The charm of the film's characters isn't enough to save this simple, tedious platformer.
- Ease of play makes it accessible to young players
- Voice acting captures the charm of the film's characters
- Emphasis on cooperation may appeal to parents wanting to play with their kids.
- Even young kids may be put off by the game's simplicity
- Very little variety to the environments
- Recycles the same puzzles numerous times.
In the Pixar film Up, elderly yet energetic Carl Fredricksen sets off on what he thinks is a solitary adventure but finds himself accompanied by a wide-eyed wilderness explorer named Russell. Their relationship becomes the core of the film and, as it turns out, of the game too. Throughout Up, Carl and Russell must work together to overcome obstacles as they traverse the jungles of South America. There’s a cooperative dynamic and a simplicity to the gameplay that make Up feel as though it were designed to be played by a parent and his or her young child. Indeed, parents looking for an easy game that encourages cooperation will find that Up fits that bill. Unfortunately, they'll also find that Up is just too simple and repetitive to be worthwhile.
The bulk of Up consists of very basic platforming and puzzle-solving. Carl and Russell, who spend most of their time humorously tethered to Carl's offscreen floating house, plod across the terrain, frequently needing to work together to advance. Carl can hoist himself up on ledges using his cane and then help Russell up, while Russell can shimmy across narrow ridges and pull Carl up using a rope. Carl and Russell will also often have to work together to push heavy rocks or get across wide gaps by using naturally occurring fulcrums to send Russell flying to the other side. Parents will appreciate that the game eliminates any potential frustration by constantly nudging players in the right direction with vocal clues about what to do next and big icons that indicate where Carl or Russell should stand to help the other along. As a single player, you can switch between the characters with the press of a button, and your AI-controlled partner will generally do a fine job of tagging along and staying out of your way. Still, cooperation between the characters is such a crucial part of the game that it's much better to play with a partner.
The only thing that breaks up the walking, jumping, and rock pushing is the occasional bit of what might be loosely described as combat, though it's too simple and repetitive to be engaging. You'll sometimes be attacked by wasps that can be driven off by the high-pitched whine of Carl's hearing aid or incapacitated by Russell's virtuoso bugle playing. You'll also be ambushed by dogs from time to time that you must defeat by blocking when they leap at you. These attacks quickly grow tedious and occur with exasperating frequency in the later levels. There are also a few boss battles against large jungle creatures, though these are all just a straightforward matter of finding something in the environment to use against the creatures and repeatedly exploiting it. Should Carl and Russell run out of energy at any point, there's no real penalty. They're just sent back to the most recent checkpoint, which is never very far behind.
The simplicity of the action is tolerable at first because it feels as if it may be preparing you for more complex platforming and puzzle-solving to come. However, it soon becomes clear that the game doesn't introduce any significant new gameplay elements over time and that it's largely the very same stuff in the very same environments repeatedly throughout the four hours or so it takes to complete the game. Having Russell hoist Carl up his rope is a lot less interesting when you're doing it for the 20th time. Even the eventual appearance of Dug, the endearingly eager-to-please talking dog, isn't enough to alleviate the crushing simplicity and monotony of the action. When you finally find yourself in the luxurious dirigible, the Spirit of Adventure, you'll be ready to scream at the sight of one more inch of jungle. As a result, even the young kids for whom the game is clearly designed may get bored of this adventure long before it's over.
The adventure is bookended by two aerial dogfighting levels, which, like the rest of the game, are simple enough for young children to grasp and can also be played by one or two players. There's also a local split-screen multiplayer mode for up to four players. The three game modes on offer let players try to shoot each other down, race to shoot balloons from the sky, or team up to try to take down the opposing team's huge dirigible. The accessibility and relatively fast pace of the aerial combat makes it perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the game, though it, too, lacks the variety and depth needed to give it any longevity.
On the Wii, the graphics evoke the visual style of the film, but they lack the richness of detail to bring it to life. This visual simplicity, along with the sameness of most of the levels, makes Up tiresome to look at after awhile. It falls to the voice acting, then, to enliven the game, and this is the one area where Up shines. The principal cast members of the film reprise their roles here, and their performances have all the enthusiasm of their work for the movie. It helps, too, that they're given some humorous dialogue that was written and recorded specifically for the game. Fans of the film will enjoy the chance to spend more time with these characters; it's just too bad the gameplay makes that prospect so tedious. And even the dialogue eventually loses its charm through overuse because the same vocal hints are constantly repeated. Voice acting aside, the sound presentation makes good use of the film's whimsical score, and the sound effects are passable.
There's something novel and charming about a game that has a crotchety old man as the protagonist, and Up does a fine job of capturing the delightful characters from the film. Still, considerable as it is, this charm can only carry Up so far; thus, the tedium and simplicity of the gameplay make enjoying Up very difficult. This is unabashedly a game for the younger set, and parents may appreciate a game that won't frustrate their children while encouraging cooperation to boot. But even young kids will likely get tired of this long walk through the jungles of South America.