What’s this we have here then? Another video game based on a children’s movie. While that previous sentence has probably turned away the majority of you, think about the poor souls who have to review movie-licensed games, and in particular those designed for kids. These, often rushed, games generally suffer from a few major problems, whether it be a forced control scheme, shoddy presentation, horrific load times, or simply a general lack of polish. Monster House certainly doesn’t break the mould in too many of those areas, but as a game designed for kids it works surprisingly well.
Monster House the movie is about a house on a normal street that just so happens to eat people – a story that you might think had come from the mind of Clive Barker, but is in fact a CG movie from Sony Pictures. Kids being kids, they notice that this house isn’t normal, and set out to kill it, armed with the tools every kid should own: water gun, slingshot, and the like. The video game starts once the kids are in the house, and from here plays out like a fairly bog standard third-person shooter, albeit one with a number of concessions for younger players.
The control system is the first area that has been designed to be as easy to use as possible. A quick look at the options menu left me cursing, as there were no options to invert the analogue sticks. I set myself up for a completely unplayable game, but I was wrong. With a camera that’s fixed pretty tightly behind your character, the left analogue stick handles all player movement without too many issues. The right analogue stick is simply used to move the camera slightly, but isn’t used in the same way as you would in a more traditional third-person shooter, so it can be ignored completely if you like.
All aiming is handled automatically, with you locking onto an enemy if you get close enough. When locked on your movement changes, letting you strafe around the target. All three characters in the game use a water pistol as their main weapon, and as you move through the game you’ll get upgrades, changing it from a single-shot weakling to a double stream continuously firing weapon of doom, or something equally as impressive. Ammo is never an issue either; secondary weapons require pick-ups, but the water pistols simply require you to tap a button a few times to pump them up – where the water comes from is a mystery.
Being a monster house, enemies are inanimate objects that have come alive – with chairs being the enemy of choice. Others include lights, piping, books, furnaces, and various boss-like characters who put up a sterner challenge. Aside from the flying books, which seem to be the hardest of the bunch to target and shoot, there’s not much difficulty in moving through the game, especially for experienced gamers.
Puzzles also play a part in the game, and these should pose a bit more of a challenge to the players the game is designed for. Doors are often locked, and to get the key you’re generally required to open a certain chest – which more often than not can be reached by moving a block or two – or defeat all the enemies in the room. There’s a little backtracking here and there, but never an excessive amount, although each character tends to move over similar ground to the others, meaning you’ll see the same environments numerous times.
Kids who have seen the movie will appreciate the fairly quirky visual style, and the character in the design of the house and the enemies. As far as children’s games go, Monster House isn’t too shabby. Audio work is decent, but a bug in the PlayStation 2 version meant that the music would turn to a continuous beep until a new level loaded. Speaking of loading, the load times aren’t bad at all, and saving is handled automatically by the game whenever you enter a bathroom.
As simple as the gameplay is, Monster House can’t be classed as a great game, or even a good game, for anyone familiar and comfortable with games like Ratchet & Clank. For younger players who want a hassle-free video game version of the movie, though, there’s very little wrong with Monster House. Although it’ll be over fairly quickly, there are a few bonus features and a 2D arcade game to play with, and it’s sure to please a few kids as the summer holiday boredom starts to kick in.