While growing up, we were all told stories about fantastical places and their extraordinary inhabitants. Throughout the years, these fairy tales have become a go-to genre for parents looking to tell their kids a bedtime story. Although the adolescent market isn’t the only one these stories have targeted in literature and performance pieces, it’s their main target group. With that being said, it’s no wonder that the computer-generated film industry has taken such a liking to creating its own digital fiction within a tried and true genre. Such highlights include the Shrek series, alongside its recently-released spin-off, Puss in Boots.
For the uninitiated, Puss in Boots is an animated prequel to the cat’s first appearance in Shrek 2. Not surprisingly, it documents the events which led the Spanish, Zorro-inspired feline, to flee his former home. Given that the theatrical film is a spin-off of one of the most colourful and established CGI film series ever released, it’s not a surprise that there are a ton of hijinks to be found within its premise. Those rather outrageous events have been boiled down into video game form for the release of Puss in Boots on Kinect, from developer Blitz Games and publisher THQ.
Right from the get-go, players are introduced to Puss’ interest in acquiring magical beans. He’s discovered exactly which pair of unwelcoming humans have the glowing green fruit in their possession. Given that everything discussed takes place in a fairy tale land, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the rudely-exaggerated couple is none other than Jack and Jill. The haggard-looking pair is up to no good, seeming to have never been taught a lesson about sharing. Thus begins a comical journey through a land full of interesting landmarks ranging from basic staples like a tavern and a mine, to fantasy wares like a beanstalk and a giant’s castle. The latter two end up playing a large role in the feline’s grand quest to capture a golden hen or its large and shiny egg.
During his initial attempt to stealthily borrow some beans from their current owners, our pawed hero is foiled by another intrusive feline. Instead of working together, the two make the poor decision of quarreling. This disturbs the unsuspecting humans, setting both thieves back to square one. Then again, one would hardly ever expect a plan to go well the first time in a story like this. The chance encounter, fight and its resulting joint escape, end up working as the introduction of the story’s two main characters. Once enemies, Puss and his new friend (who just so happens to be from the female gender pool), join together for the common good. Progressing the fantasy aspect even further, the two join forces with an old friend, Humpty Dumpty, along the way.
Requiring the Kinect motion-sensing peripheral, the Xbox 360 version of Puss in Boots is a solid game that kids will certainly enjoy. It takes highlights from the movie and turns them into varied interactive activities, including swordplay, balance tests, sneak attempts and dance battling. Those are just a few of the different ways that real-life motions are transferred into and judged by the game. Players must perform active motions such as jumps, body tilts, arm swings and clawing actions in order for Puss to progress through each colourful environment presented within.
The most prevalent types of stages fall into three different categories: combat, traversal and stealth. Complementing these are one-off stages, such as the aforementioned dance battling (where fans must form dance move silhouettes with their body), and another highlight where Puss is tasked with sliding down a beanstalk on top of a leaf.
Combat: Mimicking fence-style swordplay motions, players must hold their own against oncoming baddies, who take far too long to kill using traditional attacks. Hand swipes lead to on-screen attacks, with solid motion detecting, although there’s the odd fault.
Landing a certain amount of successful swipes will fill up the Boots meter, which allows for special attacks. These include a claw attack and a kick, which can send foes flying into hazardous traps, effectively finishing them off in stylish fashion. However, kicks are also helpful when it comes to unlocking collectibles – all of which must be hit by enemies. Guitars placed around the environments can also be hit, letting the hero stun his foes with acoustic tunes. He can then hit up to three with the back of his guitar, providing a sweet one-hit kill.
Traversal: Walking motions translate into on-screen character movement, whenever flat ground is present. Otherwise, jumps, climbing motions and balancing attempts are required. In these stages, Puss in Boots must make his way throughout different environments, in order to get to a specific goal. These stages show off the majority of the game’s real-life movement requirements, but they became somewhat boring after a while. Longevity became an issue in that regard, as a couple sections seemed to go on forever, using the same few movements over and over again.
Stealth: Puss and Co. will occasionally need to borrow something from unsuspecting enemies. On one occasion, it’s a hotel ledger, while another presents the chance to lift a key off of a guard’s desk. In order to make it from point A to point B without being caught, players must follow the rules of red light, green light. Text prompts pop-up on the screen, stating one of two things: sneak or freeze.
