Let’s face it – in today’s game world, kids often get a raw deal. Every Christmas and summer brings a deluge of games, often based on child-friendly IPs or CGI animated movies, and most of them are rubbish. Think ropey 3D platformers, dodgy kart racers, woeful scrolling action games, second-rate graphics and miniscule lifespans. And this is a shame, because it doesn’t just mean that someone somewhere is making the patronising assumption that kid’s don’t demand or deserve decent games, it also means that – if you’re a parent – you don’t get to share a great game with your family. Of course, you know and I know that you bought that Xbox 360 to play Oblivion and Gears of War yourself, but wouldn’t it be nice to pretend that it was a family purchase?
Hollywood has been getting this right for a while now, with films like The Incredibles or Shrek that tick all the kids’ boxes, but prove just as entertaining for grown ups too. The CGI cartoon wizards at Pixar and Dreamworks realised that, by making the movie work on different levels, they broadened – not weakened – their appeal. And to be fair, some games companies understand this too. Think of the jewels of Nintendo’s first-party output, or Ratchet and Clank, the first few Crash and Spyro games or Kingdom Hearts II. These are games packed with child-friendly content and style, but on another level they also boast sophisticated game mechanics, a high level of visual polish and real longevity. These are games you might buy for the kids, but you end up playing yourself – which is exactly the way that it should be.
For the first few hours of playing Surf’s Up, I had hopes that it was that sort of title.
It helps the CGI summer movie it is based on could have been built with games in mind. Surfing penguins are a natural fit for the extreme sports/stunt genre pioneered by the Tony Hawks and SSX titles, and like the much-admired Disney Extreme Skate Adventure – which was built on the Tony Hawks engine – Surf’s Up is basically a junior take on the style. What it basically comes down to is a series of surfing competitions, played out across locations ranging from the iceberg-menace Antarctic to the beaches of a Polynesian paradise.