Released just prior to the theatrical debut of Shrek the Third to maximize its synergistic potential, Shrek the Third for the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii is more compelling as a brand marketing bullet point than it is as an actual video game. While there are certainly worse movie-license games out there, Shrek the Third still feels slapdash and thoughtless, plus its function to entertain is overwhelmed by its function to make money.
The puppet show story sequences are the most interesting part of Shrek the Third.
As is movie-license-game tradition, the story in Shrek the Third provides a broad pantomime of the film on which it is based. More interesting than the actual story--which sees Shrek tracking down an heir to the throne of Far Far Away while Prince Charming makes a coup attempt--is the puppet show format of the story sequences. Aside from these sequences, as well as a musical number masquerading as a boss battle, most attempts at humor in Shrek the Third fall flat. This is either because the celebrity sound-alike voice cast can't nail it, the timing is stilted, or the material itself just isn't funny.
The game is a by-the-numbers action adventure game, with a heavy focus on button-mashing combat, plenty of item collection, some light platforming, and some even lighter puzzle-solving. With the exception of the medieval-themed high school, most of the game takes place in conventional fairytale locales, pitting you against pirates, witches, gargoyles, enchanted trees, and loads of generic thugs. In addition to the big, green, ill-tempered ogre Shrek, you'll play as Donkey, Puss in Boots, Arthur, Fiona, and Sleeping Beauty at different points in the game.
Felled enemies will drop fairy dust that will fill up your three-part special attack meter. Using your character's special attack will drain one section of the meter. If you fill up all three sections of the meter while playing as either Shrek or Fiona, you can trigger a special ogre power, which slows down time and makes everything all Matrixlike. The game's already easy, and the ogre power just makes it more so. There are other minor differences among the characters, with Puss in Boots' ability to double-jump and Sleeping Beauty's ability to glide slowly to the ground from high falls as the most apparent. However, these differences are mostly irrelevant because combat is such a dominant force in the game and every character relies on the same mindless two-button attack combos.
In the Wii version of Shrek the Third, the two attack buttons are substituted with waggling the Wii Remote and the Nunchuk. Saying that these controls lack subtlety might mean something if the combat wasn't so blunt. The other gameplay elements in Shrek the Third might have provided some respite from the monotonous combat, but they end up being no more interesting. The puzzles, which only pop up from time to time, barely even qualify as puzzles; at their most complex, they require basic pattern-recognition skills. Much more common, and coincidentally much more aggravating, are the platforming sequences. These sequences are plagued by controls that are both touchy and inaccurate. Fixed camera angles also make many jumps much harder to gauge than necessary, forcing you to make completely blind jumps on more than one occasion.
The best thing about the single-player experience in Shrek the Third is a pair of castle-smashing sequences where you use two different siege weapons to demolish a series of castle towers. It's just too bad that these sequences only account for a few minutes of the four to five hours it'll take you to get through the story. Luckily, there's a two-player variant of this sequence that you can play outside of the story mode. Additionally, there's a set of five forgettable minigames that can be played either solo or with another player, including a Midway-style shooting gallery, a shuffleboard variant, a terrible platforming challenge, a frog-herding minigame, and a simple shooter where you have to defend your beachhead against incoming pirate ships. Some of these, such as the pirate shooter, are more engaging with the Wii controls, while others end up suffering for it.
Twenty years ago, this game would have been a lunchbox.
Shrek the Third is no more ambitious in its presentation than it is with its gameplay. Of the PS2, Xbox 360, and Wii versions of Shrek the Third, the 360 version is easily the best-looking, with lots of soft-glow lighting, texture-mapping, and particle effects. The Wii version has some decent lighting, though it lacks the texture-mapping or the texture detail. The PS2 version doesn't look much worse, but the lack of any lighting effects just makes it look flat. Though they all have that creepy dead-eye look, the main characters are good approximations of their cinematic counterparts. All three versions suffer from a terrible fixed camera that will swing around in a nauseating fashion, and the angle it presents often isn't anywhere close to ideal.
What's perhaps most depressing about Shrek the Third is that the actual quality of the game will have little, if any, bearing on its success. The game seems to operate under the notion that its audience simply isn't concerned with getting an experience that's interesting or inventive, and sadly, it's probably right.