Normally, we wouldn't even bother to write-up a game like The Polar Express, because, while it is based on a hit film with a wonderful story, it is also one of those games that is obviously geared toward young players–which means it's far too simple and far too overwrought with time-wasters (video clips, mini-games, etc.) to appeal to the teenage and adult readers of this web site. Nevertheless, the sluggish holiday season being what it is, and Christmas gifting providing this humble author a "cruel" twist of fate, here I sit before you discussing The Polar Express for PS2.
Like I said, this is the kind of game that you'd buy for your younger brothers and sisters (or children, if you have any), but not necessarily one that you'd play yourself. It isn't a game in the traditional sense, but more along the lines of an interactive movie that provides players with small tasks to complete in-between major scenes from the film. Each scene (or level) is broken up into about a dozen mini-games, things like kicking soccer balls, participating in food fights, playing tennis, chasing after loose toys, and so on. The items you get for finishing these games are tied to the story. For instance, the first few levels involve recovering the kids' train tickets from Scrooge's minions so that they can stay on the train. There are plenty of bonus items to collect too (coins, keys, toy parts, etc.), which unlock bonus levels, movie clips, and toy items that can be accessed from the bonus menu.
The mini-games are fairly basic and usually don't require more than a button or two to play. Also, they're ridiculously easy, such that most players should be able to finish the entire game in less than a day. However, that's the whole point. This is a children's game, and it should probably be evaluated based on that assumption. The games are simple enough for children between the ages of five and ten to get the hang of, and the overall wide selection of them ensures that kids of that age won't get bored spending too much time with any particular task.
Another tip-off that video game rendition of The Polar Express is "not for adults" is the way that the story is told–through lengthy cut scenes and video clips, the lion's share of which were simply lifted right out of the movie. These scenes last anywhere between 30 seconds on up to two minutes, and there are dozens of them. Every time you finish a few mini-games, you'll get to see another portion of the story unfold, whether you like it or not. If you haven't seen the movie, the game will totally spoil it for you. If you have seen the movie, you've already watched 80 percent of the game. That doesn't sound like a fun time to me, but you know, kids can watch something over and over 100 times and never get bored of it. This game is like that worn-out video tape of The Lion King you have, only it costs more and Tom Hanks has a speaking role.
The game itself takes place entirely inside of or on top of the train. If you saw the film, you'll likely be impressed by how accurate the 3D mockup of the train is. From the rustic early-1900's architecture outside to the bizarre environments situated inside each car, you'll have no doubt that this is the Polar Express you're wandering around in. The Christmas-themed background music and sound effects also help give the game that same sort of upbeat atmosphere that the movie had.
Overall, the graphics are very sharp, and the characters and enemies closely resemble their counterparts from the movie. The main complaint that most people will have is that the same enemies and cars repeat too often. While that isn't always true, it does seem that way considering how often you'll find yourself running back and forth through cars you've already been to (and supposedly cleared).
What do you want me to say? If you're older than 12, you have no business playing this game. Go watch the movie or read the book instead, but do feel free to buy this for any children that happen to be in your life. If you're under 12, then I compliment you on your ability to use the Internet and track down video game reviews. You'll probably like the PS2 version of the Polar Express.