One of the key themes of Pixar's latest animated film, Ratatouille, is not settling for junk food--literally. The hero, a rat named Remy, is always telling his brother to eschew eating any random garbage he finds in favor of working to find something more flavorful, and ultimately, satisfying. At the same time, the evil chef, Skinner, is conspiring to turn now-deceased master chef Auguste Gusteau's image into a mascot for cheaply made frozen cuisine, a plot that the heroes of the film have to thwart. So it's a bit disappointing and slightly ironic that the video game based on the film has more in common with the cheap junk food the film decries than any well-prepared, savory dish. Like other recent games based on computer-animated flicks, Ratatouille for the PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC, Xbox, and Wii is a simple, kid-friendly platformer that loosely ties into the plot of the film and is generally unchallenging and, ultimately, unsatisfying. It's not an awful game by any means, and young kids might get a kick out of a few of the minigames and story sequences. But for those with a more refined palette, Ratatouille is a paltry dish.
Both the film and the game tell the story of Remy, a rat living in France who dreams of becoming a master chef--a dream that doesn't quite jibe with the others in his rat colony, especially his father. Unlike all the other rats, Remy won't eat just any piece of garbage lying around; he pines for more unique and expansive flavors, and actually has the crazy idea to try preparing his food with herbs and spices. So it is with great fortune that circumstance brings Remy to Paris and the doorstep of the restaurant once owned by his favorite TV chef, Gusteau. From here, the film launches into a brilliantly funny plot about Remy and a hapless garbage boy, Linguini, teaming up to create a master chef tandem. The game addresses a few of the key points from the movie, and even includes a few cooking sequences where you control Linguini in some Cooking Mama-style minigames. But for the most part, the game skips over any potential spoilers and keeps its focus on missions involving Remy and his rat-colony buddies stealing food from various Paris locations.
Each location is a large world to explore, though most of the missions are set up fairly linearly, so exploring doesn't net you much more than some occasional collectible stars--of which there are hundreds scattered throughout the game. Missions are standard platforming fodder. You jump and swing around various boxes, platforms, tightropes, ledges, and other pieces of the environment to get to areas that hold specific items, bring them back to other characters, or use them on other specific objects to unlock the next objective. Occasionally these missions are broken up by the occasional cooking minigame, as well as some chasing and sliding sequences. Chase bits have you running from one of the human characters as they stumble around, trying to snatch you up. Sliding bits have you sliding down some pipe, chute, or other sloped surface while collecting stars along your path and avoiding sliding off the edge into oblivion.
While a few of the minigames and sequences have a spot of originality to them, much of Ratatouille is pure formula. The mission designs are simplistic and a bit repetitive, and the controls are designed for such ease of use that it's hard to imagine anyone with two hands having much issue playing the game. Jumps are forgiving, traversing narrow ledges requires no skill (as you're basically glued to the ledge if you press a button as you jump toward it), and you can basically magnetize yourself to small platforms and tightropes (by pressing the same aforementioned button). Thinking out your path to the goal is about the toughest thing on offer in Ratatouille, and even that doesn't take much effort.
You'll breeze through the story mode in afternoon if you're dedicated enough, but on the plus side, there are more minigames to be found outside of the main story. Some of these are single-player only, and some are simply variations of the sliding, chasing, and cooking from the main game. However, there are some multiplayer games to be played, like races, item-collection competitions, and a variant on king of the hill. There's also a multiplayer championship version of the single-player minigames where you can compete in cook-offs and sliding time trials. None of these games are exactly substantial, and they wear thin after a few plays each, but they're a welcome addition to what would otherwise be a very lean game. There are also some unlockable movies, pictures, and other film-related bric-a-brac to unlock as well, if you're into that sort of thing.
There's not a great deal to please the eyes or ears in Ratatouille. Voice acting is about the best thing the audio has going for it, including some performances by actors from the film, like Patton Oswalt and Brian Dennehy. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of it, and very little of the dialogue is anywhere near as clever or amusing as what the film offers. Graphically, the game displays a few nice touches. The environments seem appropriately large, and some of the animations, especially those of Linguini as he hacks together various dishes, are mildly amusing. But everything else in the game has a bland look to it. Remy's movements are stiff, most of the human movements are even stiffer, and environmental detail is minimal. There's little difference to speak of between any of the older console, PC, or Wii versions of Ratatouille. The PC version predictably looks the sharpest, and the PS2 version looks the dullest, though the differences are minor all around.
There are also some slight control differences to note between versions. The PC version requires a decent gamepad to play properly, and the Wii version dabbles in motion controls. You don't have to do much in the main game besides waggle the remote to attack enemies and steer the camera awkwardly by holding down the C button and pointing with the Wii Remote to drag it around. The minigames also make use of the Wii Remote, specifically the cooking minigames, where you'll peel potatoes and fold crepes by making various motions. With the exception of the camera movement, these controls are basically responsive and implemented well enough.
And that's the thing about Ratatouille--everything it does is done well enough to function, but never beyond that. It's edible without ever being especially tasty. It's the sort of game that will satisfy a younger fan of the film for a few lazy afternoon hours, and then be forgotten about immediately afterward. It's hard to justify paying between $40 and $50 for any version of such an ultimately disposable game (the PC version is, at least, going for $20), but if your kid is desperate to relive Remy's adventures for him or herself, Ratatouille isn't a bad game to rent. And if you're old enough to feel embarrassed whining to your parents about buying you a game based on an animated film, you're officially too old for Ratatouille, and should just skip it altogether.