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Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Eurocom
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Family/ Action/ Platformer

Graphics & Sound:

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a real looker, one of the prettiest Wii games we've seen in a while. Especially in a licensed game, where one might expect the bar to be a bit lower, it is great to see extra effort was made. The qualifying statement that always follows any praise of a 3D Platformer is that you'll find plenty of camera oddities. It's frustrating, but so expected at this point it's hardly worth mentioning. Adjusting the camera is easy enough, using the D-pad on your Wii-mote, but we just don't love those moments when things get wonky. Among the finer moments of the game visually are some of the cut-scenes and the extra movies included as unlockables from the main menu. Also, a series of interactive character models you'll play and see during the game, plus some concept art. Finally, you'll have the option to play music from the game and listen to the voice talent - all finely transferred to the Wii for this version of the game. We love unlockables, not just because they're cool, but because they encourage extended gameplay. The settings you'll explore are densely packed with all kinds of goodies, made possible by strong visual design throughout the game that highlights special objects. At some points, you'll really have to tweak the camera controls and sleuth to find special objects, which is cool for dedicated treasure hunters. Beyond all the nice touches in the game's presentation, there's plenty of variety in locations and play styles. Even before you delve into the mini-game Multiplayer options, you'll rarely have two levels in the solo campaign that look and feel the same. This makes a nice difference compared to licensed games we've played that too often settle for one style and mine it until you just want someone to stop the ride so you can get off. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs pulls you in with a pretty face and keeps you engaged with equally endearing gameplay.


Nothing in this game is incredibly novel or jaw-dropping, but it's all put together into such a nice package that you'll coast through hours and hours effortlessly. The option to play Single Player or Multiplayer is yours from the main menu, but you'll need to earn your way to the good stuff in Multiplayer. There are eight games you can play, including something from just about any genre you can imagine. It's a shame there isn't some form of cooperative campaign mode available, but being able to jam out with friends in so many other ways is a nice trade-off. The story in Single Player is just what you saw in theaters, following the major events of the film. Extended platforming areas offer a way to keep the gaming part as challenging and deep as possible, but then you'll bump up against short interludes like Diego chasing prey or Sid running from Mama Dino that mainly tie into film/story. The platforming works well, apart from some 3D issues that are relatively minor. Checkpoints could be more intelligently placed in some areas, but you'll never have to go so far back that it creates great frustration. The bosses and enemies are a puny lot, easily defeated with just a bit of running around and butt-jumping.

The challenging and fun part of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is how it keeps a fast pace and moves across different gaming styles. You'll do some flying, some straight platforming, some Monkey Ball style of play, some 2D side-scrolling-throwback action, and some running/racing before the credits roll. Mix in the Multiplayer rounds, with everything from a "Simon Says" variant to party-game action to snowball-throwing battles, and you've got an even more diverse stew. Even where you find consecutive platforming levels, new characters or devices help to keep things from getting stale. Sid and his adventures make up the largest part of the game, but even Sid gathers all kinds of abilities as you progress. First he can only attack, and then he does some rolling around on big snowballs, and then he starts messing with fire. Playing as Buck, you'll find all kinds of fun (if mostly derivative) gameplay. Sliding and dodging and jumping on vines may be a straight rip-off of other platforming titles like Ratchet & Clank, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun. Buck has a heavier focus on attacking with projectiles, gathering and throwing and even using some weird shooting gourd. Points collected during solo play allow you to purchase fun items from an in-game store, or to unlock Multiplayer mini-games.


There is something to be said for upping difficulty levels, when many games are trending toward snippet-sized, casual affairs. Trying to make such casual material as Dawn of the Dinosaurs into something difficult would have probably flopped. There are plenty of opportunities to find the challenge in this game, if you worry about collecting crystals and other special items. Players unconcerned with these things will have an easy run through all but a few levels. The harder areas are those with emphasis on platforming, especially in combination with enemies. Nothing ends up being incredibly cheap, but the cave levels are less fun for having jumps and balance-beam elements that only reward skilled players. It's not that younger gamers will be stuck in these areas, but the fun does start to dwindle when you've fallen and come back a few times. Directing players through these areas, a visible wisp of wind appears and helps keep you from getting lost. This is a smart device, and the camera often draws you toward exits or pivotal gameplay elements this way, when you might otherwise lose track of objectives. A very forgiving battle system means you'll have little else to worry about. Those with quick reflexes will have a blast playing through, collecting items and unlocking the secret content. More twitch-challenged gamers will have to work harder in some areas, but won't have a tough time getting through to the credits. Flexibility is key, allowing more seasoned gamers to stretch and go after hard-to-find or hard-to-reach items for extra rewards.

Game Mechanics:

Approaching a multiplatform game on Wii, especially a major release like this, makes you clench up a little wondering if there's been any gratuitous use of motion controls. Happy to report that nothing like this is present in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and that the ability to point at the screen comes in very handy both for the projectile abilities that Buck gains and some of the Multiplayer gaming. The remainder of the game doesn't rely on motion controls, which is fine considering all the variant controls you'll encounter with switching characters. The game does a great job prompting you about any new control options, immediately before you have to use them. This is much smarter than the usual option of watching a tutorial in the beginning, which you promptly forget. Basic controls - like using the (A) button to jump - are persistent throughout the game, regardless of which character you use. This helps ease any pain of switching between characters. Some of the control schemes are overdesigned, such as switching between Buck's various ammo choices, and seem to follow a kitchen sink philosophy of, "Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it..." In principle this makes sense, and it doesn't detract from anyone's gaming experience, so no fuss.

The licensed game has gone from tawdry or laughable to respectable and sometimes excellent. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs makes you happy that you saw the film and that you now get to play it out in videogame form, faithfully transferring action elements from the big screen without tarnishing them. Nobody who goes to see a good film wants to find it butchered in some other media, so kudos to the development team for bringing Dawn of the Dinosaurs faithfully onto the Wii. Platformer fans will have a blast, even if the level of challenge is moderate, at best. Novice gamers will struggle with some of the 3D idiosyncrasies, but will rarely find themselves entirely thwarted. Recommended.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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