I am unabashedly a child of the 1980s. My weekends were filled with the Looney Tunes cartoon, Alvin and the Chipmunks, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and The Smurfs. There was a bunch of live-action goodness in there too — Battlestar Galactica (the original), The A-Team and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century — but the cartoons are the only parts I’ve shared with my kids. The Smurfs has definitely been their most beloved, so when Ubisoft released The Smurfs 2 video game, the kids and I smurfed at the chance to test it out. (Yes, that was a horrible joke; but in a The Smurfs 2 review, I had to work in at least one of them.)
It’s important to play a game like The Smurfs 2 with kids, because it isn’t designed for hardcore gamers. Put it in the hands of a Call of Duty or Battlefield fan, and it’s going to be dismissed. Put it in the smaller hands of kids, and it really shines. In fact, if you base it on the “kid scale” of family-friendly games (and you should), I’d honestly say The Smurfs 2 is one of the best Mario-style platformers in years.
The platforming genre has evolved considerably since the original Super Mario Bros. took it mainstream. In fact, the publisher of The Smurfs 2, Ubisoft, has several franchises of its own that technically count as platformers, including Prince of Persia, Rayman and certain parts of Assassin’s Creed. You can now count The Smurfs 2 among that group, as it marks a nostalgic return to platforming’s roots.
The Smurfs 2 is largely a side-scrolling platformer, with a few vertical levels and some boss battles thrown in at the end of each five-chapter mission. The game can be played cooperatively by up to four players total, but the gameplay mechanics are intuitive enough that even a six- or seven-year-old child should be able to progress solo. You begin the game with a handful of unlocked smurfs, each with a unique special ability, and other smurfs are unlocked as you advance. For instance, Papa Smurf can toss magic potions Molotov-cocktail-style, Brainy can jump super high, Jokey can hurl exploding presents, and Gutsy can shatter rocks.
Each level has hidden areas that can be explored either by leveraging a smurf’s special ability or by just poking around (some rocks magically ‘disappear’ for instance — and no, it’s not a glitch). These hidden areas generally have more smurf berries, which are an interesting hybrid of coins and health. As with many kid-friendly games, The Smurfs 2 doesn’t let players actually die, as long as they have at least one smurf berry in their possession. When an enemy hits you, your smurf berry inventory releases all around you, and you have to scramble to re-collect the berries before they disappear. Succeed, and you’ll have some health to survive your next hit. And yes, you’ll almost always manage to grab a handful of berries.
Not all the levels take place in the forest surrounding Smurf Village, which keeps the kids engaged and helps a The Smurfs 2 review stay glowing. The platforming gameplay is largely similar from level to level, but Ubisoft managed to keep things interesting by having the 3D backdrops for each side-scrolling mission change based on location. The game starts with a few forest levels, but eventually you’ll play in an urban setting, a bakery, Gargamel’s hovel and a few other locales. While the core gameplay mechanics don’t change, the visual diversity is enough to keep you (and the kids) going.
The only part of The Smurfs 2 that confused my kids was the concept of a Smurf Village “hub” world. You select a smurf when the game begins, then sit through a loading screen. Rather than lead to the next level, you’re dropped into a top-down Smurf Village “hub” that you have to wander through to find the next level. This hub was presumably a mechanism to make it easy to replay levels for a better score or to reach once-hidden areas using a newly unlocked smurf. In practice, though, it just made my kids wander aimlessly wondering why they couldn’t get to the next level. The concept just isn’t as intuitive as, say, the level-select mechanism in Super Mario World.
That little gripe aside, my The Smurfs 2 review is glowing. My kids had an absolute blast jumping around to grab smurf berries and experimenting with characters’ different special abilities. They also appreciated the high-quality graphics, and they surprisingly comprehended the classic platforming elements. It was also just cool to hum the Smurf anthem with them while they played. If you’ve got young or would-be gamers in your house, you should definitely give The Smurfs 2 a whirl.
Platform reviewed: PS3