By Stewie Sutherland
Every so often I’ll see something that I’ll pick up on a whim. Maybe it’ll look interesting, usually for a giggle and often because I can’t believe they went ahead and made it. And just sometimes, if the price is right (in this case, $50 that I thought “what the hell, why not?”) I’ll take it home and give it a look over. This was the start of my mildly-amusing (but very short) experience with Majesco’s latest title.
Night at the Museum 2: The Video Game was perhaps a good idea at first. I stress that wonderful little variable of a word; perhaps. Maybe someone had their heart in the right place. While the films that it’s based on were decent success stories (featuring a whole cast of recognisable names, from Stiller and Wilson to the legendary Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Mickey Rooney and Dick Van Dyke, they were, understandably, left with the simple “decent comedy flick” status that so many movies are titled with) some might think that making a game from this would be a little… un-needed.
Even Activision waited until Daniel Craig had made two action/story filled Bond movies before attempting to mash their contents into a game. (Sadly, Quantum of Solace on the PS3 could only make me sit and remember the good old days of Rareware’s Goldeneye, 007.) For this reason I stay away from things like games based on single Pixar movies. So here we are, back at the starting point. Maybe, just maybe, somebody somewhere thought that a game based on Battle at the Smithsonian was an idea worth investing in. Then again, it’s possible that it was always just intended as a quick milking of the cash cow.
The game features the likeness (which really doesn’t look much like him at all) and voice of Ben Stiller, while the rest of the memorable historic cast has been replaced by basic actors. Their 3D renders are very simple and their voices are lacklustre (and in the case of new-to-the-game Cleopatra, harsh on our hearing).The game follows the second movie’s story loosely: Larry Daley, previous Night Guard of the New York Museum of Natural History-turned-entrepreneur arrives in time to empty his locker for the last shift.
Right away you’re given a preview of how the game will progress. This first level is incredibly small: most staircases, corridors and such are blocked off by piles of packing crates, and the look and feel of the film has been toned down a lot. People expecting to see rich wooden interiors are left instead with simple brown textures. The space around the main desk is opened up to allow the character Rexy (the Tyrannosaur skeleton) to roam around freely and be ridden. From the moment the level loads, in the distance you can spot small glowing blobs scattered around: get used to them, you’ll be collecting plenty. Each level features different collectables, but we’ll go into more detail about this a little later on.
Fans expecting to be able to interact with historical figures (and miniatures) of Jedidiah and Octavius, played rather well in the films by Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan respectfully, will only be able to talk to them very briefly. And thankfully, because personally I couldn’t listen to the over-forced Southern Cowboy accent that the Jedidiah character was speaking with.
The next part of the level is a tutorial, plain and simple. Larry’s tools in the game are his flashlight (controllable by using the Wiimote’s aim) and retractable keychain, which the Golden Tablet (which merely brought everything in the Museum to life in the first movie) now imbues objects with special powers. These include shining the flashlight on broken objects to fix or repair them (two completely separate and rarely used functions) and turning the keychain into a grapple, capable of supporting Larry’s lanky build. And to think, I was just impressed when it made Dick Van Dyke a kick boxing expert! (Let me state right now that film and television legend Dick Van Dyke is not present in this game. Noticeable in their absence as well are Robin Williams, Hank Azaria and the lovely Amy Adams.)
The opening level has little else to it. Players can ride Rexy through the lobby of the museum to collect some of the many different objects that Larry will be picking up on his journey, before a very brief dialogue with Teddy Roosevelt finishes the level off. The only other thing worth pointing out is that this level (like all others) features a small number of information kiosk buttons near some of the exhibits, such as ‘Dum Dum’ the Easter Island head, and the Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil. Pay attention to these if you want to take anything away from this game, like I did. (I learnt that pirating legend Blackbeard was named Edward Teach. Who’d have thunk it?)
Larry’s quest quickly takes him to the Smithsonian Institute Castle where the remainder of the game takes place. Inside, the player will explore different sections of the museum and try to restore order after it is taken over by the villains of the movie. At the same time, Larry has to find and collect the nine different pieces of the Golden Tablet which quickly become scattered. This part is where you’ll first be given a clue as to how short the game is: those nine different pieces are collected very, very quickly. You’ll be given a very short list of objectives, and with Ben Stiller’s hinting dialogue and a map which shows key locations, any real thought needed to solve puzzles is removed.
In less than 10 minutes you’ll have progressed to the next area. I didn’t worry too much about this, until I quit out of the game to take a break and learnt that each area is a single level. In less than 30 minutes I had gotten a good quarter of the way through the game, which is very linear. If you miss any of the items to collect, you simply reload a level: there’s no backtracking here to use a skill learnt later on.
I’ve mentioned the items a few times already in this review, so let’s get to the nitty gritty and cover those, shall we? Each and every level (or area, let’s just call them areas) have a number of collectables for Larry to pick up, namely a bunch of different items to match the zone’s theme. One such area has you collecting magnets while another, a maintenance and storage zone, will have wrenches. There’s also occasionally an objective themed item, like collecting bubblegum for the first area’s Easter Island head. As well as these, there will always be four US quarters and a single penny. These last 5 coins are used to buy a Pressed Penny souvenir, available in each and every area of the game, including, strangely enough, the Archives and Storage areas, where no member of the public would be allowed to explore, much less buy a memorial token.
In case you were wondering, all of these items come with a set value of points in the game, which are used to unlock extras available from the main menu. These include artwork and 3D renders, as well as the game’s very few cinematics. You can also replay some of the mini-games Larry will encounter on his quest to restore order inside the world’s largest museum. Lastly, there are hundreds of little ‘fact cards’ to buy with these points, showcasing different exhibits of the real-life Smithsonian museums. They’re mostly featuring aircraft and space craft, as much of the game will be spent in those areas, but they’ll also occasionally throw in information about Able the space monkey and such. Each factoid has historical dates, a photo, and the same information that you’d find if you went and took a tour of the museum yourself. In a way, this makes Night at the Museum 2 an educational game at best, a museum simulator at worst. It’s also worth noting that halfway through the game, you should have enough of the points to buy and unlock everything in the extras menu, so don’t push yourself too hard.
The overall length of the game took me a little over 2 hours, including taking time to replay areas to collect every item (I’m a completionist), and the ending is left very open. While Larry successfully stops the different villains from taking over the Museum (and later on, the world… perhaps night by night, we’ll never know), he doesn’t fix his original problems back in the first Museum of New York. The game features very few memorable moments: any of the fun and humour that might’ve been present in the movie has been done away with. The romantic moments between Larry and the adventurous Amelia Earhart are now non-existent. The few boss fight or flight moments are more interesting than the usual running around and using your flashlight mechanics that the game makes constant use of, but they all feature such strange (and sometimes just downright silly) methods to solve them that they feel like a chore regardless.
Night at the Museum 2 was also made for PC and the X360 so if you play the latter console and want an easy 1000 gamer points, you might want to see if your local video shop has it to rent. A different version exists on the Nintendo DS as well, but with even less information available for it than the Wii, I have my doubts about how good it will be. Kids might have a bit of fun with this game, but after a while, they might just as soon be asking you to take the game out and put Wii Sports back on instead. For fans of the movies who just want to don a blue uniform and chat with quirky historical figures, this game will sadly leave you disappointed. If nothing else though (if you are determined to try it still) then you’ll probably walk away knowing something about history you never knew before: those information kiosks throughout the game are pretty informative after all. Poor.
3 OUT OF 10