The video game tie-in has basically become a standard part of your average summer family movie package, alongside the plush toys and the backpacks and all the other marketing flotsam. So, it's no surprise that Activision has released a Shrek 2 video game just weeks before the film opens. What is surprising, considering the bottom-of-the-barrel level of quality you usually get from kid-friendly licensed games, is that it's actually pretty good. Hot off of True Crime: Streets of LA, Shrek 2 seems like an extreme shifting of gears for developer Luxoflux, but to its credit, the game comes together fairly well. However, the older kids who found some chuckles in the adult-aimed nudge-and-winks found in the original Shrek movie probably aren't going to find anything too compelling here.
Shrek 2 doesn't lean on the movie tie-in nearly as much as it could--which is a good thing.
Though Shrek 2 the motion picture has yet to be released, the game seems to be based somewhat loosely on the film. Shrek and his new ogress bride, Fiona, along with Shrek's faithful companion, Donkey, go to meet Fiona's royal parents in Far Far Away, who are appalled that their daughter has married an ogre. With the help of a well-connected fairy godmother, the king hopes to rub out Shrek, which produces unexpected results.
For most of the game, you'll be controlling a pack of four characters--Shrek, Donkey, and Fiona serve as your primaries, though your party members regularly rotate out, with a cast of fairy-tale celebrities, including the Gingerbread Man, Lil' Red, Puss in Boots, and The Big Bad Wolf, among others, filling in empty slots. The action is largely puzzle-based with a bit of a focus on teamwork. The game is good about providing plenty of visual clues that make most of the obstacles a breeze. Though you'll only have control over one character at a time, a quick tap on the shoulder buttons allows you to cycle through them, which you'll be doing quite often since each character has its own specific talents, and the game is filled with obstacles that can only be conquered by using these specific talents the right way. This means that there's the occasional trial and error, but the game is pretty generous with the checkpoints, so you generally won't have to play through extended stretches of the game over and over again. The other three characters are controlled by the computer and they're usually solid about following your lead, though their pathing isn't always terrific and they will occasionally get snagged on an obstacle.
Having four characters at your disposal, and having the characters change with regularity, really gives you a lot of gameplay options, and Luxoflux does a good job of taking advantage of that. The beauty of the team-based design of Shrek 2 is that it easily transitions into a four-way multiplayer co-op game, and players can very easily join and drop out of games that are already in progress.
The game will regularly veer off from the action and the puzzle solving and turn into a simple beat-'em-up, which isn't nearly as fun or satisfying because the fighting mechanics are extremely limited and the controls are a little too sloppy. The game is sprinkled with Hero Time minigames, which single out one of your team members for a specific task. For example, in one level, Donkey has to ride on top of a dragon while pursuing Fiona through a dark and menacing forest. These little self-contained bits are some of the best fun that Shrek 2 has to offer, as they help add a bit more variety to the experience.