When it comes to games based on licensed properties, especially those targeted at younger kids, the expectations for quality are usually pretty low. These are the kinds of games that usually rely entirely on their movie or cartoon tie-in to move copies, with the game itself sometimes seeming almost like an afterthought. It's this precedent that makes Piglet's Big Game, which ties in to the recently released Piglet's Big Movie, such a pleasant surprise. This is definitely a game for a younger audience, yet it displays a level of polish rarely seen in a kid's game, and some of the game's art design may actually impress people outside of its targeted age bracket.
Piglet's Big Game is loosely linked to Piglet's Big Movie--which features all the characters from the Winnie the Pooh cartoons--in that the focus of the story is the diminutive and somewhat panicky Piglet and how he helps his friends and gains some confidence in himself. Here, Piglet actually takes center stage in the dreams of each resident of The Hundred Acre Wood and helps them solve their problems.
Starting with Pooh himself, who absolutely needs to get some honey, Piglet traverses each character's psyche, performing a series of simple adventure-game-styled tasks. Each character's dreamworld is also fraught with peril, which comes in the form of the menacing Heffalumps and Woozles. Combat here is pretty innocuous and involves pressing button combinations presented on the screen so Piglet can make scary faces at the enemy before the enemy reaches him. The worst that can happen if an enemy reaches Piglet is that his usually jaunty little waddle will be interrupted by a cowering animation, which makes your progress a little slower. This can be easily alleviated by finding a Christopher Robin balloon and letting The Hundred Acre Wood's only human resident cheer you up. As you progress through the game, you'll need to learn how to make scarier faces. These can be purchased at brave-face factories scattered throughout the game with cookies that you find hidden inside various scenery along the way. The gameplay remains generally placid and easygoing throughout, and the game does lots of hand-holding, dropping hints for what are already pretty straightforward puzzles. Anyone in the double-digit age range will likely find the game too easy, and maybe even a bit condescending, to really get anything out of it. The young ones, however, will probably find the level of challenge to be just right.
The big kids might not enjoy playing it, but even a gamer with more mature, refined tastes should be able to appreciate the presentation of Piglet's Big Game, which is truly inspired. Since each level actually takes place inside one of the character's heads, each is themed in a unique, rather surreal way. Pooh's dreamworld is constructed out of candies, cakes, cookies, and all other forms of sweets; young Roo's level is a forest that appears to be constructed out of cardboard and construction paper covered with crude but colorful children's scribbling; and the older, wiser, mostly nocturnal Owl has a level that reflects both his appreciation of books and the nighttime. Each of these levels has a crisp, sharp look with good, rich colors, some exceptional-looking textures, and a good attention to detail. The characters are also spot-on 3D renders of the classically cel-animated characters from The Hundred Acre Wood, with some clean animations. If that's not enough, the game also occasionally sports some nice soft-glow lighting effects, and the characters always cast some very realistic, well-defined shadows. The trade-off for the stunning good looks of Piglet's Big Game is that each level is chopped up into fairly small areas, which are separated by a significant load time. Since the pacing of the game is already pretty low-key, this doesn't hurt things too much, but it still would've been nice to have things move more fluidly.
The sound design is almost equally impressive, with tons of quality voice acting provided by the cast members of Piglet's Big Movie. The narrator from previous Winnie the Pooh cartoons keeps the story moving along, letting you know when you've completed an objective or hinting at a possible solution for a puzzle you have yet to solve. Music and simple ambient environmental sounds trade off duties in helping set the mood for the different levels, and all of it is appropriately subtle and underplayed; you'll find nothing jarring and over-the-top here.
It's true that there are lots and lots of poor-quality games in virtually any genre, but it seems that the kids' games get the lion's share, as publishers seem to rarely have much respect for the intellect of that particular audience. Piglet's Big Game is a wonderful exception to this rule and a good example of how to bring a licensed property and quality production together without compromising either.