The postman arrived while I was babysitting my brother's toddlers. "Shrek!" My almost 4-year-old nephew squealed. "Did you buy Shrek for me?" His 5-going-on-15-year-old sister came running. "You bought us Shrek! Hooray, I love you, Aunty Carol!" Kids ... the world revolves around them, doesn't it? Since they had finished lunch in a timely manner, with few "flying peas" incidents, I loaded Shrek the Third on their Mommy's computer.
Total hilarity followed with them punching every key as quickly as they could and running into walls while their Aunty, quite hapless with laughter, was trying to instruct them while reading the manual at the same time and thereby missing the in-game tips that quickly flashed by. Once they settled down, they acquitted themselves rather well, requesting help only at tough spots requiring a little more hand-eye coordination and timing. They had no problem smacking the light-attack key to smash items and defeat opponents, although the timing required on the strong attack defeated them.
The game begins with a movie with opening music fanfare. Dragon/donkey babies flying through the city and segues into a puppet play, which narrates the back story. Princess Fiona's father, King Harold, has croaked (pun intended), and Shrek, not wanting to be king, is on a quest to find Arthur, Fiona's cousin, to succeed the throne. Shrek is accompanied by Donkey, who also acts as a narrator, and Puss in Boots. Then… off you go!
First thing's first. Shrek has to bust out of the palace and run away in order to find Arthur. The aim of the game is to defeat your enemies, as well as to collect coins, which can be used to purchase special items to improve your main character - Shrek. Collect fairy dust to power your special attacks, food to heal you - some with amusing effects - and any other collectibles along the way. Once you complete the main quests in a scene, it is saved, and you can replay it to finish the other quests.
As you travel on your journey, you play different characters, each having their own special attacks and powers. Shrek is the strongest, with an ogre power that stuns, and Puss is the most agile, able to do a double-jump. Controls are simple enough once you remember which button does what. The game shows you special moves that can be done and provides an icon, representing the key you need to press. For the children, I ended up installing the Z-Board key-set with the extra large movement keys and taping the icons onto the appropriate keys. Each character has different special attacks, but luckily enough, the same keys activate them.
I was really quite impressed by the graphics. Although some characters were a little blocky, smooth animation and high poly-count segued from cut-scene movie to game so fluidly, I sometimes wasn't sure if I had control of the player character for a few seconds. Outdoor scenes are quite beautiful in their color and luminosity. You discover different things that Shrek or the other characters can do in each scene - they are important to your success. Items you cannot destroy may have a function. Some will spawn items which can be destroyed for additional fairy dust; some may be a prop to assist you in getting to another otherwise unreachable level.
And what would a campaign be without side quests? After Shrek finds Arthur, he is informed that he won't go with Shrek until he completes some obligations. So, as the nice Ogre you are, you help Arthur (this is Pendragon you know ... Lady of the Lake and all that) complete his quests.
Shrek the Third is rated E10+ and indeed, children need to be reading at that level in order to play the game by themselves. The dexterity and hand-eye coordination requirement is not that tough, however. Having been weaned on the Leapfrog system and such various free kiddy Web sites as Nickjr.com, my niece and nephew did well with Shrek, doing far better once I installed the gaming keyboard.
Shrek is a marvelous game. Don't let the nay-sayers turn you off it. Yes, it's linear. Yes, you can only walk on certain areas of the landscape, but so what? It's not an massively multiplayer online game! It's a kid's game! No, it's not terribly intellectual. You go around smashing things as Shrek; you fight as Puss in Boots, who does a great double-jump; Sleeping Beauty can mesmerize with her beauty; Arthur swings a mean sword at various points in the storyline; Fiona and Donkey also have their strengths. No, there's no real strategy involved. It's a straight "button-masher," but that's not to say that they cannot be fun - especially for younger kids who are already enamored with Shrek.
The fun is in the design; the presentation. You aren't asked to defeat 40 pirates to gain access to the boat. You have to get to the boat, and to do it, you have to defeat all the pirates in the way. How many were there? It doesn't matter. What matters is that it was a challenge. They came at you, first singly and then in pairs and then in droves, and you defeated them all. You didn't sit there and plan on pulling a single out of a pack of many waiting to beat your butt. Along your way to the boat, through the pirates, you also picked up coin and collectibles, accomplished the character's special moves and had fun doing it.
Since there wasn't a way to save more than one copy of the game, I played the game through and then let the children watch as I replayed the scenes or let them replay the scenes by themselves. They enjoyed the fact that you could select scenes "just like a DVD," play mini-games in some scenes and watch the movie scenes, punctuating the story line by moving the story along.
Many animated movies resonate well with an adult audience because of the adult humor often found in them. Shrek is no different, and some of that humor is translated from movie to game. It has all the hallmarks of a fantastic journey. Treasure to find, pirates to defeat, witches to thwart, quests and side quests, mini-games, puzzles to solve, dragons to slay ... what's not to like? It's epic! I may just have to replay this, in a more leisurely manner.