We understand that many of our readers will look at the name of The Smurfs 2 and immediately write it off as both a children's game and a movie-based title. While both of these facts are true, The Smurfs 2 piqued our interest for one primary reason: it is developer WayForward's big jump to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles.
WayForward has been known for many stellar, handheld side-scrollers, such as Contra 4, Adventure Time: Hey Ice King!, Aliens: Infestation, A Boy and his Blob and the Shantae series. When we found out that The Smurfs 2 was going to be WayForward's first 360 and PS3 release, we were intrigued to see how they would make the transition to the big leagues. With a $40 price tag and such an impressive track record on handheld devices, does WayForward deliver with their newest side-scrolling platformer? Or is this title one steaming pile of Smurf?
WayForward delivers in terms of current-gen gameplay based on our expectations of their quality side-scrolling designs. The Smurfs 2 takes traits from multiple side-scrolling platformers, from Sonic the Hedgehog to The Lost Vikings, and presents an effective platforming experience. For example, the Smurf you control must proceed through a level and collect Smurfberries as he proceeds. There are enemies scattered throughout, which you can jump on in Mario-esque fashion to defeat. But if the enemy were to make contact in any other way, you would lose all your Smurfberries, which you can try to recollect for a few seconds. The Smurfberry mechanic is oddly reminiscent of Sonic's ring system.
Since there are multiple Smurfs to play as, each one brings a specific-character action to the level. Papa Smurf can throw potions to incapacitate creatures, Brainy Smurf can jump higher, Vanity Smurf can stun creatures with his looks, Clumsy Smurf rolls (kind of like Donkey Kong), and Smurfette can float, just like Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2. But with so many nods to the golden days of platforming, does The Smurfs 2 establish itself as a good game on its own?
The Smurfs 2's plot coincides with the premise of the new movie: it starts off with Smurfette being kidnapped by the Naughties, grey smurf-like creatures created by the series' antagonist, the evil wizard Gargamel. Gargamel intends to ransom off Smurfette in order to learn the recipe of Papa Smurf's secret, Smurf-creation potion. While we hardly remember why he always sought to destroy or capture the Smurfs in the original cartoon, it's nice to see here that there's an actual reason for Gargamel's Smurf pursuit, which is to boil them all down in order to boost his magical powers (that he uses to entertain people in Paris as a premier entertainer). As expected with most movie-based titles, The Smurfs 2 pretty much regurgitates the movie's story as its own. But, as a side-scrolling platformer with WayForward at the helm, this is a quality we're willing to overlook and forgive, since its gameplay is extremely solid and makes up for most of its technical shortcomings.
What we unfortunately cannot forgive are the game's graphics. At first glance, The Smurfs 2 is meant to copy the aesthetics of the movie. Loading screens and in-game instructions actually use modern drawings of the Smurfs' retro-look from the cartoon. It might be evident that these drawings were not penciled by Peyo (series' creator), but they were still a nice touch to add into the game, especially knowing that the child-audience of the new movies would not identify with the cartoon; these drawings were meant for the adults that remember the original cartoon in its Smurftastic glory.
The Smurfs themselves are actually quite detailed and are each different, but by switching from character to character we find out that many of the Smurfs are mere palette-swaps with a minor accessory added in, like spectacles or a flower. The initial 2.5D effect that the background produces in conjunction with the foreground is rather effective. Unfortunately, the backgrounds become quite repetitive, given that the average player would not notice the repetition in backgrounds, seeing the same trees over and over does become bland over time. The same can be said of the repeated use of the same enemies throughout the game. After a while, you'll become very tired of seeing the same platforms, monsters, and Smurfs. In terms of its small capacity and aesthetics, there isn't enough diversity for me to understand why this game was not simply released on Xbox Live Arcade or the PlayStation Network. But again, for a game that is 20 dollars cheaper than most other new releases, younger gamers (and parents looking for something both cheap and enjoyable for their children to play) would not mind.
I should make particular note of the game's charm, which is directed at gamers who remember the original cartoon series. This can be seen within the game's music and sound effects, with some parts taken directly from the show. As players defeat enemies, they will fill a bar that will max out and cause all Smurfberries on the screen to grow in size and yield more points. When the bar is maxed out, the music is changed to an excerpt from the original cartoon's intro song. Combined with the inclusion of the cartoon cutscenes and load screens, The Smurfs 2 evokes a sense of nostalgia that I honestly was not expecting; I was thinking that it would be 100% focused on the movie with little references to the source material. Unfortunately, the rest of the music is repetitive, much like how I described with the graphics.
In terms of actual gameplay, The Smurfs 2 delivers. Smurfs 2 reminds me of Mickey Mouse's Castle of Illusion mixed with aspects of the New Super Mario Bros. tossed in for multiplayer gameplay. At first, I wondered why all Smurfs would walk so slow, but I realized this was done for the sake of having more than one Smurf on the screen at once (which explains the repeated graphics, color swaps and other developmental shortcuts).
In terms of multiplayer, I was thoroughly letdown to see that there was no option for Xbox Live connectivity. Despite all the trailers and promotional pictures showing multiple Smurfs on screen at once, it seems like the only way to play with multiple Smurfs is through localized play, which is fine if you're a parent or older sibling intending to play with a younger gamer. Clearing the entire game by my lonesome, knowing that the game was designed around having multiple Smurfs playing on the screen, made me just a little bit more disappointed with The Smurfs 2.
Ultimately, for a $40 price tag, it's hard for parents of younger gamers to ignore The Smurfs 2. If you're a parent or an older sibling who remembers the show, or if you planned to take a relative to the movie and would like an appropriate Smurftastic experience, I wholeheartedly recommend this title. The localized multiplayer and great core mechanics would be a blast. Even as I was playing The Smurfs 2 for the sake of review, I wished that my goddaughter was here so we could both have played together. Nevertheless, enjoyment there still was, and despite it's shortcomings, it was a Smurfingly good time.
This review is based on a retail copy of The Smurfs 2 for Xbox 360. The Smurfs 2 is also available for PlayStation 3, Wii U and Wii.