Space Chimps is one of those under-the-radar films that seems to creep up every few years, an animated film that’s neither Pixar nor Dreamworks and thus slips through the cracks of our collective conscious. With that in mind, calling the Space Chimps video game a movie tie-in may be technically correct, but the bad-game juju that plagues most movie-based games really doesn’t follow this one.
Having grossed only $28 million at the box office, Space Chimps is a relatively unknown property to most gamers, which has good and bad effects on the accompanying video game. In the benefit category, gamers can appreciate the old-school platforming action without thinking “oh, this is a simple movie tie-in,” and the between-mission cut scenes can be enjoyed as mildly entertaining. On the down side, the relative lack of cohesion in the game’s plot can lead to some narrative confusion, indicating that the developers figured most of the target audience would have at least cursory knowledge of the movie’s plot.
For those who don’t, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: Chimps go to space. Chimps crash-land their ship, which is then confiscated by aliens. Chimps fight to regain their ship and return to Earth, only to realize at the end that they would rather not let humans control their fate, so they stay on the alien world to mingle with their new friends.
In between those key plot points, the game has players engaged in some truly old-school platforming. Seriously, several levels in Space Chimps are reminiscent of the original Pitfall, and some of the timed “vine jumps” in other levels seemed to be ripped straight from the level design in Jungle Hunt on the Atari 5200. Neither of those is a bad thing, but it truly felt like a trip down memory lane. Other elements borrow from newer platformers, including a first-person mode for one chimp to aim her spit-shooting “lizard gun,” double jumps, lever-pulling puzzles and even butt stomps that stun enemies. But even with these newer gameplay elements, Space Chimps feels more like an old-school platformer than a next-gen one.
Where the game falters is ironically in that same old-school level design, which was unforgiving “back in the day,” but in Space Chimps can be unforgiving to the point of imbalance. For most of the four-hour game (yes, it’s a shorty), players will be busy with the aforementioned classic platforming aspects. But every now and then, Space Chimps throws in some jumps or puzzles that require such pixel-perfect accuracy or impeccable timing that they feel downright impossible. Because the rest of the game is relatively easy — the game has VERY generous checkpoints, and players have unlimited lives — these sections seem overly hard, particularly considering the younger gamers for whom this title is obviously designed.
The game also throws one level-design curveball toward the end: a Panzer Dragoon Orta-like shooter in which the chimp is mounted on a sea ray/dragon hybrid and must blast through waves of enemies either in a cave. This “mini game,” as it were, ends up being an unlockable Arcade game that’s accessible from the main menu, letting up to two gamers blast their way through the cave or a sky-based level. This level is presumably tied into a key moment in the movie, but it really seems to come from out of nowhere in the game, and it seems like it would have made a better purely Arcade Mode mini-game than it does an actual level in an otherwise platforming-only game.
As with most third-person action games and platformers, Space Chimps suffers from some camera issues at times, mostly when trying to land on a moving platform. It can also be challenging to control the camera (and thus fall to your death) when navigating your chimp onto a platform while descending from a brief flight through the air (yes, one chimp can fly for a short time after collecting certain jewels). The game also has some animation errors in which the character pauses slightly at the conclusion of an animation, leading to a few cheap shots from enemies. In light of the unlimited lives and generous checkpoints in Space Chimps, these cheap shots aren’t a big deal, but it’s still annoying to have graphical snafus interfere with the gameplay.
Fortunately the cut scenes look nice, and the in-game graphics aren’t too shabby either, although the chimps are definitely the best-looking aspect. The environments are varied, with impressive architecture diversity from desert to jungle to subterranean caves, but on the whole they feel almost like somebody created a fantastical Crash Bandicoot type of game and then populated it with more realistic-looking playable characters. You know, as “realistic” as talking chimpanzees saving Earth from aliens can be.
However, these are nitpicks that younger gamers aren’t likely to notice, and younger gamers are definitely the target market here. Experienced (read: older) gamers can breeze through the game in a matter of hours, but the unlockable monkey costumes, collectible gems and multiplayer Arcade game will be enough to keep kids entertained a bit longer. Not much longer, mind you, but long enough to at least justify Space Chimps as a rental. Just make sure to play the game briefly yourself; your fond memories of Jungle Hunt will come flooding back.
- Score: 6
- It doesn’t offer anything new, and in fact offers most everything old. That’s nice in some respects, but between that and the short length, the gameplay just doesn’t justify the price.
— Jonas Allen