From love-struck ogres to domesticated dragons, Dreamworks Animation knows a thing or two about creating memorable characters popular with film fans of all ages. Of course, they also know a thing or two about squeezing as much money as possible from their beloved franchises. From school stationery to action figures, the merchandising possibilities are endless and the video game market has become the prime target for parting parents from their hard-earned cash. Occasionally, developers are given some creative freedom and recently, this has spawned titles such as Skylanders, Moshi Monsters and Disney’s Infinity. However, creativity can go the other way and Dreamworks’ latest movie tie-in seems to completely disregard the ideas and themes set out by its silver screen counterpart.
For those who aren’t familiar with the film, Turbo tells the story of a chipper little garden snail whose dreams of one day racing in the Indy 500 are quickly quashed due to the fact that he’s a member of perhaps the slowest breed on the planet. After getting sucked into a car supercharger, his DNA is infused with nitrous oxide and upon realising he can put the GO in escargot, his fantasy becomes a reality as he earns a place in the starting blocks of the Indy 500. Perhaps not the strongest gag on offer, but one that seems to have surprisingly helped it earn first place at the box office recently.
So what do you do with a game inspired by racing snails? Cue the inevitable Mario Kart clone that will take pole position at the top of kiddies’ Christmas lists and ride the slipstream created by its cinematic cousin. Beating lap times and competing against your friends would be an ideal introduction into the world of the racing game, aimed at a market that perhaps aren’t quite ready to pimp their rides or feel the overwhelming need for speed. Except that’s not what happened with Turbo: Super Stunt Squad.
For those who haven’t quite figured out the premise of the game from the title, Turbo: Super Stunt Squad is a game more preoccupied with performing stunts and tricks than it is with finding pole position amongst other child-friendly racers. In fact, to say the game is inspired by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater would be an understatement, as its template is nothing but a sub-par clone of the world’s most recognisable skateboarding game series.
Unfortunately, even if you take it for what it is, Turbo: Super Stunt Squad doesn’t quite have the same fun factor as the games that inspired it. Each of the game’s six – yes, count ‘em, six – levels consists of around fifteen challenges, each more frustrating than the last. Collecting letters to spell out the word T-U-R-B-O (instead of S-K-A-T-E) or hitting allocated high scores are some of the easier challenges, while jumping large gaps or finding some of the level specific collectibles are much more difficult, making even this movie tie-in one of the most frustrating kids’ games to exist in this generation of consoles.
For a game about speedy snails, the characters are unrelentingly slow during each of the game’s three-minute long levels. Pools of glowing slime are tactfully dotted around the levels to help you hit those hard to reach targets, but if you don’t hit them at the right angle, you’ll end up crashing into the wall at lightning pace. There is another trick up Turbo’s shell, in the form of a power boost which can be accumulated by performing tricks around the level. In theory this should bring the game to life, but generally charging your gauge and aligning yourself correctly takes up more time than it should, especially when you’re up against the clock.
What the game lacks in its learning curve, it lacks even further with its presentation. The character models live up to their on-screen personas in image and sound, but their skill range is limited to basic flips, spin, grabs and jumps. There’s no flair or any of the X-Sport dynamics that are associated with the skateboarding scene. It may be a little strange to see a snail use its shell as some sort of trick device but the slippery nature of the creatures could have extended into making these characters a little livelier in their video game incarnations. The same goes for the level designs, even if you are viewing them from the perspective of a snail. Not particularly striking and generally rather dull, even the themed objects look blocky and dull which is rare these days for any console game.
Don’t worry if you haven’t seen the film; judging by this title it appears that the developers haven’t either. Abandoning the safe confines of the film’s shell, this snail-boarder is a wasted opportunity, even as a spin-off piece of merchandise. Limited gameplay, dull graphics and the odd inclusion to have snails sound like throbbing engines have turned what could have been a mediocre kids’ franchise into perhaps one of the most poorly executed cash cows in recent history. This Christmas, Dreamworks’ latest cutesy character may be a racing snail, but he’s facing off against the multi-generational humour of the Lego series and the collectible swap ‘em culture of Skylanders. Even if the film did do surprisingly well at the box office, you’ll easily spot the slug trails that accompany Turbo: Super Stunt Squad as it crawls its way into the bargain bin.