Despite its licensed pedigree, this game borrows from the best.
All you really need to know about this game is that it allows you to ride both Brontops and Pachycephalosaurus and ram into things - including other prehistoric critters - so it’s a no-brainer that I loved it. Even with those two sequences aside, Ice Age 3 manages to be one of the best Wii games I’ve played all year. It constantly borrows from classic gaming franchises that you know and love, featuring homages to Donkey Kong Country, Ratchet & Clank, R-Type, Star Fox, and Marble Madness. There is very little truly original content here, and yet Ice Age 3 is an absolute blast due to its unique art direction, great gameplay, and funny characters.
The game more or less follows the plot of the movie. Manny and Ellie are expecting their first calf, but Sid the sloth steals some eggs which hatch into baby tyrannosaurs. The angry momma comes looking for her babies and takes Sid with her, and the remaining Tetriary trio goes looking for him. They find a prehistoric paradise under the ice sheets populated by dinosaur survivors, and they meet a wacky Australian weasel named Buck who helps them rescue Sid.
The first few missions of Ice Age 3 get you used to the control scheme as Sid, who can run, jump, attack, throw snowballs and collect pickups, and then use those pickups to buy upgrades and unlockables. It’s standard fare, but the environments are pretty and the writing is witty. In between platform stages, Ice Age 3 throws some curveballs at you, such as a pursuit minigame with Diego and egg-rolling obstacle courses with Sid. You’ll also decorate Manny’s baby playground, and knock down rocks with the help of a couple of brontotheres.
Once Sid is captured, however, the game takes a decidedly more action-oriented turn. The majority of the game suddenly involves Buck, and the gameplay comes to resemble a Ratchet & Clank game with its dual focus on platforming and shooting guns. There’s even a “gadget” that sprays water to create platforms out of wilting leaves. It’s here that you can take control of a Pachycephalosaurus, but there are new curveball sequences: side-scrolling levels featuring Scratt with level designs taken directly from Donkey Kong Country (there are even barrel cannons and hornets); a Super R-Type-style shooting stage where you take control of a pterosaur, and collect power-ups to change your ammo type; and two Star Fox-inspired stages involving the same aerial mount.
While all of these sequences control differently, you’ll have hardly any trouble with them because their control scheme is simple. Of course, the pointer is used to aim. Pressing C and Z with your index finger is kind of awkward, but it works. The only action that takes some getting used to is using Buck’s firearms (which fire seeds and berries): hold down C to strafe, press B to fire, and tap Z to roll left or right. The 3D platform levels are impressive in the variety of places to go and the amount of secret paths to find. Movie sequences pop up all over the place to move the plot along. The game’s final boss fight is in the mold of those in Tomb Raider, as you navigate an obstacle course and shoot specific targets to achieve victory. Even in its final moments, Ice Age 3 manages to conjure up a familiar game design and implement it well.
The Ice Age series’ aesthetic is unique, simplifying and caricaturizing both familiar and unfamiliar prehistoric animals. This simplicity translates well to the Wii hardware, and the game looks fantastic as a result. All of the actors from the movie reprise their roles for the game (except Dennis Leary), with John Leguizamo (Sid) and Simon Pegg (Buck) providing the bulk of the voicework. The dialogue includes not only jokes, but also references to movies and games as well. For instance, Scratch & Eddie scream “Do a barrel roll!” during the Star Fox-esque pterosaur sequence, and Buck mutters a Jurassic Park-style "Clever girl!" when attacked by a Guanlong.
Among the collectables are cherries and apples, which are used as currency to buy unlockables and power-ups. Few are actually useful, but you’ll want to buy the multiplayer minigames. These games, which can be played with up to four people, are simplistic but fun, and each game has several variations. There’s a good variety of activities here; you can try to knock your opponents off an iceberg, run away from an angry tyrannosaur, grab the most cherries on a leaf raft, shoot the most dinosaurs, and more. While none of the games are particularly engaging with two people, it’s clear that they would be frantic with three or four players. Further content is unlocked by finding three crystals in most stages, and it may take a few passes through certain stages to find them all.
Overall, Ice Age 3 is one of the best Wii games I’ve played so far this year. Its variety and high production values kept me motivated, and for Pete’s sake, I got to ride around on a Pachycephalosaurus and headbutt other dinosaurs! That’s pretty hard to beat. Fun and challenging, Ice Age 3 is a pleasant surprise that I heartily recommend.
EPILOGUE: Zach's Dinosaur Corner
Because this game deals with prehistoric animals, I have to talk about them for a minute (you have been warned). While the Ice Age films have never portrayed prehistoric beasts in a realistic way, they do aim for overall accuracy. New research on brontotheres, however, has rendered the Y-shaped horn on the two Brontops moot—Blue Sky should check out Mihlbachler (2008) for the new “big-nosed” reconstruction. I doubt glyptodonts could pull their heads and arms into their osteoderm-encrusted shells, either. Most of the mammals, however, are quite impressive. How often do you see Macrauchenia in either a movie or a video game?
One of the big disappointments among the mammalian cast are the generic beaver enemies, which have horns growing out of their foreheads. As for the dinosaurs, there’s a good range of genera represented, with the biggest sin being the inclusion of dinosaurs from different time periods. They’ve used the Jurassic Park version of Dilophosaurus—small, frilled, and venom-spitting. I prefer to see this as an homage. Troodon is here, though you can’t tell because of the generic design. None of the theropods have feathers, which bothers me. It is nice to see Guanlong, an obscure basal tyrannosauroid, featured in the game (and the movie). The game’s three ornithischians, Pachycephalosaurus, Ankylosaurus and Triceratops, are reasonably portrayed, though the latter’s frill is comically large. The game’s Pteranodon has a rhamphorhynchoid tail, which is distressing, but it’s forgiven by the mere presence of azhdarchoid pterosaurs. The tyrannosaurs are a bit dragon-esque, but that’s okay. The villain, an albino spinosaur, is clearly supposed to be a big Baryonyx, but the skull is shaped more like an alligator than a crocodile.