Walking movements make the cat quietly walk towards the intended target. When the freeze text-overlay shows up, all movements must cease to exist, or else capture is imminent. For the most part, these elements work quite well with controller-free mechanics. However, there are some included living statue sections where the game will occasionally stumble as it captures the player’s stoic shape.
At the end of each stage, metallic ratings are awarded. These are based upon the amount of coins that the player has accumulated. Currency can be picked up through various means, including breaking specific items in the world or running through lines of them. Enemies will also drop the pieces of gold, silver and bronze. Not surprisingly, the coin colours match with the awards. It’s quite difficult to get to the gold plateau, meaning that replaying stages one or two times will be in the cards for those who go after achievements. That is, unless you manage to pick-up almost every coin and avoid being hit (which depletes your purse) throughout the entire game.
For the most part, Puss in Boots was impressive in its ability to track player movements. However, there were times where it became a bit frustrating, marring the experience a bit. A couple of the living statue and dance move positions required too much perfection, which may annoy some children. On the other hand, the combat sections’ required physical circling of enemies, led to occasional walks out of the camera’s range. It wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if large-degree turn movements weren’t needed to aim foes at certain collectibles and traps. Tying into that is the fact that some kicks didn’t register, leading to second or third attempts.
Once all is said and done, replay value is found inside of a challenge mode. Within this section of the game’s starting menu, Puss in Boots fans will find mini-games that have been lifted from the campaign’s mechanics. For example, one shooting gallery-style game asks kids to boot bad guys into point-awarding traps. Another brings on a continuous wave of enemies to fight. Living statue challenges and a barrel avoidance attempt also factor in. As you progress, new ones unlock, bringing the total to around five. These can be playable in single player of round-based multiplayer.
Within the aforementioned challenge mode, only the odd control issue reared its ugly head. For the most part, these issues once again revolved around circling enemies (or avoiding barrels – both of which use the same side-step mechanics) and living statue perfection. Though, the booting game also required a bit too much finesse, which prevented it from being as fun as it could have been. If you don’t aim the cowboy at a trap perfectly, he may not end up going into it. There were quite a few times where I got angry at the game for making him slam into the object without instigating a point-awarding finishing attack – something which occurred with regularity if I was a only little bit off.
One of the standout aspects of Puss in Boots is certainly its presentation. The most notable part would be the colourful, motion comic cutscenes. Not only are they quite well-done, but they’re also polished and quirky. The core gameplay visuals are also no slouch, doing a quality job of bringing the film’s world to life. For a licensed game, there’s a surprising amount of detail to be found within environments and enemy designs. However, the same few enemies do repeat over and over again.
The main cast does a commendable job of bringing the animated animals (and egg) to life, with some decent supporting work accompanying their efforts. Their use of wit and quirky humour brings an endearing quality to the game, which is what kids may enjoy most about this interactive experience. It’s complemented by half-decent music and all right sound effects which both fit in pretty well. Though, things aren’t all roses in the audio department. Some enemy one-liners can get quite grating, especially considering that they’re occasionally put on repeat. This was noticed most during sneak attempts, making me want to get through them as fast as possible.
Overall, Puss in Boots is a decent surprise. In a genre that is much-maligned for a lack of quality due to short production times, this is actually one of its more impressive releases. Still, the game unfortunately loses points for being both long-winded and borderline repetitive during some specific stages. Plus, the aforementioned control issues can occasionally get in the way of a fun time, despite not being overly-prevalent.
In the end, this is a game that is well-worth picking up for young fans of the motion picture, although it could have used a couple of tweaks. Though it does a good job of showing that licensed movie games can be of quality, it’s still not the most polished genre release thus far. Puss in Boots succeeds in his attempt to endear us on the interactive Kinect platform, helping to prove that innovative movie games can be enjoyable experiences. With a few tweaks and less repetition, it could have been a better example of this.
This review is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.
Puss in Boots does a good job of translating the popular animated film into an interactive and motion-based video game design. It's solid, enjoyable and pretty well-made.