Ah, the poor licensed platformer, what a troubled history you've had. Long have you tried to capture the magic of the movie or show you represented, and long have you failed. Yes, hardware comes and goes, but it seems that mediocrity is forever. Never is this more obvious than with Activision's Over the Hedge, a family-orientated romp based on the movie of the same name. It tries to live up to modern gaming standards almost has hard as the animals in it strive to adapt to suburbia, but as most titles in the genre do, it comes up decidedly short.
I've learned to be more objective when it comes to games like this. After all, its target demographic still thinks it's funny to shoot milk out of its nose, so there's no point in looking for profound innovation here. Make no mistake, Over the Hedge does what it initially sets out to do: entertain the kids, but the tragedy here is that there's potential for so much more, potential that the developers sadly missed out on.
Take the presentation, for example. I'm not expecting the actual stars of the film to lend their talents, but the actors used could have been a lot better. There are some instances where you'd swear it was really Bruce Willis talking, only to be bitterly reminded later that it is indeed a stand-in doing the part; it's just that inconsistent. The CG cut scenes are a bit better, but the overall package just reeks of tie-in, like the kind of toys you'd get with your Happy Meal: not what you wanted but better than nothing at all.
Sadly, the gameplay follows this routine to a tee. As any one of the stars of the film, you run around suburbia solving simple puzzles and collecting useless items – standard licensed platforming fare. What's really disappointing about it all – aside from the sheer tedium that sets in after a few hours – is the inclusion of a second character that tags along with you. Now, logic would tell you that since this is a game aimed at kids, it'd be only natural to let a second player control the sidekick. No so, my friends. The computer does the honors, so little brothers and sisters are instead going to have to sit idly by and wait their turn.
The lack of a maneuverable camera is another problem. Perhaps younger players won't mind the lack of freedom, but older gamers will find it highly irritating. This is especially annoying given the sheer size of the environments. There are plenty of areas to explore and search for DVD icons (used to unlock goodies like movie clips), and not being able to view them as you'd like tends to detract from what is actually some nice level design.
All of this, combined with the sparsely populated levels and questionable enemies, leads to the tired ho-hum experience we've come to expect from licensed games. Though the target age group will find enjoyment for a few hours, and the mini games and unlockables are entertaining for a while, anyone more seasoned should find something else to satiate their platforming needs.