"Despicable Me: The Game"
From: Vicious Cycle Software/
D3Publisher of America
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
(mild cartoon violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
There's a perfectly valid argument to be made in favor of "Despicable Me's" opening tutorial level, which holds players' hands at a pace that can generously be described as agonizing. The primary gameplay — straightforward 2D running and jumping — needs no introduction, but Gru's weapon (a multifunction raygun whose functions can be combined) and minions (those cute yellow guys, who help Gru solve puzzles and reach previously unreachable areas) justifiably merit some explanation.
By the end of the 20-minute tutorial, though, all the unskippable stopping and explaining is enough to make seasoned players wistful of the days when games had no scruples about dropping kids into a gauntlet and daring them to figure it out themselves.
Don't worry: Those days make a fierce comeback in level two.
Almost instantly, "Me" transforms into a beast, trotting out a string of platforming challenges that amp up the difficulty so quickly as to be unrecognizable by comparison. The game immediately asks players to demonstrate a mastery of running, jumping and raygun shooting finesse that all work in tandem, and the demands are daunting enough to rightly challenge the seasoned players who scoffed at level one. "Me" is generous with checkpoints — there's one between every platforming challenge, so players won't have to repeat something they cleared after failing whatever follows — so it speaks to "Me's" ruthlessness that it's a nasty game even with this generosity taken into account.
The same holds true for the minion portions of the game, in which players aim the Wii remote at the screen and "fire" minions into the level in ways that activate switches, form bridges and otherwise allow Gru safe passage to the exit. The demonstrations of this trick in the tutorial are completely banal, but the first real challenge necessitates thinking about the problem in a way the tutorial didn't even present as necessarily fathomable. "Me" makes yet more concessions by scattering hint cards that reveal the solutions to the truly hopeless, but even these don't always paint the whole picture for those who can't think a bit critically.
The shock to the system that is most of "Me's" post-tutorial content — a few flying segments, while a nice change of pace, feel a bit half-baked by comparison — will likely feel like found gold to players who crave a fierce challenge and never expected to find it here.
But that speaks to "Me's" problem: It's a game that has an identity complex and is ultimately catered to people who will never know it's for them. The subject matter and early handholding make it entirely easy to dismiss as fare for kids, but just about everything else appears designed to send those same kids into the arms of a demoralizing temper tantrum. Even parents who attempt to assist their kids might come away defeated by something that, if presented without the family-friendly license, would almost certainly be embraced by the hardcore crowd.
So while "Me" is the arguable diamond in the summer movie game rough, it's also completely impossible to recommend to the very specific audience that might seek it out — unless, of course, parents want to give their kids a taste of the way kids' games were when they grew up.
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.