Curious George PS2 Review
Having finished art college over three years ago I don’t tend to spend a lot of time these days watching children’s TV, so Curious George is a character I wasn’t too familiar with, some minutes later on Google however and I’ve managed to ascertain that George is a charming little chimp who scamps about in a generally mischievous manner. After watching a trailer for the movie this game ties into it seems that George’s curious nature relates rather strongly to finding tins of paint and then going on colourful graffiti benders like a maniac: think Banksy but well less political agenda and more bananas. Based on this, I was rather excited- imagining bounding around like the lovechild of the Prince of Persia tagging walls Jet Set Radio style…
Of course you don’t get to do all that- It’s sadly just a rather average platform game.
Now obviously it’s aimed at very young children, and our protagonist is a lovely little character- cheeky and happy and full of spunk, and the character model and animations for the most part tend to do an admirable job of translating the cartoon monkey into a playable character. Graphically however the environment design is very hit and miss, basic textures and chunky object models not reflecting the beautifully drawn world seen in the film very well. This is particularly evident in the first level of the game which is based in the jungle, which reminded me rather a lot of the Tarzan level in Kingdom Hearts. Now, for anyone who hasn’t played Kingdom Hearts- this isn’t a good thing.
The control system is rather clunky, jumping around is uncomfortable and the double jump function seems very odd- if you don’t execute the second jump almost immediately after the first then you simply can’t use it. Because of this I found myself falling to my death repeatedly during very early sections of the game, and an early frogger-style platforming section involving jumping along the heads of people moving through a village I found incredibly frustrating. Thankfully the loading times aren’t too bad at all, and they seem to have decided to take lives out of the equation as many other popular kids games have, arguably though this may have been a necessity. Having died 9 times on the first level I probably would’ve had difficulty keeping myself sane should the game have been punishing me with GAME OVER screens. The difficulty of some parts of this game seem very out of place and inexcusably linked to a pretty broken physics engine, especially considering the fact that a narrative voice holds your hand very firmly right from the start of the game telling you exactly what to do next. At the same time however the dodgy engine often makes some parts of the game easier than they’re supposed to be, letting you stand on ledges that clearly weren’t meant to be platforms.
Once you get used to the slightly sloppy controls though, it’s not TOO bad- my only really major complaint being that they’ve taken a lot of really fun stuff and somehow made it seem like the game’s on autopilot, actions like swinging on vines and ropes are completely uncontrolled; the direction, and amount of swing being constantly controlled by the game, and even sections where you slide down slippery slopes are completely on rails. It’s an odd mix of gameplay, taking away aspects which perhaps were deemed to be too challenging for the younger player but keeping the rather tricky platforming sections; many platforms for reasons inexplicable to me don’t show George’s shadow when above them, which naturally makes trying to land in the right place a bit hit and miss at times.
Whilst much of the level design is rather cute in a simplistic kind of way, it still looks too much like an N64 game for my liking; I’m no graphics whore but much of the design just seems incredibly lazy- particularly of note is another frogger style section involving jumping along cars, on the first run through it’s not notably too bad but it’s in sections such as this where you’ll be dying and playing the section again and again that the graphics, much like the gameplay, really start to become noticeably bad.
Simple versions of various rhythm-based mini games pop up occasionally, doing a fair job of filling up time between the platforming sections. They’re very easy indeed of course, but that can hardly be faulted too much- it IS a game for kids after all… Although it has to be said that the mini games are overstretched and take far too long to complete, some of the mini games are so bad all round that they verge on being fairly surreal; the balloon bursting game in particular having such a strange combination of graphics and sound that it reminded me rather a lot of something out of Warioware. Focussing on the sound it’s a mixed bag, some of the background tunes reminding me rather of Monkey Island and Banjo Kazooie, other tracks being some of the strangest game music I’ve ever heard…
Now from what I’ve said so far you’ll have got the impression that it’s an utterly awful game, and by all accounts it really IS a terribly made platform game…
But the fact is, it’s rather a lot of fun.
Sure, it’s over-simplistic, slow, the difficulty spikes are hugely noticeable, the voice acting is awful, the graphics and level design are mostly dire- but I still found myself playing it till half four in the morning. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is about the game that makes it entertaining- perhaps it’s simply the fact that running about being a monkey is a lot of fun all by itself, regardless of how poorly the game itself is put together: Jumping about collecting bananas, crawling through air vents like the monkey counterpart of solid snake, it’s not a blast to play, but it’s certainly good fun. It’s not worth picking up full price as a standalone children’s game, the fun quickly wearing thin after a while, but it’s definitely worth a rental.
Chances are, if you’ve got children who love Curious George then they’re probably going to want this game regardless of how good it is, and I think a fan of the character could squeeze a lot of enjoyment out of this game. Just bear in mind that to buy this game for a five year old and leave them to get on with it would be sadistic, to put it bluntly. It’s a game that you’ll want to be on standby to help out with, because they might find some parts of the game very frustrating indeed. But don’t despair, it’s unintentionally a gem of a game to watch as an adult- some of the quotes the game comes out with being absolute corkers; my particular favourite so far coming from the calm female voice which guides you through the game: “Good Job! Now Perform For The Next Group Of Children.” I’m sure it’s not supposed to be, but it’s pretty damn funny.
Curious George is one of those games that completely confuses the hell out of me. By all accounts it’s a very poor game, but one with enough charm and fun to draw me in so much that I really enjoyed playing it despite all its faults. Not worth full retail by any means, but I’m sure it’ll happily entertain young children through a rainy weekend, and for very young fans of the cheeky chimp it’ll probably be much loved.
Flawed and repetitive, but charming.