Insert rodent pun.
Most of us have played licensed games that gloss over the finer points of a movie's plot or leave out a few minor characters. THQ's Ratatouille for Wii takes license hacking to a whole new level, though. They have taken one of the best movies of 2007, full of charm and wonder for all ages (perhaps adults more than children, even), and in adapting it to video game form have not merely failed to evoke those qualities, they have not even managed to remotely capture the theme of the movie or even provide an accurate summary of the story. If you played Ratatouille the game before seeing Ratatouille the movie, you'd have a very hard time believing all the praise that critics and fans have been heaping upon the film. There's a word for this game, and the word is "travesty". Please allow me a brief comparison:
In the movie, Remy the rat has an unusually well developed sense of taste and smell, and after somehow learning to read, he becomes obsessed with cooking and gourmet food. A disaster separates Remy from his family and sweeps him into Paris, where he meets a clumsy young chef named Linguine and helps this human friend learn to cook and eventually win over Anton Ego, the dreaded restaurant critic. Along the way, Remy finds his family and teaches them how to share food with humans rather than steal it all the time.
In the game, Remy is immediately reunited with his family after a brief separation. They all live together in a colony in the sewers of Paris. Remy briefly meets Linguine, but only long enough to help him make a soup. Each level in the game is a convoluted heist sequence in which Remy helps his fellow rats to steal food from the humans. Anton Ego, the main villain of the movie, does not appear nor is even mentioned by name in the game.
It's like the developers were given a one-minute description of the movie's premise and told to make up everything else from there. Lest you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, imagine if someone made a Star Wars game in which Luke left the farm only to spend the rest of his life getting drunk in Mos Eisley, with a brief cameo by Han Solo and absolutely no mention of Darth Vader. The Ratatouille game is really that far off the mark. It has ruined my memory of the film so much that I may have to go see it again just to make things right with the world. Maybe it's all an intentional, evil marketing strategy to drive more ticket sales.
If you can pretend the game isn't based on a beloved movie (which sort of defeats the purpose of the license, eh?), the gameplay and production values are modest but not as bad as the ruinous story. The game design takes advantage of Remy's small size and low viewpoint to construct enormous levels out of what would seem to us humans like ordinary locations. His climbing skills are put to the test by the missions, which will have him scampering all over the walls, under furniture, across wires and clotheslines, etc. Along the way, you'll find hundreds of little things to collect, most of which do nothing but give you more points to unlock bonus content of questionable value. In other words, Ratatouille plays like a crappier version of Chibi-Robo. Remy doesn't have a battery to worry about, but he does have to avoid humans in the game's many terrible stealth sequences.
The mission structure is highly flawed. Since each level is one big food robbery, there are dozens of small tasks required to make it all come together. Get up there, flip that switch, etc. Your rat friends will take turns telling you what to do next, which means you'll watch a very fast camera flyby of your route, not unlike the modern Prince of Persia games. But these visual instructions are given in much too large chunks, and they often refer to areas on the far side of a gigantic environment. By the time you're halfway there, you no longer have any idea where you're supposed to go. The game clumsily addresses this problem with the sniffing feature, which can be used at any time to show Remy exactly the trail he needs to follow in order to advance the mission. You'll have to lean on this crutch very frequently, which is all the more annoying because it tends to screw up the game camera so that you can't even see the trail because you're looking at a wall or up Remy's butt.
Of course, since this is a third-party Wii title, there are also mini-games. About half of them take place in the restaurant kitchen, where Remy must help Linguine prepare various dishes via motion-controlled gestures. This is where Ratatouille should shine as a Wii game, because these scenes in the movie actually look just like the rat is controlling the human with Wii-style gesturing. Sadly, the game completely misses the physical comedy here, and instead of using the remote and nunchuk to maneuver Linguine's arms, you mostly use the pointer to click on the next ingredient for his soup or salad. Where's the ingenuity in that? Most of the mini-games are at least decent, but they all go on for far too long. These are like Wario Ware activities stretched out for two minutes, which doesn't work at all.
At the end of each level, Remy has successfully manipulated the kitchen to allow his fellow rats to sneak in, steal a load of food, and sneak out. However, the head chef always spots Remy at the last second, and thus begins a challenging escape sequence. The chases have you running towards the screen and avoiding obstacles while the mean little chef (whose conflict with Linguine and real motivation for chasing Remy are not explained…but I digress) frantically follows, knocking over everything in your wake. These chases are very impressive from a visual standpoint – they look like cut-scenes yet are completely under your control – but like the mini-games, they are repetitive and much too long. When you finally do get away, Remy will slide down a pipe to return to the sewer colony. These pipe sequences are very much like the slide levels in Super Mario 64… sounds good, right? But like everything else in this game, they are just incredibly long, and you will be bored long before reaching the bottom.
Like most multiplatform games on Wii, Ratatouille looks exactly like a PS2 game, but relative to what's out there on Wii, the graphics are decent. Many of the original voice actors contribute lines; it's a shame that the writing doesn't take advantage of that fact. One thing that really amazed me is that some of the coolest action scenes in the movie, which should have translated into very exciting bits of gameplay, are simply displayed as cut-scenes. This goes for the rats' escape from their original home, as well as Remy's harrowing first visit to the restaurant kitchen. All of the game's cut-scenes are highly compressed FMV footage of in-engine visuals; in other words, they look worse than the game itself!
We all know that people buy movie-licensed games to remind themselves of what they enjoyed about the movie, and thus they tend to forgive many flaws in the game itself. Ratatouille is not really much different in gameplay than most other movie-licensed games; in fact, it may be a bit better since it mooches off an obscure and great source material, Chibi-Robo. But the main reason people buy such games doesn't apply to Ratatouille, because it has almost nothing to do with the movie. Worse, it blatantly misrepresents the main characters and core themes of the film. So, I really can't recommend it to fans of the latest Pixar classic, and it's certainly not very noteworthy on its own merits, so I can't recommend it to any general gaming audience either. You'd do much, much better to go track down a cheap copy of Chibi-Robo, which will run quite nicely on your Wii.