I can't explain how disheartened I felt when I first read reviews for Spike Jonze's film adaptation of "Where the Wild Things Are." Like most people, the childrens' book was an essential piece of my childhood reading along with others like "Goodnight Moon" and any of the Dr. Seuss books. And with the unfortunate history lent to film-to-game adaptations, it's not surprising that I first approached "Where the Wild Things Are" (the game) with much trepidation. That said, the game actually manages to tread rather competent waters, delivering a solid experience despite a few taxing design choices.
Players take on the role of raucous young Max as he explores an island and it's wild inhabitants. Platforming and some light combat make up the core of the game's design while a few "steering" scenes break up the action. The plot is probably best referred to as "plot."
I don't know if the team at Griptonite Games really intended to channel 'Uncharted' (or maybe I'm just playing too much of the sequel these days), but Max's platforming move-set features some very similar actions. While Max's motions lack any of Nathan Drake's fidelity, the platforming pieces are well-laid and provide enough variety to keep progression interesting and exciting.
Max has very few methods of interacting with the world. He can jump, climb, and swing his scepter to attack. He can also pick up and throw objects he finds. Bird feathers allow Max to flap his arms to fly briefly, and a water tree bears large fruit that Max uses to grow a number of different floras to aid him in his adventures. Almost all the objects Max can use are grown on plants, and it's this unique sense of crafting and harvesting these plants that helps promote a sense of childlike wonder on this strange island in the sea.
I kid you not; the final moments in "Where the Wild Things Are" (the game) resonate. Everything from the setting to the speed of the action is handled marvelously and proves that Griptonite has the chops to churn out a strong platformer on current gen consoles. It's just too bad that this one scene shined while so many others felt like a case of going through the motions. It's also worth mentioning that the final cut scene is crafted with a finesse I had otherwise not expected and truly touched me.
It stinks, and it's boring. Max only has five attack animations (three of which you'll see constantly) and with the ample amount of health drops that are conveniently situated next to every combat area, you'll be completely ignoring the block button for the majority of the adventure. I've seen engaging combat in games with a single dedicated attack button ("Batman: Arkham Asylum" anyone?), but this is certainly not one of those games.
There are bugs, and there are black slime things. Each has a number of different iterations, and there is some strategy to taking them down later in the title, but my do they all feel the same! It's like someone intentionally tried to make the fighting sections as humdrum as possible.
Where Am I and What Am I Doing?
I can't really describe how confused I was playing the opening moments of this game. I pressed start, watched a sailboat land on an island shore, and then I was playing as Max. There's no intro, no hint at the narrative established in the opening scenes of the film, and no apparent desire to translate any story beyond what is seen and played directly. There are moments where you get objectives and discover shifts in character peppered throughout the game, but they are light and lack any impact thanks to the fact that nothing is established.
Despite failing to deliver much of the story that this game is based on, "Where The Wild Things Are" manages to provide a solid play experience. Adult players should look elsewhere -- both the content and the difficulty are rather tame -- but younger fans of the book or movie will most likely enjoy getting lost with the Wild Things in this adventure.