One may assume that the business of producing low-budget movie tie-ins died with the untimely self-destruction of THQ, but Ubisoft has boldly picked up the slack with The Smurfs 2: The Video Game, and, as is normally the case with these sorts of releases, the results aren't particularly positive.
The evil Gargamel and his two genetically engineered Smurfs have Smurf-napped the innocent Smurfette from her home in Smurf Village. The rest of the Smurfs, naturally incensed, take up the chase but are scared away by a big rat that causes half of them to flee into the surrounding forest, leaving only a handful left in the village to search for their missing sister.
The ‘plot’ is advanced via some of the laziest cutscenes that we’ve ever seen, with static drawings and narration instead of the in-game footage that you might expect. It only highlights just how ludicrous the game’s set-up and justification for your actions really are. For example, at one point Papa Smurf drops his ‘Smurfportation Crystals’ (actual things that actually exist), which are used as a means for travel, and ‘accidentally’ opens portals to the exact locations that are required to find Smurfette.
The hub-world is the iconic Smurf Village and you’re free to run around it as you wish. While this may sound exciting, it’s essentially an interactive menu, and ends up wasting your time as you run from one portal to another. The developers even seemed to realise this flaw, and added a wormhole (yes, a wormhole) to each side of the village to save you time when a menu would’ve easily sufficed.
Each world consists of five levels with a boss at the end. This formula never changes, and it’s even labelled ‘Level 1-5’ and ‘Boss’ on the level select screen, furthering the absence of creativity that went into the game’s development.
Essentially, this is a very simplistic side-scrolling platformer with a handful of power-ups and collectibles sprinkled in for good measure. Once you’ve selected a level, the game allows you to choose a Smurf to play as, each with their own respective skill. For example, Papa Smurf can freeze adversaries with a potion that he throws, Clumsy can tumble forward allowing him to clear a greater area when he jumps, and Grouchy can break special blocks.
Jumping on top of foes will break them free of Gargamel’s power, causing them to drop a vial of Smurfberry juice – one of very few gameplay elements you won’t have seen in similar games. Once you've collected enough of these tonics to fill the gauge on the screen, the Smurfberries that litter each level become twice as valuable. Whether you'll manage to hold onto them all, though, is another matter entirely.
When you take damage, either from an enemy or from falling off the map, rather than lose a life, you'll drop all of your Smurfberries (much as Sonic does rings). This wouldn’t be such a huge issue if the berries that you did drop equated to the number that you lost, but you'll often find yourself collecting just five berries after squandering hundreds. This is initially frustrating, but quickly becomes a non-issue as you realise that the berries have no actual purpose other than to improve your score.
Each level also boasts a small number of special coins. These are often filed away in hidden areas and sections of the map that are reachable only by certain Smurfs with certain powers. Collecting these coins also improves your score, but when you’ve collected a certain number, you’ll bring the Smurfs that initially ran away back to the village. Sadly, all that they do is stand around and offer no tangible benefits.
The boss fights aren’t much to write home about either, with the developers having stuck to a traditional formula. For example, the boss will clearly broadcast its next move and you have to dodge it three times in a row. Once you've done this it may become groggy or hurt itself, at which point you'll be able to get an attack in. Rinse and repeat until it’s down.
After playing the first two worlds it becomes painfully clear that each level and boss fight is strikingly similar and offers little in the way of variety. Indeed, towards the end of the game we found ourselves taking less and less care, focusing on completing the level as fast as possible so as to end the monotony of holding right and occasionally jumping.
However, this game isn’t aimed at the likes of us, but rather children. In the name of due diligence, we managed to get a 12-year-old to play it for half an hour to gauge his thoughts. Needless to say, he wasn't particularly impressed. He claimed that it was “quite boring” and stated that he “wouldn’t recommend it to a friend”.
The Smurfs 2: The Video Game feels like it was made by following a recipe. The level design and boss fights are incredibly formulaic, and downright dull to play. The developer may have attempted to make a decent movie tie-in, but all that it's managed to produce is a dull, repetitive slog through a tedious campaign.