Too simplistic? Maybe, but enjoyable just the same.
I just saw Rango today at the movies. I got a free ticket with the DS game, so I thought "what the heck?" As it turns out, the movie is really good. The DS game, on the other hand, entertains in fits and starts. Despite a fairly constant stream of upgrades and new powers, Rango on DS feels a little to out-of-focus to be a first-rate title. That doesn't mean it's bad—just that it takes some getting used to. Although initially slow and maybe a little frustrating, the game does open up before too long. You've gotta be willing to give it some time.
The game is a sequel to the film; Rango is still the sheriff of Dirt, but Bad Bill and various other ruffians have been causing trouble. The townsfolk again call on their chameleon lawman to save them from peril. Rango's gameplay is reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass without the boat. Displayed in a top-down perspective, the game has Rango running around an impressively large desert world avoiding all manner of varmints. Rango does battle with his foes in several different ways that are added to his repertoire over the course of the game.
Rango can change into four different outfits. This is accomplished by holding L and pressing a direction on the D-pad. Doing this causes Rango's skill set to change. The four available skills are Basic, Sheriff, Excavator, and Duelist. All have their own environmental uses and different skills. Only two of them, however, feature worthwhile attacks (Sheriff and Excavator) The four outfits feel different enough that it seems like you're controlling entirely different characters. The other outfit-specific moves involve getting around the world: the Duelist can leap over short gaps, the Excavator can push and pull blockades (and dig up treasure), and the Sheriff can launch special golden bullets that you use to trigger certain switches.
The game amounts, almost entirely, to finding your way to a marked spot on your map (top screen), which usually involves some minor puzzle-solving and lots of enemy-killin'. Enemies do become tougher the longer you play, but their basic types never change. It always feels like you're killing same handful of re-skinned enemies. Switching between roles is fun, but there’s an over-reliance of the Sheriff and Excavator skills, making it feel like the game doesn't even really need the other two. Pickups gleaned from treasure chests and defeated enemies nets you money and, more importantly, badges with which to upgrade your powers. Your basic character skills never actually change, but your attack power or running speed can increase. It's a nice feeling of progression, but it’s a shame that there's never anything to buy other than more badges.
The gameplay falls short only in that it becomes tiring fairly quickly, especially once you stop gaining new roles to play. Eventually, you'll find yourself mining badges and completing sidequests for townsfolk (kill 50 rabbits, kill 5 armadillos, etc.) who will shower you with gratitude and even more badges.
Graphically, Rango looks pretty good. The game tries to replicate the look of the movie, and does pretty well in this regard, despite the technical shortfalls of the DS. Despite the absence of voice acting, the script evokes the same sort of sillyness that the movie portrayed. This is especially noticeable than in the main character's monologues. It's the music that I like the most—it's catchy and nicely western in tone, as it should be. The only knock I can give the presentation is that the desert setting does get old after a while. You can only see so much sand and cacti before it all starts to meld together.
It took a while for me to get into Rango, but after giving it a few hours, I was pretty well hooked. Despite its underlying simplicity, the game has a charm that's clearly lifted straight from the movie. Add to this the likability of the main character and you have a game that fans of the movie should definitely givea shot.