Developer: Griptonite Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Bored to be wild
The film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s picture book Where The Wild Things Are gave audiences, both young and old, cause to rejoice. In adapting the book for the big screen, director Spike Jonze and author Dave Eggers put great care into making sure there was sympathetic emotional depth beneath the Wild Things’ charmingly monstrous exteriors. On paper, Sendak’s story feels perfectly suited for a videogame adaptation as well. When the book’s protagonist Max gets sent to his room by his mother for misbehaving, you can almost imagine him venting his anger by reaching for a videogame controller and the escapist promise it holds forth. Unfortunately the game settles for a tedious mish-mash of gameplay mechanics copied and pasted from far more compelling games—jump here, swing across these evenly spaced tree branches, swat these insects with your wand, scale this vine-covered wall, scoop up this sparkling collectible, and this one, and this one, etc.
Without bothering to establish any kind of narrative framework for players, the game trots out a brief cinematic of Max’s sailboat running aground on the Wild Things’ island. You’ll spend roughly the next ten minutes following a spiky-horned Wild Thing from a distance, wondering why you can’t just leave his furry ass behind and explore the island. Still I soldiered on, trying to give the game the benefit of the doubt, assuming that first stage was just a poorly executed tutorial and the “action-filled adventure” promised on the back of the box was crouching in wait behind the next rock. After several hours of scaling innumerable vine-covered walls and solving a bevy of perfunctory, insultingly simplistic puzzles—“Hmm…I wonder if I should grab the gelatinous drop of water hanging from that miniature tree and drop it on the struggling little sprout a couple inches away from it?”—I finally reached my boredom threshold and had to call it quits.
The Wild Things game is obviously geared toward children. On one particular load screen, instead of a gameplay tip, the developers serve up a nugget of relational wisdom: “Just because someone acts like your friend, don’t assume they’ll always be nice to you.” But, regardless of a game's intended age demographic, shouldn’t the “E 10+” rating on the box mean that it will be fun for everyone 10 and older, not just free of vehicular homicide, drugs and/or disturbing terrorist attacks? Games don’t need to condescend to children—the original 8-bit Legend of Zelda for the NES wasn’t exactly a cakewalk when I played through it for the first time during elementary school. Plus, we live in the age of Pixar. We all know it’s possible for both child and parent to share a work's delight in equal measure—even if they happen to be tuned in to different humor frequencies being transmitted simultaneously. The glorious source material for Where The Wild Things Are deserves better than this. And just because a videogame is loosely based on a children’s bedtime storybook doesn’t mean that it can get away with putting players to sleep.