Forget Chinese zodiacs: 2006 is the year of the CG animal. This year it seems like more CG based talking animal movies have hit theaters than in every other year in history combined. With Barnyard, Over the Hedge, The Wild, and Ice Age 2, it's getting hard to keep them all straight (and we still have Happy Feet to look forward to). This craze hasn't gone unnoticed in the gaming world, as Ubisoft attempts to jump on the movie tie-in gravy train with Open Season.
Open Season follows the basic premise of the same titled forthcoming movie. You play as Boog, a domesticated bear from the town of Timberline, who suddenly finds himself kicked back into the wilderness on the eve of hunting season. Boog must quickly learn to fend for himself in the wild while avoiding gun-happy hunters. A chatty mule deer named Elliot fills the requisite sidekick position (think Donkey from Shrek but with antlers... well, one antler). The object of the game is to navigate your way through the forest back to Timberline, so that Boog can continue living the good life in his park ranger friend's garage.
The game is broken up into a series of mini-adventures, mostly involving gathering items or scaring away hunters. Doing favors for different species of animals (skunks, squirrels, beavers, etc.) allows you to ally with them and take advantage of their special skills. You can throw a rabbit on a hunter's face and it will dig its little claws in and disarm him, or use a bra (yes, a woman's bra) to sling porcupines at them. Almost any animal can be used as a projectile once you've allied with their kind.
Throwing live animals at peoples' faces not enough of a draw for you? Well, for the more civilized gamer there's an educational aspect of the gameplay too. Collecting Ranger Badges scattered throughout each level will allow you to view trivia about the environment and nature. Were you aware that butterflies taste with their feet? Feel free to wow your next date with some of these little gems.
The main problem with the game is that each puzzle or task is explained too thoroughly at the start of the mission. Instead of letting you figure out the solution, the instructions specifically spell out what to do from the start, taking the fun out of discovering the answer for yourself. Because of this, completing each task feels unrewarding at best. After a few "adventures," following each specific set of instructions feels more tedious than fun. The layout of the game requires so little interaction that it's easy to become apathetic to your easily won victories.
Above: Watching grass grow is more fun than playing this game.
In addition to the single player adventure mode, there are seven short, easy to play minigames. (Two minigames are available at the start, the remaining five must be unlocked by passing levels in the adventure mode.) On the plus side, they're so simple and easy to pick up that anyone in the family can pick up a controller and compete. On the other hand, so little skill is required to play that the outcome often seems almost arbitrary, zapping the joy out of winning, no matter how crushingly you defeat your opponents.
At times, the gameplay is so linear and there are so many cut scenes that it feels more like watching a movie than playing a game. The action pauses so frequently to remind you how to excute your task that the entire game ends up feeling like one giant training tutorial. It's impossible to get stuck at any point because all of the answers are pretty much handed right to you. If you really dislike having to think about anything too hard, this might be your pace. Otherwise, keep your fingers crossed that Happy Feet spawns a more inspired movie tie-in game.