High production values can’t hide an incredibly short lifespan.
Monsters vs. Aliens is based on the Dreamworks movie that’s currently in theaters. The fact that it’s a licensed game should give you pause, but as it turns out the license is used very well, production values are very high, and the game is genuinely fun to play. What’s unfortunate is that Monsters vs. Aliens is also ridiculously short—I beat the game in less than two hours, and there’s virtually no point in replaying any portion of the game after that.
The story involves an evil alien, Gallaxhar, coming to Earth to fetch his missing Quantonium, which he intends to use to build an army of clones and take over the universe. His robotic forces are immune to terran attack, so the government gets their best, um, monsters together to take out the alien threat: B.O.B., a shape-shifting blob; Missing Link, a fishman straight out of the Black Lagoon; Dr. Cockroach, a brilliant lab-coat-wearing bug; Insectosaurus, a Godzilla-sized hamster with bug arms; and Ginormica, the newest member of the team, a fifty-foot-tall delivery girl.
What’s great about the gameplay here is that every character has his or her own stage in each level of the game, and they all play differently. Ginormica is either running around beating up baddies in a platformer area, or skating down a highway using cars as rollerskates. B.O.B. and Missing Link’s levels are similar in that they can both stick to walls and ceilings, but while B.O.B.’s stages focus on finding your way through a maze and imitating background objects (trace the outline on the touch screen!), Missing Link is all about combat. Dr. Cockroach solves devilishly inventive puzzles, and Insectosaurus rampages through cities like old daikaiju movies.
The best part is that every character feels different and has to overcome unique obstacles. The gameplay never sours because you’re constantly switching gears. The puzzles are certainly different—your goal is to manipulate angled mirrors in such a way as to guide a beam of light around a grid so that it hits all the green blocks but misses the red ones. A variety of mirror types and special switches eventually come into play, as well.
There are a few minor concerns with the gameplay itself, however. Skating through the countryside with Ginormica is hindered by the requisite use of a touch screen “slider” to move left and right, which is FAR less desirable and practical than using the D-pad. Some of the later stages involving B.O.B. and Missing Link also rely a bit too heavily on “find this switch to open this door” navigation puzzles, and their camera is sometimes too close to get a good view of the action. The Insectosaurus stages could’ve been improved by the removal of a time limit; granted, collecting DNA increases your time, but finding some of those fish bones would’ve been easier had I not felt rushed.
Fortunately, the game looks fantastic. Aside from Dr. Cockroach’s puzzles, the entire game is 3D. The animations are very impressive—especially B.O.B., who oozes, squeezes, and generally behaves like a blob of jelly does. Watching buildings come crashing down in Insectosaurus’ stages is a blast, and Missing Link has a host of combat moves that are simply fun to watch. Cutscenes have voiceovers with the actors from the movies(Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Rainn Wilson, etc.), and everyone is present except, oddly, Stephen Colbert.
As for collectables, there are two varieties. DNA can be hoarded and traded for character-specific upgrades like more health or attack power. Since you can replay any level whenever you want and re-collect DNA, you can acquire all the possible upgrades pretty quickly. The other, harder-to-find items are fish bones. There are five scattered around every stage, and they can be exchanged for bonus content like alternate costumes (which are really just the same costumes with different color schemes), a Sound Test mode, and bonus Dr. Cockroach puzzles. Like DNA, you can replay stages to grab any fish bones you missed the first time.
The biggest problem with Monsters vs. Aliens is its unbelievably short length. Within ninety short minutes I had beaten the game, gotten all the character upgrades, bought all the unlockables aside from some bonus puzzles, and completed all the bonus puzzles I had bought. So despite the fact that Monsters & Aliens is a lot of fun, it’s tough to recommend it as any more than a rental.