It’s school holidays time in the UK and mixed in amongst the various summer blockbuster movies at the cinema are the multiple kid’s movies. The Smurfs 2 is one such animated gem and time-honoured tradition dictates that it brings with it a movie tie-in computer game. Ubisoft are the publishers of this year’s offering and WayForward are the ones tasked with bringing to life the various Smurfs, Smurfette and their enemies, led by Gargamel. WayForward are no strangers to licensed and animated platformers having produced Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem and Happy Feet Two: The Video Game in the past. Despite this experience what we have here is a limited game which was probably rushed to match the film’s release date and not something that WayForward will look back on as a foundational experience for future success.
The story such as it is takes its cues from the film but then goes off on tangents, presumably to try and make it a more enjoyable interactive experience. For those who don’t know, Smurfette is the only female Smurf in the entire village. Her birthday is coming up and every single male Smurf is looking to make a cake, organise the party and find the right present to ensure her special day is the wholly enjoyable experience it should be. In all this effort leading up to the anniversary of her birth something inevitably goes wrong. What actually goes wrong is that Smurfette disappears. As you can imagine this worries all the Smurfs quite a bit. So much so in fact that we get to witness this horror and panicky mayhem in slideshow format. It seems that WayForward had neither the time nor the inclination (or budget) to create any animated cutscenes to link section to section or tell the story. Obviously putting in static images similar to those available in books is really going to entertain kids with a sugar rush every day. Anyway, so begins the story. As you begin your quest you learn that various animals in the surrounding areas of Smurf village have been enchanted by Gargamel; your task is to progress through each linear level freeing as many of the animals as you can from the evil man’s spell and in so doing continue your pursuance of Smurfette and Gargamel’s Naughties in an effort to save her and make everything rosy.
The first choice the player has is which Smurf to pick for your first go at the game. You have the option of three or four to begin with, be it Grumpy or Clumsy or whichever floats your boat. On choosing you’re brought into a map area which is fundamentally Smurf village and its surrounding geography. You see a flashing portal to the Enchanted Forest, say, and go to enter it. At this point you’re shown a screen with five levels, only the first of which is accessible (and the last of which is a boss fight). Complete this and the others in the same area in order to help free the animals and to further your search for Smurfette. Rather irritatingly when you start a level the game asks you to choose a Smurf again. The first pick was just to walk to the portal in the map area. Irritating the first time, utterly and unforgivably annoying the twenty-first. Anyway, once you actually enter the level after picking your desired Smurf again, you get to go through a typically linear level with a few hidden areas and a couple of bits which can only be done with a particular Smurf. The levels are truly linear and really quite straightforward. Yes this is a game designed for children but it is unlikely that even the youngest players would struggle at all. The lack of organic challenge is exacerbated by the inclusion of the health system which is very similar to that of Sonic and the rings he collects. In this case you replace the rings with berries and you otherwise have the exact same mechanic. Even when you do actually run out of berries and get hit again - therefore actually dying - it is not a problem because your replacement life starts in the same place allowing you to carry on unimpeded. Whilst this might be helpful to really young gamers, to anyone with a little bit of experience it’s going to make things very boring very quickly. The fact there is no challenge isn’t the only reason why the game gets very boring very quickly however. The level design is incredibly generic and basic. You have some low platforms and some high platforms; some hidden platforms too.
There is some inbuilt replayability in the game. Each Smurf has a unique skill. One of them can ground pound, and another of them can throw weapons for example. As you play a level and find gold coins you can use these to unlock various new playable characters with different skills. By picking the right character and replaying a level there are certain parts which can be opened up only by using that particular character’s skill set. Whilst it’s nice to have an inclusion like this to encourage playing through levels a second time the fact remains that nobody would actually want to - in fact getting through the game in the first place would merit serious celebration for any gamer as there is not enough joy on offer here to maintain engagement for more than a few levels.
The actual platforming feels okay. The Smurfs move as expected in a fairly responsive manner. Things are more natural than they are when playing LittleBigPlanet but don’t ever capture the glorious heights of any Mario game. The movement is depressingly slow however and this leads to frustration very quickly. There is no run button. Given the linearity and generic design of the levels coupled with the low level challenge this slow movement is the icing on the top of a pretty stale cake. Thinking back to the launch of Super Mario Bros. on the NES in 1985 it is difficult to understand why this low speed of movement would be purposefully built into the game as the children who played that classic of the genre thirty years ago were able to cope quite happily with a much faster moving character one of the very first times they’ll have ever tried this genre. It frankly smacks of rushed game design - again - and a lack of forethought, presumably driven by the associated lack of time afforded to WayForward in this game’s development.
So what we have here is a failure to entertain at the most basic level even for the newest of gamers. What is on show looks okay graphically but it doesn’t match the early Wii U HD visual quality pacesetters such as New Super Mario Bros. U and although it’s nice to be able to play on the GamePad alone (what’s onscreen is always what’s on the pad) it’s just too little of anything good to warrant any kind of recommendation here. Even if you are actually a fan of the blue creatures, or have a child who is, buying this will not provide one ounce of pleasure for even a slight period of time.