Ice Age was one of the more-successful attempts to emulate the success of Pixar's seemingly never-ending string of computer-animated family films by another studio (in this case, 20th Century Fox). Telling the story of a trio of celebrity voice-acted prehistoric creatures on a mission to deliver a lost human baby to his human tribe, the film received both critical and fan acclaim. So, it's with no measure of shock that a sequel would be in the cards. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown hit theaters early this year, and as tends to be the case with many animated films, there was a video game tie-in to go right alongside its release. But unlike most film-to-game tie-ins, Ice Age 2 is more than just a hacked-together platformer, built exclusively to make more money for the license. Ice Age 2 is fun practically from beginning to end and includes solid gameplay, great production values, and even the celebrity voice cast from the film. Now, months later, Ice Age 2 is available for the Wii, and very little about it has changed, except that it has a steeper price and some new motion sensing controls. These new controls aren't half bad, but they don't quite justify the $50 price, especially because the game can be beaten in just a short few hours.
The three principal characters of both Ice Age flicks, Manfred the mammoth, Sid the sloth, and Diego the saber-toothed tiger, are all on hand in the Ice Age 2 game. In fact, actors Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Leary are on hand as well, and they turn in capable performances for each character (although Romano does sound a bit bored, even more than usual). However, none of the primary trio is the star of this game. Rather, the character you'll spend the bulk of your time with is Scrat, the nervous, twitchy muskrat-looking...thing that fans of the first film will remember as the star of the hilarious introductory sequence. Scrat isn't the main character in the Ice Age 2 film, and his adventures in this game seem like something of a silly side story to the main plot, which is told mainly through scattered narration sequences by Romano's Manfred. So, while there are a few details of the film's plot in the game that might be spoiled if you haven't seen the movie, they're nothing major, and most of the game's events are purely ancillary to the main film storyline.
That turns out for the better in Ice Age 2. Scrat is an endearing character, and spending the bulk of your time with him is far from a detriment. His twitchy mannerisms and goofy snarls and screeches are pretty cute, and the developers did a great job of giving him moves and abilities that don't seem out of place for a prehistoric rodent. Like the protagonist in any platformer, Scrat can jump and double jump via the Wii Remote's A button, as well as pull off some basic attacks that mostly involve stomping and swiping with his tail. These attacks are mapped to the remote's motion controls, so if you merely swat the controller in one direction or another, Scrat will do his most basic attacks. But when you combine attacks with jumping, you'll be able to pull off a roll or a stomp attack. The one trick here is that sometimes the game thinks you're trying to do a roll when you actually want to do a stomp. But that doesn't get in the way too often because combat in the game is more of a secondary task--most enemies can't be killed, just knocked out. Mostly, the game is about solving various jump puzzles and collecting scads of nuts.
The whole hook with Scrat's character is that he's constantly in search of nuts to hoard and bury. So it's appropriate that you spend the bulk of the game collecting more nuts than you could possibly imagine. Again, this is a platformer, so it's hardly shocking that the game is something of a collection-fest, but there are thousands of nuts scattered throughout the game. The jump puzzles in Ice Age 2 are fairly run of the mill for the genre, but they're more challenging and rewarding than your average kid-oriented game. Young children ought not to have too much trouble with the game, but even players from older audiences should be able to appreciate much of what the game does, even if it doesn't present an awful lot of difficulty. The control is typically tight, the puzzles are generally clever, and the levels are open-ended and provide a decent bit of exploration. The one thing that does make Ice Age 2 on the Wii a bit more troublesome than it was on other platforms is the camera control. The camera is mapped to the D pad, which makes it less convenient to move the camera around than it was with the analog stick control in the other versions. Still, it's not bad--just a bit awkward.
Diego and Sid do find their way into the game eventually, although purely in a second-banana capacity. The game features a series of minigames, including a whack-a-mole (or whack-a-possum, in this case) game starring Diego and a hybrid of a slalom and a rhythm game with Sid. There are also a number of target-shooting and item-collection minigames with Scrat. All these games are pretty decent, and fortunately, there's not much repetition or recycling of the games throughout the adventure. Additionally, each of these games takes advantage of the Wii Remote technology in some capacity or another, so you'll be aiming with the remote in the target-shooting game or moving the remote around to perform tricks during the slalom game. Oddly, Manfred never becomes playable via these minigames. While that might be a bit disappointing for a big fan of the film, his presence is felt enough through the game that it never seems as if he's been cut out of the equation.
Ice Age 2 was a surprisingly great-looking game during its initial run on consoles back in March, and it still looks very good on the Wii. There's a nice amount of detail in the characters and level designs--the kind of detail you don't tend to see in licensed games like this. Scrat looks just as snarlingly cute as he does in the movies, with his bug eyes and puffy tail. The same goes for Manfred, Diego, and Sid. The quality of the character models is well above average. The environments are bright, colorful, and heavily populated with enemies, side characters, and various collectibles. Everything animates nice and smoothly, too. Frame-rate drop almost never occurs, no matter how much action is going on onscreen. In terms of direct comparisons, the Wii version looks closest to the Xbox version of the game, but it's not quite as sharp as that version. It's definitely a step up from what the GameCube version offered--just not by a wide margin.
All told, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown is a fun, engaging platformer that ought to appeal to multiple audiences. The gameplay is enjoyable, the characters are well represented, and the graphics are quite pleasing for this sort of game. So, what keeps it from greatness? The one, fatal flaw that holds Ice Age 2 back is its brevity. This game won't take more than a few hours of play to complete, except perhaps in the case of the youngest of younger audiences. It's over practically before it starts, and the scant bits of bonus content aren't enough to justify paying $50 for a four-hour game--especially because the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube versions of Ice Age 2 currently retail for $30. If you liked the film, Ice Age 2 is a game well worth playing. But before you run out and pay full price for it, be aware that it won't last you very long, and the Wii version's new controls aren't necessarily worth the higher price.