Review: Rango – The Videogame

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Rango, the new Nickelodeon animated flick from the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean series and starring the voice of Johnny Depp, is in theaters. Have you seen it yet? I haven’t, and I doubt I ever will – though the reception has been surprisingly positive so far. But I have played EA’s tie-in game, and, for a change, it’s actually pretty darn good. And not just ‘good for a movie game’ good, but good on its own merits as a mascot-style action platformer.

Apparently Rango, the chameleon sheriff of the dusty old Wild West town of Dirt, is a bit of a fibber, as the game takes place over a series of tall tales chronicling his heroic quest to take down infamous Gila monster outlaw Bad Bill and save his fellow Dirtonians from an otherworldly threat.

This exaggerated adventure takes you on a wild, whimsical ride through scenes from the film and beyond. From what I’ve seen of the movie trailers, the game captures the personality and artistic themes of the film nicely, and while the humor isn’t laugh-out-loud material and the voice acting is all imitation, the characters are quirky and the setting makes for an enjoyable plot. I particularly got a kick out of the traveling band of Mariachi birds that pops up at key moments throughout each level to cheer Rango on and supply the twangy background music.

All of the main characters are beautifully detailed and animated – the animators sure nailed Rango’s twitchy, darty chameleon eye movements – and the level environments, although exceedingly basic in layout, are remarkably varied. The tall tale theme gave the developers a lot of creative freedom, and it shows. You won’t find many Wild West platform games that go from stock settings like deserts and mines to a zombie invested ghost town, an alien spacecraft, and an 8-bit arcade world with a cubic style reminiscent of 3D Dot Game Heroes.

Actually, my favorite level takes place in the trailer home of a loony journalist / conspiracy theorist. The owner is searching for Rango with a flashlight while you’re guiding him behind household necessities on shelves and sneaking about through holes in the wall without being caught. This level does a great job presenting a believable human-versus-lizard scale, that looks phenomenal graphically and is a lot of fun to play.

Overall, Rango plays sort of like a budget version of Ratchet & Clank, marrying the acrobatics of platforming, like leaping between platforms, grinding rails, and scaling walls, with the combative elements of third-person and on-rails shooting. Rango’s trusty sidearm is a popcorn shooter, and he can also melee critters into coughing up Sheriff Stars, the currency needed to enhance his abilities. Sheriff Stars spew forth from defeated foes and broken crates just like bolts in R&C, and there is even a similar multiplier system that increases star intake as you dish out damage without incurring damage yourself.

Much like the environments, plenty of gameplay surprises are littered throughout. Before I started the game, not in a million years did I expect to, at one point, defend a gate from a field of swarming zombies by driving explosive golf balls at them (yes, there is golfing in this game!) or ride on the back of a flying goldfish through a sea of floating soap bubbles and giant rubber duckies. But they are in there, and trippy moments like this give an otherwise ordinary game a special charm.

Rango’s main downfall, though, is one of poor polish and refinement, which is none too surprising for a movie tie-in. In cutscenes and stills, the graphics are outstanding. But when you get into gameplay and everything starts moving, the animations and frame rate get a bit choppy, and muck up what is mostly an attractive visual experience. In terms of controls, the game handles competently. But the somewhat floaty jumping physics, inconsistent targeting system, and slightly laggy melee combat give the game a noticeable low-budget feel.

On top of those flaws, Rango also suffers from scarce replay value. The nine stages will keep you busy for no more than four to six hours, and if you skip the hidden collectibles outright and don’t bother to bust open every crate you pass, you can easily finish in a sitting or two. There is bonus content to unlock, such as concept art, extra costumes, cheats and character bios, but you get most of it on the first try, and none of it is rewarding enough to hold your attention beyond one quick browse.

Thus, once you’ve finished the story there is nothing left to see or do, and therefore a curious weekend rental (or maybe a bargain bin purchase down the line if you’re really into platformers) will suffice.

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Pros:
+ Loaded with unexpected gameplay twists
+ Level designs are varied and often quite trippy
+ Oddball characters have a likeable charm
+ Captures artistic style and personality of the film

Cons:
– Not enough replayability to keep you busy
– Controls lack refinement
– Typical movie tie-in polish issues

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for DS, Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: EA / Paramount Digital Entertainment
Developer: Behaviour Interactive
Release Date: 3/1/2011
Genre: Action/Platform
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!