The Game Factory is making the most of their Garfield licensing rights, and are following up their GBA title with a game based on the new movie. Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties moves up to the GBA’s successor, the DS, but still retains the same Garfield charm. With this release, Game Factory proves that they can use the DS hardware, if not yet exploit its full potential.
I haven’t seen the film, but from what I can garner from the levels, the game itself does not span the entire movie but makes up a small portion of it. Specifically, it takes place while Garfield is trying to reach the palace of Prince XII. Even though it happens within that limited space, the game is by no means small—it is comprised of 22 levels, most of which are rather extensive. The size and variety of locales is impressive, considering this game was produced on a limited timetable, to coincide with the DVD release of the movie.
I found the first couple of levels easy, but they are really minor tutorials for the rest of the game, which increases in difficulty and complexity. A small menu is displayed on the top screen, showing Garfield, and his current destination and collectibles as his thought bubbles. The gameplay itself is presented on the touch screen. I would have like more synergy between the two screens, to have them working in tandem and with more function from the top screen, but what Game Factory has presented works well and gets the job done.
Most of the stages are side-scrolling, but in 3D, which adds the element of depth. Garfield can be leaping up the catwalks of a building, only to jump around the building’s curved surface and have the camera pan with him. Similarly, running along the ground is not limited to a straight path; occasionally Garfield will run toward the screen to change directions and explore a new area. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but gamers will get the hang of it quickly.
This sense of exploration plays a small role in some of the levels, up to the point where players can make a limited choice of Garfield’s direction. When the adventurous cat comes to a figurative fork in the road, two small paw prints appear in the touch screen. Tapping either one will set Garfield off on a new path, and the player can come back and choose their previous path at any time.
The platforming is pretty much traditional, with a few twists thrown it. Garfield is decidedly agile for such a chubby cat, and can jump higher than I expected. Getting the timing right with his jumps takes a bit more practice than in other games, because the initial jump must be executed to get air distance, and then direction and length of the jump should be handled. To explain it in simpler terms, Garfield kind of half-floats once he’s in the air, giving him a satisfying, “springy” feeling appropriate for a cat.
Garfield is given nine “lives” for each level, which really amount to hits that he can take. They don’t really come into play until the third level or so when hazards start appearing. Roving porcupines, steam from vents and falling debris can all decrease Garfield’s hit points, and losing all nine hits sets you back at the beginning of the level. The combat in the GBA title was a bit quirky, and Game Factory has remedied this by removing it entirely—avoidance is the only policy when it comes to bad guys. There aren’t that many hostiles to begin with, and I personally like the change. Without the confusion of punching or kicking, the platforming is all the much tighter.
There aren’t any real goals along the way, such as flipping switches or finding secrets, but each level is littered with food, collectible for a high score. Navigating the labyrinthine levels is a goal in and of itself, and finding a way past all the obstacles is satisfying enough. Progression is mainly vertical, with high chasms and tall tree branches dominating the scenery. Leaping back and forth from hanging sheets, clinging to wooden boards with Garfield’s claws, and riding moving conveyors was all very comfortable. At some points I was even reminded a bit of the Prince of Persia games, which shows the skill of Game Factory’s developers—clearly, they know platforming.
My only real criticism of the levels themselves is the few “first person” sections. These small stages allow the player to survey a scene for clues, and then the level promptly ends. The only action taken by the player is moving Garfield’s view with the stylus, until they locate the entrance to the next level. No movement of Garfield is involved. These little mini-levels had more potential, I think, and I would have liked to explore a small room or area in first-person, seeking out the clues for myself instead of just panning around until my view rested on them. This first-person view is used occasionally in the side-scrolling levels too, but even there it is limited to scoping out the situation.
Exploring the fully 3D rendered world of Garfield 2 is an easy pleasure, because Game Factory has put considerable work into the graphics. For a licensed title, Garfield 2 is actually a pretty game. Each level is modeled and textured with good attention to detail. Polygon levels are on par with the scenery in Nintendogs, and the textures are crisp and vibrant for a DS game. Garfield does look a little rough when viewed up-close, but since the camera is panned out most of the time his appearance isn’t a problem. At a medium distance he is clearly Garfield, and does not appear overly pixilated or boxy. He also animates very well, and his movements are balanced between life-accurate and cartoony.
Sound works well in this game, with the bare necessities rounded out nicely with a few little extra features. The music for each level sets the right mood, whether it is a precarious tune for a high skyscraper or mysterious environmental music for a shadowy cave. Sound effects are crisp and unobtrusive; I really liked the pattering sound Garfield’s feet made. The audio experience was more than adequate the whole way through, except for one aspect: voice acting. Much like the GBA game, Garfield is almost totally silent. I could understand the limitations of a GBA cartridge, but a DS game card could hold even a few quips from the sarcastic feline. The fact that the movie is rife with dialogue makes this exclusion from the game more disappointing.
However, perhaps I didn’t understanding the problem. The copy of the game I received was the European version; thus, it is playable in a multitude of languages. Maybe including voice work in so many languages proved prohibitive to the developer budget and game card space.
As a nice aside, players can speak into the DS microphone at any time and cause Garfield to meow. It only rarely serves a gameplay purpose, but it’s a fun little extra that takes advantage of the DS’s abilities. Spooking birds roosting on power lines with this feature was a cool detail.
With this next attempt at a Garfield platformer, Game Factory has increased their skills and production values. The 3D presentation does a lot for the game’s immersion factor, and the aspect of depth adds to the gameplay. The platforming is improved from their previous efforts, and might actually be fun for older gamers too. Garfield 2 ends up as a fun, slightly innovative little game that kids will enjoy and find more challenging than typical movie tie-in fare.