Whether deserving or not, the GameCube has been labeled as a video game console for younger players. Ironically, most of the GameCube's games have strayed away from the childhood aesthetic Nintendo has been known for, with the exception of Kemco's Universal Studios Park Adventure. Predominantly a collection of minigames, Kemco's first effort on the GameCube takes you through many of the attractions found at Universal's theme parks around the world.
As Universal Studios Park Adventure begins, you choose one of six characters walking around a plaza outside the theme park. After the character is chosen, you take control of him or her and attempt to find Woody Woodpecker among the throngs of people milling about. Once Woody is found, he tells you that in order to see all the attractions at the park, you must collect tickets. Tickets are awarded for completing any of the games located within the park, answering some of the more than 300 Universal Studios trivia questions, or solving puzzles. As tickets are collected, new attractions within the park are opened for play.
Kemco has added the most popular of Universal's attractions, including Back to the Future, Jaws, Backdraft, Wild Wild West Stunt Show, Jurassic Park, and E.T. Adventure. The remaining minigames consist of trivia questions and small puzzles such as sliding mixed-up tiles to create a complete picture. Back to the Future puts you in the seat of Dr. Brown's DeLorean as Marty McFly attempts to crash Biff's car before he reaches the end of the track. The controls are fairly simple in this minigame--you use the A button for gas, the analog stick to steer, and the shoulder buttons for tighter turns. From a graphical perspective, the Back to the Future ride is fairly simplistic. There are several different areas that you drive through, but each one has repetitive textures and not many polygons onscreen at once. As you get farther down the track, hazards such as hanging stalactites make negotiating the track rather tricky.
The Jaws minigame is fairly simplistic. Your character is stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Periodically, the notorious shark will come up to the edge of the boat and attempt to take a bite out of it. It's your job to pick up boxes and barrels from the top of boat and then drop them on the shark when it comes up for a snack. Again, the gameplay is fairly simplistic, but the minigame gradually becomes more difficult as the shark draws closer to death. The graphics in this portion of the game are bare-bones, really. There's a boat, water, the shark, and that's about it. There are no surrounding islands or docks to speak of, only a seemingly endless ocean.
The Backdraft minigame is based on the Ron Howard movie of the same name, and it's probably the most interesting of all the gameplay options. Brandishing a fire hose, your character must wander through buildings putting out fires and rescuing victims. The fire hose automatically locks on to the fire so aiming doesn't become an issue. Moving the character around the house is accomplished with the analog stick. While still not entirely complex, the Backdraft minigame features the best graphics in the game. Real-time shadows chase your character around the building, and the fire effects, while not entirely believable, are convincing enough for the children the game is targeted at. Similar to the movie, there's one portion of the minigame where a backdraft builds up behind a wall until it explodes in a blast of fire.
The Wild Wild West stunt show is basically a target-shooting minigame that can be played by up to two players. You must use the analog stick to move the cursor around the screen and then press the A button to fire. Targets pop up periodically, and once all the targets have been hit, the screen shifts to a new scene, where more targets await. Again, the graphics are quite simple in this minigame, with minimal animation for the targets and very few trimmings.
The Jurassic Park minigame is a re-creation of a scene from the original movie in which a T-rex chases a jeep. Your character rides in the jeep with a large gun turret mounted on the back. You must line up the aiming reticle and let the ammunition fly. Occasionally, you'll be asked to input controller commands when they flash on the screen. For instance, the L button will flash onscreen, and if you press it within the required time limit, the jeep will swerve out of the way of an attack. The graphics for the Jurassic Park minigame look promising initially, but once the actual gameplay starts, you end up piloting the jeep through a barren landscape while the T-rex gives chase. The tyrannosaur is adequately modeled, as is the pterodactyl that swoops down periodically, but again the game fails to reach the standards set by its peers on the GameCube.
The E.T. Adventure minigame plays similarly to the arcade version of Paper Boy from the '80s. You are riding a bike with the long-necked alien sitting on the handlebars. As the terrain scrolls from right to left, you must avoid obstacles such as roadblocks and pieces of lumber. Avoiding hazards is made more difficult by the fact that you can't jump, so it takes timing and preparation to set yourself up for completing the course. From a graphical perspective, E.T. Adventure is right on par with the rest of the game. It's not completely unattractive, but it features low-poly environments and simplistic character models.
While nowhere near the GameCube's most technically advanced game, Universal Studios Park Adventure adequately caters to the younger audience it is trying to reach. The controls and graphics are simple enough for the young ones to grasp, the objectives in each minigame are obvious, and its variety will keep them from losing interest. Older players will likely find the game a bit too simple for extended play periods, but Kemco has stated that this is not the intended audience for the game. Universal Studios Park Adventure is currently scheduled for release alongside the launch of the GameCube on November 18. Look for our full review in the coming weeks.