Sneaky animals steal food on the DS.
Last week I spent some time with Activision's Over the Hedge for Nintendo DS, developed by Vicarious Visions. Taking place after the upcoming movie, this portable stealth platformer might be a good choice for younger players.
In Over the Hedge, woodland creatures find themselves living on the cusp of suburbia and learn to swipe food from households for sustenance. Of course, the humans do not appreciate the furry burglars and set up alarm systems, traps, and more to protect their property. While the console game focuses on the mayhem of destructing such security measures, the DS game focuses on evading them. The resulting game is a Sly Cooper-esque adventure of collection and evasion.
The gameplay and controls are straightforward. The player must alternate between RJ the raccoon and Verne the turtle (select or touch screen icon) to gather food and other items from the humans' world. Both share the same basic controls: the D-pad controls movement with the camera locked behind the character. The animals can jump (B), grab or throw an item (Y), or perform a special move (X). RJ's keen sense of smell allows him to sniff out nearby food, while Verne's shell provides shelter and camouflage from threats such as patrolling guard dogs. Verne's strength allows him to carry larger objects and push crates, while RJ's trim figure grants him superior jumping ability. The player may look left or right from a first person perspective while holding the L button, though oddly I could not look up or down in the build on display. Digital movement for a 3D game is never ideal, and RJ's jump felt fluttery, but the game is slower-paced than the standard platformer and I adjusted quickly.
The first few missions seemed competently designed, though the complexity was skewed downward for the target age group. Experienced gamers probably will not appreciate having to comb an area for food and carrying larger items to the exit one at a time, but children probably will not mind. After all, obtaining some items requires platforming skills, and the game sometimes calls for more careful planning. Stealthier sections, such as the mission I played with patrolling dogs, encourage cooperation between Verne and RJ: the player can distract the dog with one character (by blowing into the microphone) and sneak by with the second character. Items may also be passed between RJ and Verne. Near the beginning of the DS game the animals learn that they must convince endangered animals to move to their forest and bring them to the humans' attention to protect the habitat from demolition. While I did not get far enough in the game to pursue this larger objective, its premise holds potential.
Over the Hedge for the DS looks surprisingly good. While the 3D environments and objects have simple, boxy structures, textures on the floors, cabinets, trees and characters give the game a likeable appearance. On the bottom screen a fully 3D overhead view of the area helps orient the player, and the player can easily recognize movable objects such as books, food and crates by a glowing blue outline. When the camera is forced closer to the player's character, the character becomes partially transparent. Vicarous Visions has also squeezed original full motion video content between missions to further the plot, though they are fairly compressed.
Over the Hedge looks to be above average for a movie license game—especially among handhelds.