Night at the Museum 2 Xbox 360 Review
Ben Stiller’s a strange one. One minute he’s breaking new ground in the realms of comedy with the likes of The Royal Tenenbaums, Zoolander and Tropic Thunder, the next he’s making The Heartbreak Kid and showing up in music videos for Travis. And then he’ll appear in something like Night at the Museum, an inoffensive, family-centric comedy-adventure that manages to bridge the gap between generations, without really raising the bar for the genre. Unsurprisingly the same goes for its sequel, with even less emphasis on plot and more focus on bringing as much stuff to life as is possible with a team of Hollywood CG artists. Given the circumstances it would be fair to assume that the video game based on said sequel is as much an attempt at an easy franchise cash-in as the film itself; sadly, that isn’t too far from the truth. We already knew that, though. The idea of a video game based on a 20th Century Fox property being anything other than a means to a hefty bonus for the execs is absurd, which is why Night at the Museum 2: The Video Game comes as quite a surprise.
Taking the form of a basic 3D puzzle-platformer, NATM2 has players taking control of Larry Daley (voiced by Stiller himself), as he makes his way through several well-known US museums piecing together the ancient tablet introduced in the first film, in order to stop the evil Kahmunrah from raising the armies of the dead. It is baffling. Still, despite not making sense to anyone over the age of ten, the game’s premise does allow for some interesting ideas. Larry – being an ex-security guard – has access to his trusty keychain and flashlight, which can be combined with the powers of the ancient tablet to produce a variety of special abilities. The keychain, accessed via the left trigger, can be spun to deflect projectiles, used to swing across gaps, or fired off like a grappling hook to grab hard to reach items and climb high platforms. The flashlight – over on the right trigger – has a variety of abilities, each one governed by a different ingot from the tablet . For example, the animal ingot allows Larry to control whatever animal he shines the flashlight on, while the mechanism ingot powers mechanical objects, such as automatic doors and aeroplanes.
There’s plenty of room for a multitude of clever puzzles and interesting platforming based on these two aspects alone, unfortunately they’re never pushed any further than the bare minimum. It’s understandable that NATM 2’s target audience is based at the younger end of the spectrum, but in focusing on this group alone, developer Pipeworks misses some brilliant opportunities. Given the settings and the abilities brought about by the flashlight and keychain combo, NATM 2 would’ve made a superb semi-point-and-click adventure with platforming thrown in for good measure. Instead, the supposed ‘puzzles’ amount to little more than going to wherever the onscreen prompt suggests and either hitting the X button, or using the one of the flashlight’s many abilities. As though this wasn’t easy enough, selecting the correct power to use with the flashlight isn’t even a requirement, as the main ingot will automatically select whatever power is required for each context sensitive situation. This bizarre inclusion removes any remaining challenge, resulting in a game that holds the player’s hand from start to finish.
That’s not to say that the experience isn’t an enjoyable one. There are times when NATM 2 manages to surprise, such as a side on platforming section that takes place inside a vending machine, played as the miniature Roman soldier Octavius (not voiced by Steve Coogan, sadly). There’s also a couple of scenarios that make use of the flashlight’s abilities that would have made excellent puzzles had the answer not been immediately given away by the game’s hint system. To continue the positivity, the museums in general are quite nice to wander around and observe. Each one has been created with a level of detail that is often absent from the typical movie tie-in. The National Air and Space museum is especially impressive, with all manner of aircraft littering the large hallways, each one a decent representative of its historical counterpart. To add to this, there are an abundance of audio guides that can be activated, that provide all sorts of interesting educational facts. Little touches like this give the impression that had Pipeworks not been forced to finish the game in time for the film’s release, it could have developed into something great.
As it is, Night at the Museum 2 suffers on too many levels for it to be considered a worthy stand-alone video game. The lack of challenge is its main downfall, and that’s taking into consideration its young target demographic. The game’s length is its second, easily taking less than four hours to complete with all one thousand gamer points accounted for. Of course, that was by a 24 year old with a massive brain, so it’s likely a child would take a bit longer to collect absolutely everything, but there wouldn’t be much in it. There’s also little replay value once all the collectibles have been discovered, and although a couple of mini-games and a general knowledge quiz can be found in the ‘Extras’ menu, they seem to be mere afterthoughts.
Despite all of this however, there’s no doubt that Night at the Museum 2 will satisfy the needs of the younger fans of the two films. It’s a competently-built game that sticks close to the plot of the film. It has dinosaurs, giant squids, cowboys, and aeroplanes and, most importantly, a farting monkey in a space suit. Given the usual crap that’s wheeled out to please the kids each time a new movie is launched, Night at the Museum 2 is a breath of fresh air. It’s by no means brilliant and it’s far too short, but it still manages to provide some interesting and amusing ideas that set it above the rest of the movie tie-in crowd.