In recent times Sony have made moves to reposition the Vita as a kid-friendly device – games from Epic Mickey 2 to Minecraft help guide parents towards buying this particular piece of shiny goodness. With a slew of PSP and PS1 children’s classics also available via the PSN store, the Vita does make a strong case for consideration if you’ve got little ones running around with no videogaming goodness inhand. The latest attempt to continue down this path comes in the form of The Muppets Movie Adventures, a simplistic 2D platformer that tries to channel some old school values into its franchise frame. And it doesn’t succeed.
The first warning that what you’ve got is a cheap as chips cash-in comes when you realise that none of the Muppets are voiced. None of them. You’ll get a cheesy American narrator to set the scene to each of the movie levels (including one where she says ‘tomayto’ about a gajillion times), and an incredibly annoying Director who reads some unskippable trite whenever you die, but other than that nothing. A Muppets game with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Animal and a host of others, and not a penny was spent on getting any of their voice actors involved at all – unbelievable really.
The second comes about an hour in, when you notice that nothing you’ve done in the past sixty minutes is as fun as when you swung the Vita around wildly at the start of the first level to free Kermit. In fact, The Muppets Movie Adventures is nothing more than a bog standard platformer, with the absence of any real platforming explained away with the excuse that the game is aimed at younger audiences. Painfully easy jumps are combined with overly simplistic combat, and that’s your lot. Apart from the difficulty spikes at boss encounters, which act as a great sucker-punch to any youngster that’s been pulled in by the gameplay up to those points.
For a game aimed at young kids on a device like the Vita it would be fair to expect that the unique functionality of the machine would actually be utilised; every other random kids’ app on all of the various app stores seem to involve turning or shaking or tracking or poking or pinching or all of them at multiple times at once. During Movie Adventures you get to perform some taps and a few spiral movements. No-one expects Tearaway levels of interaction anymore, especially not when there is also potential PlayStation TV integration to consider, but every physical interaction with The Muppets Movie Adventures feels more like a progression blocker than fun.
None of these things prepare you for the really painful pang that comes when you’ve played through the whole game and thought about what could have been made. A boss that feels as though it could have been an early encounter right out of the golden days of gaming, a whole level that gives off Metroidvania vibes – the game even fails to capitalise on Miss Piggy transforming from standard damsel-in-distress to armoured princess, bashing stuff with a massive club. If that’s not fantastic female representation for younger players than I don’t know what is. All of these opportunities are missed, the franchise game pandering to every stereotype there is about franchise games. Amusingly, some replayability is offered by means of additional skills (such as the innovative double-jump!) that the various characters can gain in subsequent playthroughs of the same level – quite why anyone would want to return to these levels after suffering through once is beyond me, but at least now you can reach a couple of pointless collectables that you couldn’t before.
Too often companies dress up dross and send it out as a child-friendly game, inherent faults spun into benefits and fooling adults into thinking that they’d be doing their kid a favour by picking up these games. We’re living in a transformational time for gaming at the moment, and for no other age group is this more apparent than the under-10s. No more for them the screeching half hour of a Spectrum load, no more the jet engine disc spin of the 360. Cheap, intuitive and instant gaming pleasures await them on tablets and phones, experiences that understand the values of accessibility, reward mechanics and – more importantly – are genuinely fun. At four-and-three-quarters my eldest may be below the target age group for The Muppets Movie Adventures, but it still feels very telling that her interest was lost almost immediately, with LEGO Batman and the CBeebies iPad app demanded in recompense. At a couple of quid this might have found a home on your Vita’s memory card for the kids to mess around with every now and then – at the price it’s been released you’re better off taking that cash and playing iOS roulette instead.