The last time I hunkered down with an Ice Age game was back in 2009 with “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs”. At the time I considered the Xbox 360 version of the game to be a decent, albeit average, game for its target audience. The gameplay was varied enough to keep things interesting and the multiplayer modes were entertaining. Fast forward three years later and Activision has recently released Ice Age: Continental Drift – Arctic Games, a Kinect only title, just in time to capitalize on the big screen movie release. Over the past few days I had a chance to put Artic Games through its paces and after some extended playtime I have to say this is one of the more disappointing movie tie-in games I have played in recent memory.
When you first fire up Artic Games, you are greeted with a clean little menu that gives you the option of jumping into the story mode, free play mode, or play a tournament. Without wasting anytime I fired up the story mode and I was introduced to a surprisingly dated looking cut-scene where Sid, Manny and the rest of the gang come trudging out on the screen bantering away with one another. Eventually they run into another group of misfits, the animal Pirates. After some more banter between our heroes and the Pirates, they end up at odds over a hidden treasure trove. Unable to determine which group should get the treasure, Manny and the gang square off with the Pirates in an assortment of 10-artic games with the winner getting the prehistoric plunder. That is the story in a nutshell and although I have not seen the movie, I am told the game storyline does not mirror that of the movie. When you consider Artic Games is a Kinect game, I was still happy to get any kind of storyline at all.
Once you get past that initial bland looking cut-scene you are ready to compete, but before you do you must pick a side, Manny’s Herd or Captain Gutt’s Pirate Crew, to play on. Before you go reaching towards your controller I should warn you, this game requires the use of the Kinect. So if you are hoping to sit back, relax and use your controller, well think again.
The events themselves play out like many other motion control mini-games already on the Kinect. You will be ducking, squatting, swinging your arms, leaning left, leaning right, hopping, running in one spot and doing pretty much anything else that you have done in other more polished Kinect games. The Artic Games events are comprised of such events like the “Shell Slide”, where you slide turtle shells down a make shift curling rink; the “Mountain Drift”, where you will be skiing downhill doing everything you can to ski through the targets; the “Coconut Slinger”, which is all about launching some coconuts from a giant sling shot towards the targets; and the “Style Jump”, a game where you will launch from a giant Ski jump performing all sorts of stylish moves. There are 6-other games, for a total of 10. All of the included games are short and if the Kinect is detecting your motions, as it should, you should be able to breeze through the games with ease. Despite not being the most original mini-games I have played on the Kinect, I was fairly satisfied with the amount of variety from one game to another. Younger gamers should find the games relatively easy to play, but that being said, far too often I experienced frustrating moments and at the end of the day I cannot help but struggle to find many redeeming qualities with the game.
For starters, the story mode is incredibly short. I found myself plunging through the entire story mode where I rattled off Xbox Achievement after Xbox Achievement in just about an hour. I was simply stunned when the game came to end and I wondered if I had missed something. In this day in age, a 1-hour story mode is simply not acceptable. Perhaps if Artic Games was an Xbox Live Arcade game, but even then I am not so convinced gamers as a whole and Ice Age fans alike would embrace it.
Another issue I had was with the motion controls. Some of the games work incredibly well and the responsiveness of the Kinect sensor was pretty good; however, during other games, such as “Glacier Hopping,” I found myself not only drenched in sweat but acting like a maniac swearing at the TV as my movements were not detected as they should. Navigating Diego across glaciers and platforms was one of the most frustrating Kinect experiences I have had to date as the sensor failed to register my jumping actions. Likewise, I experienced similar issues in the “Prehistoric Plumber” game where Scrat has to plug holes in order to prevent water leaks. I would have my arms stretched out all over the living room as I attempted to plug those virtual leaks, but alas the Kinect let me down. Finicky and inconsistent are just a couple of words I would use to describe my experience.
Another issue I had with the game was the lack of in-game instruction or any hands-on tutorial prior to or during the game. I found the instructions that are presented during the loading screens were vague at the best of times. Often I would jump into a game and wonder what I had to do to perform certain functions. Fortunately the instruction booklet has some directions but I don’t know many young kids who would pick up on that and likewise I often found myself wishing the game would give me some quick in-game tips.
In terms of replay value, Artic Games features a free play mode where you can go back and play any one of the 10-games and compete against your on the leaderboards. Again, there is nothing incredibly innovative here other than vying for bragging rights. There is also a tournament mode where you can compete against a friend in a hot seat competition. Yet again this involves playing through the existing events and offers nothing new. I can see kids having fun with this, but not for an extended time as 10 events is not a lot.
As far as the graphics are concerned, Artic Games presents as a bit of a ‘mixed bag’. On one hand the developers did a decent job with games characters. Scrat, Sid, Manny, Diego, and the rest of the crew are all easily recognizable. They look fairly close to their big screen counterparts and their movements seemed life like, well as life like as these fantasy characters can be. On the other hand the game’s environments lack detail and come across as very last generation looking. Likewise the games cut-scenes come across as dated and are almost Wii quality (e.g. standard definition). Bottomline, Artic Games is sub-par in the visuals department and may very well disappoint those mature gamers who have played through some visually superior games; however, the young ones likely won’t care or gripe about the games overall look but I am sure that there will be some who will wonder why it does not look as good as the movie.
As far as the sound is concerned, Arctic Games is decent but it is not the best we have heard as far as movie tie-in games are concerned. The game features the authentic voice actors from the movie and they do a great job offering up a level of authenticity. As for the game’s soundtrack it is solid but somewhat forgettable. Essentially, it is your typical dynamic paced action movie based soundtrack that features tunes we have all heard before. Finally, the games sound effects manage to do the job but they are not that memorable.
Overall, Ice Age: Continental Drift – Arctic Games for the Kinect is one of those games that is best left on retail store shelves. It will inevitably disappoint even Ice Age’s most loyal target audience. Sure your child may get an hour of two of cheap thrills, but simply put there are far better family oriented Kinect games already on the market that offer much more content, replay value, and are simply much more polished. When you consider the game’s $40.00 dollar price tag, Ice Age: Continental Drift – Arctic Games stands as a title you really should avoid.