The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Review
Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PC and Sony PlayStation 3
First, a bit of back story. Tintin discovers a model ship at a street market (the Unicorn of the title), discovers that it holds a secret, and then heads out on a quest to recover the Unicorn's sister ships and solve the mystery. That journey takes place across several game modes - platforming, driving, flying and a free roaming third person exploration mode that links some of the sections.
This is a title that will offer almost no challenge to regular gamers, and is clearly aimed at the younger end of the market. There's no difficulty setting, so you can't up the challenge. Every platform puzzle has the solution in the same room and combat is, while sometimes a little clumsy, particularly in the swordfighting section, rarely challenging. The driving and dogfighting sections are very straightforward (the biggest challenge in the flying sections came before I realised I could invert the controls from the menu). This could be good news for inexperienced gamers, as the game does build up the game modes as you progress. It introduces shooting into later driving and flying sections, and throws more enemies and slightly more complex pluzzles at you during the action sections in the latter platform stages.
Obviously the developers were constrained in the story mode by the nature of making a tie-in, and the film's plot and the story section of The Secret Of The Unicorn is the proverbial jack of all trades and master of none. Of the game types (driving, flying, platforming and third person sections) it's only really the platforming that stands up to scrutiny with some sections towards the end of the game being genuinely good fun. The cartoonish attacks you can perform on enemies raise a smile, but you're soon back following a scent with Snowy or clumsily flying a plane.
The main story section represents about four hours of gaming, but where this title shines is outside the story. There's a solid co-op platforming mode in which the characters explore Captain Haddock's dreams - really just an excuse for more platforming in which you need to use the particular skills of your character (Tintin has a grappling hook, Haddock can punch through walls and lift heavy objects, Snowy digs etc...) to complete levels. During the challenges you collect items and money which can then be spent to unlock costumes for your characters. Commendably, single player gamers can still play the co-op section due to a mechanism where the player can switch between characters on the fly, allowing them to complete the challenges.
Fighting is fun, but rarely challenging.
There's also a challenge mode, which covers the non-platform sections playable both with Kinect and the standard controller. Each challenge has multiple levels of difficulty and serves to extend the gameplay experience nicely. Kinect wise, the flying and racing sections work best, although younger players may struggle with the idea that to make a plane go up, they need to push an invisible joystick rather than simply moving their arm up and down (as they would to move it left and right). The swordfighting should work, but in practice we found that parrying attacks was a bit awkward.
Presentation wise, the sound design is good, and Captain Haddock's frequent and baffling curses raise a smile, while the orchestral score swells underneath at the appropriate points in the action. Graphically there's definitely been effort put in to replicate the feel of the cartoon, but at this stage in the life cycle of the current consles, this definitely isn't a stand-out title, and there's a clear variation in quality between the game modes, with platforming looking the best, and the flying, swordfighting and driving sections looking a little blocky and dated.
The platforming is where Tintin shines
The title incorporates the Ubisoft "U-Play" system (where you earn points during the game - similar to achievements, which can then be spent on the U-Play menu) and awards Play points, yet has absolutely no U-Play features when you access the system from the menu, making it a baffling inclusion.
In all, TinTin is a good effort. There's clearly been work put in to extend the life of the game beyond the main story mode, which raises the game far above the lazy cash-in that characterises some movie tie-ins. Not for veteran gamers, perhaps - but the co-op in particular could be good fun for parents and children alike.