This 3D platformer for the DS barely comes over the hedge.
When starting a single-player game in Over the Hedge, you’re treated to a stunning FMV sequence. It sets up an interesting and original story, in which the crazy critters from the movie encounter a big problem: Their area of the forest is about to be bulldozed and turned into a housing development. The solution, of course, is to invite various endangered species into their little patch of wilderness and thereby get it environmentally protected. It’s now up to RJ the Racoon, Verne the Turtle, and Hammy the Squirrel to lead the way.
Of course, they can’t lead the way without you leading the way for them. You control one of them at a time. In addition to the standard running and jumping moves, each character has some unique abilities. Verne can retreat into his turtle shell to avoid detection, RJ can pick locks and hurl Verne’s shell at distant targets, and Hammy can run faster and jump higher. You have to alternate among these characters, since some tasks can only be accomplished by a specific character or by combining different characters’ respective strengths.
Unfortunately, the tasks don’t leave much room for experimentation in this regard, because they’re so incredibly simple and downright easy. Most of them are collect missions in which you have to sneak past guards and avoid and deactivate traps in order to locate and bring back items from a level to the game’s hub area. Since you can only carry one item at a time, you have to revisit levels to retrieve other items. There’s usually only one way of getting these items too, and that way is made completely obvious by the game. For example, only objects that are highlighted, and thus integral to your progress, can be pushed. What’s more, they can only be pushed in the “proper" direction and with the “proper" amount of strength. You simply can’t make a mistake with these puzzles. The game won’t let you!
I suppose the developers at Vicarious Vision would explain this extreme lack of challenge by saying that Over the Hedge is a children’s game, and therefore supposed to be simple and non-threatening. That’s a valid point, but it certainly doesn’t justify the repetitive collect-a-thon nature of the game and the one-dimensional gameplay. Small children also like to find creative solutions to a given problem. Again, the game won’t let them.
On a more positive note, the two screens are used nicely. The top screen shows the action from the standard third-person perspective, while the bottom one displays an overhead view functioning as a map useful for locating enemies (read: humans and their pets) and various items. The enemies’ visual range is also indicated here, which allows for some light stealth-oriented gameplay, clearly inspired by Metal Gear Solid. You have to continuously keep track of both screens to sneak past enemies. It is still a very undemanding act, though, since the enemies’ vision range is short and their intelligence is lacking. They mostly just walk a predetermined route, quickly forgetting about you upon detection.
The in-game graphics are impressive. Environments look sharp and detailed, while the animations are silky smooth. There are even some nice fur-shading effects used. Had the levels looked more varied (most houses have similar objects and color schemes) the game would have ranked among the prettiest DS titles to date.
The game is far from being among the longest, though. With roughly twenty small levels, Over the Hedge can be completed in less than six hours. A two-player wireless download play option is also available. It provides a nice break from the slower-paced one-player experience, but it’s too limited for longer bursts, as it only consists of one mini-game. The objective here is to navigate through a hedge maze and bring as many items as possible to a specified collection zone. The player who gets the most items in this zone within the time limit is the winner.
All in all, Vicarious Visions has created a very generic 3D platformer that just traverses old territory. Even for a children’s game, Over the Hedge completely lacks challenge, subtlety, and length. The game does show signs of high production values, as evidenced by the lovely graphics, convincing voice-acting, and clever use of the two screens. However, those elements just prevent the game from being downright poor.