly using three buttons throughout to jump, melee attack and fire. With gameplay consisting of tried-and-trusted platforming mechanics, such as flicking switches and activating mechanisms to open doors, the lack of new ideas makes progress a boringly familiar affair; though children new to platforming should at least find it easy enough to follow the basic rules of platforming.
Later on, players get access to a pair of boost boots that allows them to get to otherwise unreachable areas, but that’s really about as exciting as the move-set gets with a platforming-by-numbers approach that will probably only appeal to those who have never played a platform game before.
Where The Muppets Movie Adventures dares to be a little different is with the use of Vita’s unique features. Players can use the front touchscreen and rear touchpad to interact with some objects, such as rotating a wheel to bring down a platform or tapping a TNT barrel to make it explode. However, ideas are also lacking in this department and instances of interaction are few and far between, or repeated too often. Aside from a decent mini-game that requires players to connect matching runes by dragging their fingers across the screen, players are simply going through the motions.
Level design is a mixed bag too with the likes of the Wild West backdrop providing some entertainment while battling across a moving train, but other levels can be frustrating to navigate. The Black Tower, for instance, features too many doors that you have to pass through in order to progress (which ends up being disorientating), while the space-based mission requires players to backtrack over trodden ground to search for items to progress. Exploration should be fun, but some bland level design makes it all a little frustrating, especially when you fall to your death for the umpteenth time because poorly implemented camera angles ensure that it’s too hard to judge a jump.
Along the way, there’s stars and cinema reels to collect that unlock extras in the main menu, and there’s replay value to be had from unlocking new abilities such as the booster boots so you can go back and collect stars that you previously couldn’t reach. However, the missions just aren’t immersive or exciting enough to warrant a replay.
Boss battles at the end of each level prove to be one of the few sequences worth waiting for with some entertaining fights that some children may find challenging, but each mission is soon swiftly over and forgotten about before you’re onto the next one.
Indeed, each mission is disappointingly short, around 30 minutes in total (2-3 hours if you don’t replay levels). Though we were more than happy that we didn’t have to play for more than we had to, younger children may get something extra out of finding all the stars and picking up all the collectables; although the lack of fun to be had while doing this as you retrace those same frustrating steps will probably mean those people are few and far between.
Overall, Muppets The Movie Adventures feels like a half-hearted effort that lacks ideas and a clever execution. The fact that the Muppets are in it is neither here nor there as they don’t speak at all and the humour that we’d expect from the motley crew simply doesn’t exist. Despite some nice backdrops and decent boss battles, this entry-level platformer is as hapless as Beaker on a bad day. If this does happen to be your first ever platformer, please don’t be put off by the genre; it does get much better.