Not Too Shabby...
Published by Activision
Developed by Vicarious Visions
Released July 2006
Platform: Nintendo DS
Rated E (everyone)
Plot: A human named Gladys is the main villain in this light-hearted romp. She's determined to rid the neighborhood of all the little annoying critters, so that she can build herself a new pool. R.J. (a raccoon and the lead character), Verne (a turtle and R.J.'s sidekick) and Hammy (their squirrelly 3rd wheel) set out to save the surrounding woods and creatures who live in them. There are several short vignettes that break up the gameplay and add to the story, and it's a basic premise that easily drives the game without fail.
Gameplay: Over The Hedge's main game consists of a sort of hub in the form of a woodland area. You begin here each time as R.J., and run along to one of the various side posts that contains missions. Most missions take place within a house (which looks generic and pretty much the same each time), though some missions are at a construction site, and consist of finding and retrieving various items. Sometimes you play as R.J., sometimes as Verne and sometimes Hammy. However, there are certain missions that require you to use two of the characters to complete the mission objective(s), and even one or two that allow you to choose which character to use for a given mission. Though the mission objectives are pretty much the same each time and the environments are pretty repetitive, the puzzles and requirements to complete each mission vary a good deal and continue to be quite fun pretty much throughout the entire duration of the game.
You move each character with the control pad, and each can jump using the B-button. The Y-button allows your character to pick up objects, and the A-button allows them to use "gadgets" (banana peels, boat horns, soda and other various items are available in the game, and can each offer certain advantages to your character throughout a given mission). Also, each of the playable characters has a special ability, which can be executed using the X-button. The shoulder buttons too are used during the gameplay, with the L-button giving you a first-person perspective, allowing you to aim at certain items; and the R-button toggles the gadgets for use on hand. Pretty much everything on the DS gets used in some way at some point, including the microphone, which can be toggled on & off by tapping an icon on the touch screen. The mic is used to distract humans, or wake up stunned allied characters. You also use the touch screen to switch between characters, select targets and doing a bit of combination-lock cracking.
Probably what garnered this game such high marks from IGN and what I too enjoyed the most was the variation of puzzles and the creativity of them. When traveling through a house, you often come upon lasers (yup, lasers -- don't ask me -- I don't know), some kind of fumigation things that spray toxic gas, electric mats, flamingos of death, and other traps set to ensnare your woodland critters. Each of the three playable characters is designed to excel physically in certain areas, so getting past these obstacles takes clever investigation. Hammy can jump the highest and run the fastest, so getting over certain lasers or running past the slicing flamingos is no problem for him. However, he's not nearly as strong as Verne or even R.J., so having one of them do the grunt work while Hammy bypasses traps is essential to successful completion of some of the missions. Verne can crawl up into his shell, and when neither R.J. or Verne can get over a certain laser or other obstacle Verne can be thrown by R.J. to clear a path for them on the other side. There are quite a few clever, little details like those to figure out, and they're pretty entertaining.
Graphics: The game begins, if memory serves, with a short FMV clip, but that's about it on that front. All the other story elements are done in CG stills. The in-game graphics, however, remain 3D, and they're not too shabby. They're not going to "ooh" you or "ahh" you, but they're quite pleasant. There aren't really any boo-boos, except for the occasional "falling through an item in one room to end up in the hallway" kind of thing. But truly the graphics work very well, and it's always a treat to play a game entirely in a 3D environment. That's on both screens, by the way. The top screen stays in a 3rd-person perspective, from the rear of the character; and the bottom screen is an overhead view. Both are integral to successful navigation throughout the game.
Sound: There are actually voice-overs here. Not much, but anytime there are voice-overs in a DS game it's usually cause for excitement. Most of it exists in the hub area, where you can hear a short blurb from the different NPCs. However, the humans also speak in some sort of Sims-type gibberish. The sound effects are pretty nice -- dogs & cats sound good -- and the music too is okay. But there's not a lot of variety with the musical themes -- it's pretty much the same ones over & over -- and they're kind of odd-sounding. Also, the output quality is pretty grainy, and strangely enough the sound is better through the DS speakers than earbuds.
Presentation: Well, there really ain't much here. There's the single-player experience, which is somewhat short; and there's a single-card "fetch it" type 2-player game, but that's about it. No options menu, no unlockables, no goodies or other extras. There are four save slots, so it's easily shared among friends or family. And even though the game isn't that long it's a platformer, and they're generally fun to play more than once. This is a pretty good one too, so I think it earns its keep.
Okay, so you've heard from one of the brave who actually bought one of these movie-based-game deals, and it's not bad. Should you buy it? Meh, I have no clue. But like I said, the DS isn't overflowing with 3D platformers, and of the two I know of other than this one, one of them ain't that great (Rayman DS). So, if you're desperate for something of that nature (no pun intended), this might be a viable choice for you. I waited for the price to come down, and you can now get it at some Wallyworlds for $20 (new). That might be incentive enough, and for me I'm happy with my purchase.
Thanks for reading, and happy gaming!
Presentation / 6.5
The story's typical but funny, and it keeps the game on track as you'd expect. The menus are easy to navigate, and the instruction manual is pretty comprehensive. However, there's little else offered other than the basic story mode gameplay.
Graphics / 8
Good, solid 3D graphics on both screens. Textures are pretty smooth, and the character models are really nice. The environments, however, could have been a bit more varied.
Sound / 6.5
The actual sound & music is nicely done, but the output quality is grainy sounding. Also, there isn't a whole lot of variation in the muscial themes, and they get old quick.
Gameplay / 8
A fun 3D platformer. There's a good mix of creative puzzles and typical platforming, and there's a good variety too. Some of the perspectives can get a bit tricky, but such is the nature of 3D platformers. The controls, however, are utilized nicely, and there's a good mix of use between the touch screen and face buttons (and even the microphone).
Replay / 6.5
Again, not much else offered aside from the story mode, but a good platformer is always fun to play again & again. However, even though this is a quality game, the scant variation in environments might make you tire of playing it quicker than normal.
Overall / 7.5 (A nice addition to any collection, but only at a discounted price.)