There's a new sheriff in town! The thing is he's only 14 inches tall, prone to falling asleep all day, on rocks, in the glaring sun, and he's slightly, kinda just sort of a little bit insane. Give that man, er...lizard , a gun, pronto!
Most people will never play Rango: The Video game, assuming it to be nothing more than a lame cash-in trying to piggyback a successful film. To be fair, it's not like there aren't a ton of examples to justify the negativity, but people forget that it's not always bad. Kung Fu Panda, Disney's Aladdin, Spider-Man 2 and Goldeneye 007 are prime examples of titles that delivered fun iterations on their respective franchises. Games like Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Blade Runner, X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter were some of the first to go above and beyond that standard to expand on their respective universes in ways that allowed fans to connect in all new ways .
Behavior Interactive and Paramount Digital Entertainment take steps to assert Rango, a new adventure-platformer game in support of the Gore Verbinski directed animated film, as a brand new entry into the positives of film-game marriage. Unfortunately, their idea of what constitutes a full retail release might not exactly line up with the views of others, in particular any fully functioning member of the gaming public that pays for games with their own money.
Use The Power of your Mind
Rango: The Video Game diverges from the films story and takes you on a completely new journey. Each mission is set up by Rango during cutscenes where he boasts about his past adventures to the citizens of Dirt. This framing device lends incredible creativity to both the story and the characters. Keeping the characteristic seen in the animated version, brought to life by Johnny Depp, Rango is about as wacky as anyone, but he's built on many solid Western archetypes and satires that have come before. In this case it's not the sum of the parts that makes the lizard sheriff an interesting character to play, it's his entire persona and the filter that he casts on the world before him. The tale he weaves through flashbacks reads like a well constructed lie, built as it goes and able to change directions on a whim. The twists on truth even translate to the dialogue and the level design which helps to create a sensation of mistrust, that you can't believe everything you see. It's a very unique angle for a video game. If it sounds nuts, believe me, there are plenty of moments that are pure lunacy but it's always fun.
Even with that enthusiasm on display this is still a game held together by tired gameplay staples that provide little in the way of surprises. Light, simplistic platforming sections inter-cut monster den's that are as easy from the start of the game as they are at the end. At least Rango is fun to control. There's a great balance between movement speed and precision for the reptile, letting him cover considerable ground quickly without ever feeling scrambly. But the challenges you come across are never complicated and require only basic pattern recognition. There are a number of vehicle sequences, or animal sequences if you will, that put Rango on the back of an ostrich or bat in flight usually trying to escape some form of impending doom. While they don't test your dexterity they do provide a much needed break in the action.
You've essentially got two ways to approach any of your living obstacles; shoot 'em or punch 'em. Rango's fists are very effective but there's very little to do besides basic combos, uppercuts and juggles. Upgrades don't change melee attacks and there aren't any new moves to unlock, which is a shame. That means most will rely on the pistol, and it's not hard to understand why. Easy to use, the pistol is versatile in all situations and it only gets stronger with faster fire and reload upgrades. There are three other weapons - Dynamite Launcher, Shotgun, and Blaster - but they're limited pick up items that show up occasionally. It may come as a surprise but Rango actually throws quite a variety of enemy types at you that, had they been more refined, could have provided a great deal of depth to the action. But due to Rango's auto-lock ability it's far too easy to target and dispatch every enemy, even well before you purchase any of the upgrades.
Well, When You Put It Like That
The biggest hurdle in appreciating Rango is that it's an shallow game, lacking the things that would keep players coming back. Collectible items you nab as you make your way through the game unlock character bio's, concept art and background info, but that's it. There's no online, no co-op, no way to further enjoy the game other than replaying it. Such a one dimensional product is really hard to recommend, even when the price tag has been cut by $10. Younger or less experienced players may find the game takes them a little longer to go through, but even on hard the game was a breeze and I'm not inclined to believe children would take any longer than my four and a half hours anyway. It's too bad Behavior Interactive didn't craft any more content out of some of the games better modes. During the campaign Rango completes fun mini-game objectives like driving exploding golf balls at at waves of zombie's to protect an area. An extra mode of even just this would probably have been a good time, at least it would have been something. Rango is not short on good moments or ideas, but it absolutely fails on carrying them out.
As great as the departure in the story is from the film it's still disappointing that the movie's actors didn't show up. Maybe it's a pipe dream to have the world's biggest movie star spend a day of his life doing voice-over work for a video game, but that speaks more to peoples archaic predisposition toward gaming than it does to the quality of the work itself. Had even a fraction of the films actors put in work on this game it would have been a massive jump in quality. Every time Rango opens his mouth you're smacked upside the head with a grating rendition of what Johnny Depp might sound like from someone that had only ever seen Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. It's not that the voice acting is awful, in fact many support characters are quite good. But if you're fond of great actors like Bill Nighy, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winston and Alfred Molina, then it's really hard not to begrudge the game for having none of them in the game.
One benefit to making a game based on an animated film is that it's far easier to recreate the look of the movie. The characters were crafted by Industrial Light & Magic and they're wonderfully and appropriately insane. It can be said of much of the story, too, but the characters are the best showcases for the influence Hunter S. Thomson and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas had on its creation (whether this is strictly a result of Depp is unclear). The mix of visual styles is awesome for a guy like me who can pick up on many of the nods, but I'm less inclined to explain the intricacies to my 6 year old niece. Hopefully at the base level the audience will just appreciate playing a character that is best described as an Old West Lebowski.
Rango: The Video Game isn't the sorry, wasted effort that you usually associate with the film-game label, but it due to the limited content on off it makes it hard to recommend outright. It's a funny, clever story with imaginative and wild characters set in a strange cerebral mishmash of fantasy and adventure. The big question then is: who is the game meant for? The overly simplistic and straightforward nature of the platforming and the stupidly easy challenge of the combat suggests, insultingly, this is a kids game, but then why bother dipping into Rango's complex psyche to frame the narrative? Regardless, the biggest indictment is that the game would have been a decent companion piece to the movie at a cheaper rate but as a full retail release it's held to a standard that it can't deliver on. Rango is full of great ideas and sparkling creativity, it's just too bad there wasn't more of it.
Final Score: 70%
70-74% - "Strong" The upper echelon of average, this game has sufficient technical prowess and/or fun, but lacks the depth or originality we look for. Some may love it, others may hate it. Most of us will be just fine with it.