Designed to be a sequel to the cult favorite stop-motion animated film from way back in 1993, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge is pretty much wrecked by two distinct flaws in the logic. For one, The Nightmare Before Christmas is only moderately popular in North America. It was a cult hit for its time, and still remains wildly popular in Japan (hence Capcom developing the game and releasing it exclusively in Japan more than a year ago). But over here, most people who have more than a casual fancy for the film are Hot Topic-loving mall goths and creepy Tim Burton fanatics…or, you know, combinations of the two. Sure, Tim Burton's newest stop-motion animated effort, Corpse Bride, is out now, but the timing and relevance is still suspect. Secondly, the developers clearly went to painstaking lengths to re-create the delightfully macabre characters and universe of the film, going so far as to include elaborate musical numbers and all sorts of subtle visual details. But while the game is a success on this front, bless its heart, it's just not much fun to play. Charm and atmosphere certainly help, but this is a game we're talking about after all, and without quality gameplay to back up said charm and atmosphere, you're basically sunk.
When we last left the hero of the Nightmare Before Christmas universe, Jack "The Pumpkin King" Skellington, things were going A-OK in Halloweentown. Jack had just vanquished the vile Oogie Boogie and settled in with his lovely lady, Sally. Oogie's Revenge picks up a year after the events of the first game. Jack is restless, looking for ways to make the thrillingest, chillingest Halloween ever. As a suggestion, his friend, Dr. Finkelstein, gives him his latest invention, a weapon known as the soul robber. It's essentially a combination of a whip and a wacky wall crawler that wraps around Jack's hand and unfurls to do all manner of damage when required. Anyhow, Jack loves the little gadget, and he sets off out of town to take it on a test-drive. But while he's away, a meddlesome trio of local kids by the names of Lock, Shock, and Barrel manage to stitch Jack's archenemy, Oogie Boogie, back together and unleash him on the town's citizens. Jack comes back to find the town booby-trapped to the hilt and the citizens in fear. On top of all of that, the doors that access the different holiday towns have all gone missing.
Fundamentally, Oogie's Revenge is a beat-'em-up with some sprinklings of platforming and rhythm gaming tossed in for good measure. Your primary weapon is the aforementioned soul robber, and you're given a couple of different attacks to use with it. You can simply whack an enemy with it in short bursts or you can use it to latch onto a bad guy, and then either toss him at another one or slam him to the ground over and over again. Upgrades are available for the soul robber, but generally speaking, you'll be repeating a lot of the same attacks. Over time, you can earn new costumes for Jack that will provide some new attacks. Christmas Jack, for instance, can toss presents that stun enemies a variety of ways, and Pumpkin King Jack can spit fire. More often, though, you'll be using the soul robber and repeating the same basic attacks over and over and over again. You might be content with the limited number of attacks if the enemies actually put up any sort of fight, but they really don't. It's not hard to bowl through pretty much any enemy type, and the whole thing just turns into a repetitive chore very quickly.
When you aren't punching painfully easy skeletons around, you'll be playing some manner of fetch for one of the random townspeople, running back and forth, backtracking way too much, and generally not doing much of anything with consequence. Here and there you'll find a jump puzzle or some other random task, but mostly it's just run around, beat up all the bad guys, go back somewhere and get an item, beat up all the bad guys again, and then deliver the item, ad nauseam. The boss fights are pretty much the lone bright spot of the gameplay. Here, you'll typically find yourself running around and punching the boss character in its purported weak spot or spots, while musical notes spit out of said boss. Once you collect enough of these notes to fill a meter, you'll launch into what can be a quite challenging musical rhythm game. Successfully completing the game causes Jack to launch a superpowerful attack at the boss, which does a lot of damage. If you screw it up, you'll still launch an attack, but a much weaker one. Unfortunately, these fights don't pop up terribly often, so you'll have to sift through a lot of drudgery to get to the good parts.
On the flip side, Oogie's Revenge does a great job bringing back the characters, the storyline, and the whimsical nature of the movie. The character designs are re-created with detailed flare. From Jack himself to the smallest of side characters, everybody's got that weirdly twisted aesthetic going on. The environments are similarly detailed, though decent textures, lighting, and other such effects are in short supply. Still, from a pure art design perspective, the game gets that Tim Burton-esque, angular architectural design down pat. Plus, there is an entirely decent variety of environments to play through. Unfortunately, things like jacked-up camera angles and periodically obnoxious frame rates do detract, somewhat.
On the audio side, the voice acting here is top-notch. Actor Chris Sarandon returns to voice Jack, and veteran voice actors Kath Soucie, Rob Paulsen, Ken Page, and Pee-Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens, help bring the ancillary characters to life. There isn't a bad voice acting spot in the whole game--except when it comes to editing. For some reason, the developers thought it would be a good idea to have Jack shriek out the words "soul robber!" every time he attacks. Multiply that by the copious number of enemies and by how long the game is, and you're going to hear those two words so many times that you'll want to claw out your own ears. The rest of the audio suffers from similar repetition. The sound effects are well implemented, and the soundtrack has plenty of original musical numbers that are quite good--the first couple of times you hear them, anyway. Several of the songs pop up again and again and again, and even during certain fights, the songs will just start looping, delivering the same lyrics multiple times. Again, the songs themselves are excellent, but they're stretched a little too thin.
It's really too bad about how Oogie's Revenge turned out, because were it not for the part where you actually have to play it, fans of the film could have had a conceivably great time with it, as so much attention has been paid to the details of the movie's universe. Between the musical numbers, the detailed character and environmental designs, and the quality voice acting, it all adds up to create a great sequel--that is, a great sequel if it were some kind of animated film, and not a game. The fact of the matter is that very little of Oogie's Revenge plays that well, and the few parts that do aren't enough of a factor to make the game itself recommendable. If you loved The Nightmare Before Christmas, there might be a rental's worth of enjoyment to be found in Oogie's Revenge. If you're anything but a diehard fan, though, then you're better off spending your time elsewhere.