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June 29, 2006

REVIEW: Finding Nemo

"Very pretty, Colonel. Very pretty. But can they fight?"

Now I realize that some whippersnappers out there still haven't seen Animal House (for shame!), and I'm taking an even bigger chance in referring to a movie from before I was born, but the above line, from The Dirty Dozen (1967), fits too well here for me not to use it. You'll see how in a bit.

Several reviews ago, I wrote that as big a fan as my kids and I are of SCEA's work, we were disappointed by My Street.

Similarly, as big a fan as my kids and I are of Finding Nemo the movie (and of Pixar's work in general), we were disappointed by Finding Nemo the video game.

Along with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom and Sly 2: Band of Thieves, Finding Nemo was one of the very first console games my kids and I played together (or more accurately, I played while they watched).

But where SpongeBob and Sly Cooper ignited their nascent love for video games, Nemo tried his best to extinguish it. Bastard.

In a nutshell, the game is very pretty, but it can't "fight" worth a damn (See what I did there? Hello? Is this thing on?). Put less confusingly, Finding Nemo looks beautiful; it just doesn't play all that well, which is reminiscent of another ichthyologically-themed game I reviewed - Finny the Fish and the Seven Waters.

In both games, attractive undersea visuals are dragged down by subpar gameplay. But while Finny's failing was poor controls and cameras, Nemo's major problem lies in the game design. While Finny tries and fails, for Nemo, there's just no there there, most of the budget having likely gone to secure the license from Pixar.

The entire game; frustrating, tedious mission after frustrating, tedious mission, is played on rails, which is always a disappointment for kids who like to explore their surroundings.

What kind of missions are there? Well, let's see, now...

...There's the on-rails side-scrolling mission where you have to keep backtracking to pick up colored rocks and deposit in the matching collection area...

...There's the on-rails side-scrolling mission where you have to traverse a series of undersea caverns...

...There's the mission where you have to swim through hoops, not to be confused with the other mission where you have to swim through hoops...

...And who can forget the mission where you're swimming toward the camera, so you don't have time to align yourself with the quickly-appearing hoops you have to swim through?

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with side-scrollers. I've enjoyed many a side-scroller in my day, sonny. The difference here is that Finding Nemo purports to be a 3D game, and it is anything but. It's just a big tease.

Some of the missions follow the movie script closely, and others less so, but in the end, none of it really matters. My kids loved Finding Nemo the movie, and were so ready to love Finding Nemo the game. But even with that strong a tailwind, the game couldn't deliver.

Finding Nemo was released three years ago, so by now, it can be had for less than $20, but you should save your cash, hard-earned or otherwise, for the many better kids' games out there.


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