November 28, 2011
If you are not familiar with the Happy Feet story, the first movie was a "coming of age tale" about Mumble who was going through a really tough time with puberty. Unlike the rest of the penguins, Mumble could not sing and was therefore outcast, however, by the end of the movie he finds solace in dancing and wins the penguin girl of his dreams. This time around, Mumble is back in the spotlight with a new fuzzy penguin baby named Erik, who runs away from home feeling depressed that he’s just not as cool as the other penguins.
Meanwhile, the penguin community is dealing with a global warming induced situation and Mumble must call upon his friends from the last film in order to save his family once again. Unfortunately, if you don’t really know much about the movies, the story in the game isn’t necessarily too clear and the characters aren’t properly introduced. Newcomers may need to keep a Happy Feet information page nearby in order to remember the names of the characters. The only time the story is intertwined with the gameplay is during the chapter bosses and the occasional cutscene, but other than that, you probably wouldn’t even know there was one.
Unlike a lot of rhythm games, Happy Feet Two does not require any sort of peripheral which might help parents not willing to spend a ton of money on accessories. This title for the most part is a 3-D platformer, however, there are rhythm sections and racing sections. In the platforming sections, you run around collecting music notes and penguins while solving fairly basic puzzles. Music is a core part of the game and there are lots of different tracks. Every time you start a new level, you're able to choose which song you want to listen to, but they start off very minimal. That's because you're tasked with upgrading them through the collection of notes. Increasing its level could add a vocal track or perhaps an added snare and you won’t here the full arrangement until all of the seven levels of one particular song are unlocked. As easy as it sounds, it can be fairly time consuming and unfair. For example, there’s plenty of times where you collect all of the notes in the entire stage, but you still don’t have enough in order to unlock level seven forcing you to go back and complete the same level again in order to proceed - it sometimes means there's no point collecting notes because aside from levelling up songs and buying them, they serve no other purpose.
Collecting penguins also gets you points (if you get more than one at a time) and also can help you finish a level. Each time you see a stranded penguin, you’ll need to free them by dancing to the beat of the song. They will then follow you across the rest of the map. At first you will just have to collect normal penguins along with the occasional sleeping penguin who requires a certain amount of regular penguins to wake up. Later in the game, you will be introduced to huge emperor penguins who can be used to scare away annoying gulls or destroy/move very tough obstacles.
Each time you collect a penguin, they will show up in a bar at the bottom of the screen. Some of them can be pretty hard to find, which is fair enough, however, in certain levels, you may find yourself not being able to go back and find missing penguins. This forces you to finish the level a penguin short, or restart the level all together. There are a few basic puzzles planted within the levels which could mean shifting around some glaciers to make a new path, breaking icicles, or stepping on switches to help a friend. From a gamer’s perspective, these are pretty easy, but if looking at it from a child’s perspective this could prove to be fun and educational. The only problem here, is that the game's difficulty doesn't really increase. The early levels are very easy, but after that, it pretty much stays at the same pace.
Boss levels break up the monotony of collecting notes and penguins by providing a bit of rhythm, but in a different way. Based off of what’s happening in the story, Mumble will have to dance in order to solve his issues so all you have to do is follow the beat and press the buttons displayed on the screen, but unfortunately the notes displayed can be a tad misleading. If you press the buttons to the beat of the actual song, you may find yourself with a lower score than someone who follows how the notes display on the screen. Sometimes notes can appear as though they’re really far from each other causing you to miss judge the rhythm. This is especially apparent when one’s at the top of the bar and the other is on the bottom. It's nice that they tried to emulate manuscript paper, but the "guide" changes its speed depending on which tier the notes are displayed on.
Finally, there are the racing sections in which Mumble must race against Raul. Throughout the course, you can collect music notes and perform stunts by darting off the stunt hills performing tricks. While it’s definitely good that the developers mixed up the gameplay with these sections, it’s not implemented very well. There are a lot of sections where you can find yourself going far too fast to recognize what’s going on around you, but by going too slow, you will not have enough momentum to carry you through the stunt obstacles. With that being said, the stunt hills tend to be a bit awkward at times. Going too fast off a stunt hill can be just as bad as going too slow, especially when trying to nail one that’s during a turning section. It’s hard to not just slide off the side of the hill because of how the track is made.
Although the graphics in Happy Feet Two aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, there are still a few kinks in the system. For one, there are many moments where lag occurs stopping both Mumble’s movements and the music playing in the background. The racing sections are also fairly basic in design, but it’s really odd that one moment you will see track but suddenly the track will just end, showing a finish line only after the race has been completed. Aside from the lag, the music will have you grooving a bit especially if you recognize the song, but it tends to get repetitive especially when you go back to finish a level off.
Collectibles and trophies make for a lot of Happy Feet Two’s replayability, but it depends on whether or not you wish to dedicate the time doing so. In an attempt to complete all songs, you could find yourself spending a good few hours playing, but it’s hardly rewarding. Co-op mode is also another reason to go back, but really it just offers the same experience again, but with split screen racing sections.
If child-focused rhythm games about dancing penguins aren’t necessarily your thing, this might not be the game for you. Happy Feet Two is one that’s dedicated simply to the children who recognize and love the film; not average-Joe gamers. Although it offers some variety between the platforming levels and the rhythm focused boss levels, all modes are relatively mediocre making Happy Feet Two a jack of a all trades and master of none. For parents who are looking for a game to keep their kids entertained for hours on end, this is the one for you. Otherwise just stick to the films for your dancing penguin fix.
Happy Feet Two: The Videogame was reviewed on the PS3.