One of the most popular comic strips in Europe is now a major motion picture, and where there is a major motion picture based on a comic strip, there is a video game tie-in. Generally they aren't very good. Can Tintin save the day?
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn tells the story of a young investigative reporter that solves mysteries with his dog. To the uninitiated American it all sounds sort of like a more realistic Geraldo Rivera, or perhaps Scooby Doo minus the girls, neckerchiefs, and pot. It's the sort of feel-good, innocent adventure that those of us in America outgrew decades ago, rolled into a charming little platformer for easy consumption.
But is it worth consuming? You know what we think. Let's ask the investigative reviewers of the internet — hailing from all corners of the globe, mind you — what they think of this charming story of a boy and his dog.
You'll most likely know that Tintin is coming to the big screens in a motion capture blockbuster with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson on board. Well, as you're probably aware, for most big films there's a usually disappointing game tie-in, and Tintin is no different — though it's not entirely disappointing.
You see, The Adventures of Tintin, at its core, is a delightfully simple 2.5D sidescrolling platformer. Yes, it might be too simple, but when it works it's all rather fun. It's obviously aimed at a younger audience though; it's very easy and not at all coherent — some scenes are completely missing altogether, in fact, so when it tries to bridge the story together it completely and utterly fails, skipping past some details and showing up in another location entirely — perhaps I just fell asleep?
Tintin's main problem is the ridiculous amount of repetition, with a handful of gameplay scenarios recycled time and time again. You get some standard 2D platforming sections, along with some incredibly basic combat. Most enemies can be easily dispatched with a few punches, but sneak up behind one and you'll be able to perform takedowns. You can also throw things at them, drop on their heads or make them run into walls. That might sound like a decent amount of options, but it's not - especially when every combat situation is almost exactly the same and crops up over and over again.
Rote grappling-hook sections, camera-challenged plane flying and tedious flashbacks to shipboard swordfighting muddy the experience. The intention may be to steer you away from boredom, but the irony is that the team employs enough tricks as it is; dynamic camera shifts, underwater cave dives and miniature setpieces that have you outrunning impending doom all serve to adequately break up your side-on travels.
As you have probably realised, TinTin is a very straightforward game with frequent checkpoints and easy boss battles which won't be everyone's idea of a challenge. But sometimes it is nice to sit down and play something ‘fun', without stressing out after being killed time and time again. The presentation is good but nowhere near offers the level of animated detail of the film, but I'm sure it didn't have millions ploughed into it. The water is particularly impressive, however some animations during the cut-scenes can be a little bit stuttery. On a technical note as well the character movement completely stopped at one point, the game wasn't frozen but I couldn't move anywhere which resulted in resetting the Xbox.
What makes Unicorn's quest for variety strange as well as irritating is the fact that the game's already found a far more successful means of extending the fun anyway. Local co-op - a campaign of platforming gauntlets set within Haddock's nightmares - is absolutely magnificent: both frantic and intricate as you and a friend work your way through a series of surreal dreamscapes hunting for treasure.
The environments could have been plucked straight from the books' stranger moments - fire places that float in mid air, lifts that look like gramophone records, giant figures watching from the background. At times, the level design is more inventive here than it is in the main adventure, and the bosses are certainly better.
Each character comes with their own skill - Tintin, for example, can fire off a grappling hook, Haddock can move crates and bust through walls, and Castafiore can double-jump and break glass - and every mission requires you to work together to move through the environment, while you fight bitterly for every last piece of gold and silver. If you've played Four Swords much, you'll know about the kind of uneasy alliances this dynamic can create.
The Secret Of The Unicorn is an extremely successful tie-in to what is a controversial film. It's a slight shame that, whether for reasons of budget or resources, it feels a little truncated (the aforementioned lack of online co-op, and the necessarily limited nature of the single-player mode are the two most notable flaws), but then that just brings forth the tantalising image of how good a Tintin game based purely on Herge's comics, with no filmic tie-in to consider, would be from the design team behind Beyond Good & Evil… Possibly the best family-orientated game of the year and certainly a must for Tintin fans.
Oh that Tintin...