As we continue our search for the best movie tie-in game, we’re going somewhere under the sea with Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo. The game has a cracking start as it hits you with a variety of scenarios, but as you continue on through its 3-hour long playthrough, you’ll realize that it gets very repetitive.
Starting with the positives, the developer Traveller’s Tales (known for the LEGO series of games) has brought a ton of creativity to the underwater landscape. While the technology was rather primitive in comparison to today’s graphical powerhouses, TT Games paid close attention to the scenes of the popular Pixar movie. The game has a great sense of scale while getting chased by Bruce the Shark is terrifying and when Nemo is trying to escape from the diver. The starting levels are also quite charming as you move around a lovely 2D plain. You see the anemones and the seaweed brushing along the water. You even see the waves above the fish, gleaming in the sunlight. Meanwhile, Nemo’s friends are following along in the background. If I was a kid playing it, I’d be delighted with the game’s attention to detail.
Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t match the pretty landscapes that Marlin and his friends discover. Most of the time, you’ll be chasing a far-away character, trying to catch up by following speed rings. With some well-animated swimming, you need to shift all around the stage as you move forward. It’s similar to a Crash Bandicoot level as a bunch of obstacles block your path, and at first, it’s exciting as you’re moving through the water. While it’s energetic, the formula grows stale quickly. Other than avoiding the dangers of the seas, there isn’t much to these sections and they pad a lot of the game. As you get further in the game, the obstacles, however, can be more frustrating than fun. There are some effects, like the octopi’s poisonous ink that are extremely hard to avoid. It covers almost the entire screen, and I had to decide at points whether or not to follow the speed rings or try to avoid the ink as much as I can. This element felt broken. Whenever the currents push along your protagonist, this can too be annoying as it’s extremely hard to get back on track.
The 2D levels are few and far between
Where the game shines the most gameplay-wise is through its 2D sections. You’ll be swimming through tunnels and avoiding traps along the way. Similar to the Donkey Kong Country games, these underwater levels have you working your way around a maze. In the end, you’ll either find an escape or a switch you need to activate to open a door. The maneuverability within these levels is surprisingly good, especially when you consider it’s entirely underwater. It’s quite satisfying to move their little fins around barriers and obstacles like blowfish and fire.
However, the agility of the fish is tested too far during timed levels. On one level, you are in a rush to catch the diver’s eyewear. Against the clock, you must swim as your life depended on it, but the game often becomes frustrating in these moments. The reason? You can’t brake from your momentum. This is especially frustrating as the game does a bad job at telling the player where future obstacles will be. You’ll need to replay the level over and over to fully understand where your little fishy needs to go.
not the mines!
There are a few derivatives of the main game design. After you meet Bruce the Shark, you encounter some of the mines (or as they call balloons). As Dory, you have to bounce on them to progress, but it felt incredibly awkward to control. I figured out that I had to press the direction to the beat of the bounce, and it’s very easy to miss. This could be due to the HDMI converter that I used with the game, but the timing felt way off from my inputs, making the game almost unplayable. Thankfully, I was able to get past this tricky section. Dying from these annoying moments is somewhat satiated by the funny death scenes that TT Games has implemented into this tie-in title. They’re not needed, but that attention to detail still remains true. It’s somewhat of a precursor to the LEGO games’ slapstick humor.
Once again like the Crash Bandicoot games, there are chase sections that have you swimming towards the camera. These were thankfully not that difficult, and they overall felt fair to the player.
decent Voiceover, lacking music
One of the tropes of movie tie-in games is that there are lines of dialogue that are repeated over and over again. Strangely, Finding Nemo wasn’t the case. The voice actors do a great job of impersonating the Hollywood actors and getting their characters from the film just right. The cutscenes, while simple, also follow the movie’s script to a tee. Traveler’s Tales seemed inspired by Pixar’s artistic talent as the animations for each of the fish look realistic, especially for the PS2 era. Disappointingly, the music doesn’t match up with TT Games’ efforts visually. The 30 second to one-minute loops of this game drove me bonkers as I failed at a section of a level over and over again. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to use Finding Nemo’s soundtrack from Thomas Newman instead.
When you go back to the movie tie-in games of the past, you can either find a diamond in the rough or a game you should have left in the box. Unfortunately, Finding Nemo is the latter. There’s nothing special about this game, but at the time of its release, it probably wowed kids with its lovely visuals and art design. It’s not a horrible trip under the sea, it’s just coasting along.