"Play as all of your favorite Ice Age characters" they say? Or at least, that's what it claims on the back of Ice Age 2's box. Scrutinize the case of any video game and you're likely to find similar exaggerations of what you'll actually find inside – "Over 50 hours of gameplay!" or "Sequel to the smash hit Pull My Finger!" Don't kid yourself. You'll be finished with that game in 25 and Pull My Finger 1 was
a popular game. Ice Age 2: Meltdown's cover gives you an ever bigger hint that the marketers, with their greasy, serpentine slicked-back hairdos and sharp, black suits, are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Look closely at what character takes up the most room on the cover and you'll quickly figure out who you're going to
be playing as for 95% of Ice Age 2.
That's right, Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel that seems to be the butt of nature's biggest joke. Now, he may very well be your favorite character and, admittedly, perhaps the best suited for the platforming you'll have to do (the portable versions of the game seem to feature more character variety), but what about everybody who likes Diego, Manny, and Sid? Well, for those kind people, they've chosen to include a simple mini-game dedicated to each one. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that I even remember one featuring Manfred…
But I digress. This is a game based on a popular movie franchise, so there's no reason to expect much more than a cash-in and Ice Age 2 doesn't exactly seem eager to break that mold. Nonetheless, it isn't all that bad, even if it never ascends beyond being anything but competent. Once again, you play as Scrat for most of the game and the various situations he's put into take advantage of the snaggle-toothed furball's sometimes humorous move set and context-sensitive actions – things like desperately trying to scramble up slippery surfaces by nailing on the triangle button or playing dead while trying to steal nuts from under Diego's nose. The animation works and the little critter is agile enough for everything to make sense. Everything else is standard platforming fare; Scrat can run, jump, attack with his claws and tail, and throw rocks at enemies. There are a few challenging sections near the end of the game, but other than that, Ice Age 2 never throws anything insurmountable your way. In fact, most of your time is spent running around and gathering nuts.
There are over 1000 in any given level (you need that many to unlock special features, but there are plenty more), an indicator of how long they take. Ironically, the entire game is fairly short, but individual areas feel like they take forever to complete, which really throws a kink into the player's ability to enjoy it. Areas are connected by scurry holes which, in most cases, must be opened up by collecting a number of "special" nuts, usually involving the completion of some sort of mini-game. Some of them are kind of fun, others a little tedious. I'd chalk that up to the difference between my age and that of the target audience, but a few just seem a little sloppy. For instance, there's a part where you have to memorize the order in which elephants do flips in a mud bog, Simon-style. You've got a couple minutes to complete the mini-game, but after every sequence, you have to wait for them to do their flipping animations. This takes up a lot of the time that could be used to actually do the guessing, meaning you get maybe one or two mistakes at most. Likewise, there's a penguin bowling game at the end of the first stage that requires you to reach a certain score. The gauge that determines the spin of your bowling ball lags behind your button press a little bit, so it's sometimes hard to aim properly. If you can't score several strikes, then you can't complete the level and you'll have to retry, going through all of the 10 frames again.
These are ultimately small complaints that a little tweaking could've fixed, but since these mini-games aren't optional, they break up the flow of progression. Still, there are a couple fun sequences, like the aforementioned encounter with Diego or navigating Sid down a water slide. Even if you can overcome these problems, the level design isn't particularly compelling, either. Most of them are overly large, meaning that unless you or your kids are really entranced by the characters, it's easy to get bored right in the middle of your journey. That brings up another flaw that I noticed, though: the game follows the general idea of the movie (the ice is melting, so stages become filled with more water/mud/etc as the game progresses), but it seems to have a hard time following the actual plot. Since Scrat's sole purpose in life is gathering nuts, you rarely see or interact with the other main characters beyond the intermittent mini-games. Their story is told through scenes played in-between levels, instead, with little connection to the binds Scrat tends to find himself in.
On the other hand, Ice Age 2 has a pretty good presentation and all of the technical aspects are pulled off fairly well. By that, I mean that the graphics are smooth and the characters well-animated, even if the overall simplicity of the color palette/environment (white, brown, and green mostly) doesn't exactly push the boundaries. Plus, all of the voice talent found in the movies remains intact. There are some pretty cool interviews to unlock by collecting 1000+ nuts in each level and the actors seemed pretty enthusiastic about their roles in the game. I'm not sure how much kids would get out of them, but I found them entertaining.
For me, though, it's hard to qualify whether or not this game is ultimately enjoyable. As I already stated, it's not really targeted towards my age group, so many of the flaws that I notice may not matter to those who'll end up actually playing it. And, honestly, though it sounds like I'm totally bashing it, there's little to say about a mediocre game like this beyond what's wrong with it. Either way, the presentation is fairly good and it's free from the poor technical design that most movie cash-ins fall victim to. This is certainly no "Enter the Matrix." I guess, in the end, a little more involvement with the actual events of the film and some tweaks applied to the level design could've gone a long way. As it is, it gets points for being relatively decent, but it's nothing more than a conventional romp as far as actual gameplay goes.