Hergé’s iconic investigator Tintin, his faithful pup Snowy and a slew of the Belgian series’ most important characters have just made the leap into a CG Hollywood extravaganza courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. As is the natural order of the entertainment world these days, the young journalist with a nose for a story — and trouble — has also uncovered a route in the world of video games through a movie tie-in, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
The tale does not get off to the greatest of starts. The initial sections, wherein Tintin and Snowy navigate a town centre in 3D, do not compel at all, with an awkwardly placed, non-adjustable camera. These early issues melt away quite quickly, thankfully, as the game moves predominantly towards a tidy 2D platforming focus revealing otherwise neat, well put together gameplay. As is typical there are simple puzzles to be solved, often involving levers, buttons and moving or throwing objects. Effortless combat revolves around mashing a button to punch any bad guys in the chops, but if you’re sneaky you can creep up behind enemies or hang from ledges beneath to take them out in one hit.
The platforming breaks away often in favour of enemy puzzle chambers, where Tintin must take down all foes to progress with the help of any makeshift weapons dotted about. Opponents become steadily more difficult to overcome, donning suits of armour or arming themselves with guns to dispatch our ginger-tufted hero. In these situations it’s unwise to fight directly; instead, these areas become games of cat and mouse. Tintin must dodge in and out of vents to attract the attention of enemies, leading them into the path of a trap such as a dropped banana to send them slipping into a wall — or a beach ball launched straight at their heads.
Lack of variety is not a complaint that could be fielded at The Adventures of Tintin: the game takes regular 3D intervals from the main 2D play, with detective sections where players literally sniff out clues with Snowy or question locals, flight segments, sword fights, motorcycle stages that involve both driving and shooting at enemies in alternation, and investigation interludes where clues must be uncovered on 3D objects. Even the map screens between levels are an inventive mini-game in themselves, with players directing markers around a chart as if plotting a journey. On top of preventing child-defeating boredom through well-placed genre changes, as a whole it’s not a challenging game at all, with any deaths compensated by an instant restart almost always exactly where you met your demise. There's little frustration to be found during the five hour story.
Don’t be fooled by the story mode’s quick play time though, as The Secret of the Unicorn has much more to offer. A second story of sorts, Tintin and Haddock, takes place immediately after the events of the film and offers another five hours of Belgian brilliance. Captain Haddock has been smashed on the noggin thanks to the antics of bungling police duo Thomson and Thom(p)son, and rather than call an ambulance to deal with his obvious concussion Tintin and company stand around and watch his head goggle about.
That wouldn’t make for much fun for five hours, so you’ll be pleased to hear that the action actually takes place in Haddock’s head in a series of dream worlds inspired by the story mode’s settings. Here developers Ubisoft Montpellier break free of the shackles of the film’s plot, letting the design roam free with only the characters to confine them. As such there is no real cohesion thematically between stages, which are accessed through walls of doors reminiscent of Mega Drive classic Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse. Within these levels the design flickers between straightforward layouts and magnificently morphing structures, while bonus stages and boss battles dive full force into fantasy. Giant figures will appear in the backgrounds from time to time and voices sometimes call out, trying to rouse Haddock from his dozy daze.
Within Tintin and Haddock mode, which can be played in either single player or two player co-op, Ubisoft Montpellier finds room to experiment with playable characters not appropriate to the main storyline. As well as Tintin, Haddock and Snowy, you can also swirl the sticks of Thomson, belt out operatic vocals as Bianca Castafiore and explore the ancestry of Sir Francis Haddock. Each character brings a unique ability to the table and, once a stage is completed for the first time, they can be switched between at will to discover the numerous treasures that are hidden in every nook and cranny. Tintin can swing a grappling hook, Bianca’s voice shatters glass, Thomson’s cane doubles as a bullet repellent — each is vital to access every collectable. Grabbing costume cards unlocks more purchasable alternate outfits for the characters, and cogs are necessary to open up bonus rooms. Though Tintin and Haddock sticks mainly to 2D platforming without as much genre-jumping as the first story, with a few exceptions, the different characters keep things interesting. There’s plenty of replayability as you return to earlier stages with new squad members to discover previously unreachable items, and overall it’s by far the best part of the package.
PlayStation Move controls are restricted to a series of challenge levels based on some of the story’s most prominent activities: sword fighting, plane flying and side-car riding. These bite-sized chunks of gameplay add up to a further couple of hours of play; longer if you want to grab platinum medals for each of them. It’s a real shame that these motion controls have not carried over into the main mode, as they use Move well and movements are translated accurately. Holding the controller at different angles to block sword blows before striking or jabbing back at a parried enemy during gauntlet-styled timed battles to thwart as many pirates as possible, all the while batting back hurled bombs, is great fun. Gripping Move as if it were a paper plane allows more than enough accuracy to soar through hoops in the sky or shoot down opposing aircraft, with turns handled by subtle rotations of the remote. Catapult firing in the on-wheels shooter sidecar challenges is precise and better than the story’s analogue stick aiming.
What’s more dismaying is that some of the story’s other aforementioned activities, such as the manipulation of 3D objects, seem meant for pointer or motion controls. The DualShock-controlled cursor feels more sluggish than it should, and it would be far more natural to use Move in these situations. Especially given how uncomplicated the combat is, the core gameplay could have easily been mapped to Move, even if that only meant using the face buttons et al until a puzzle, flight, bike or sword fighting situation arose.
Another criticism would be the apparent lack of care given to the subtitles; disheartening since attention seems to have been paid to the rest of the game’s presentation, with well-animated models and voice acting a-plenty. The text that tracks along with the speech, however, is often misspelt or occasionally inaccurate, not matching up exactly — at one point, it even displays a completely different name for a character than is spoken.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, despite its flaws and disappointing lack of Move control in the core story modes, is a great accompaniment to the movie. Ubisoft Montpellier clearly knows its target audience well, and has crafted an uncomplicated, varied adventure that does not outstay its welcome, supplemented by generous alternative modes that meet or exceed the level of quality found in the main story.