We're suspicious of any game that tells you to collect X amount of Ys within the first five minutes of the start. So when we came to Shrek 2 - which commands you to collect a bunch of eyeballs as its opening task - we really didn't hold out much hope.
However, despite being pretty similar to Asterix in both its collecting marathons and its reliance on repetitive battling, Shrek 2 does have one thing going for it. That one thing being that it isn't a complete disaster.
It's hardly going to win any awards but, to be fair, there is a fair number of nice ideas on display here. First off is the ability for up to three extra players to whack in a joypad and join in the action at any time. Take the joypads back out of the Gamecube and and player one will be in direct control again. It's a simple addition, but one that makes you wonder why no-one seems to implement a similar system in other multiplayer games.
ON THE JOB
Structurally, the game is quite simple - a case of navigating a series of areas interlinked with locked doors, barriers and the like. Complete the objective in each area and you'll be allowed to move on. These objectives range from 'defeat all the enemies', 'collect all the items' and 'solve the simple switch puzzle' to more surreal tasks like 'chuck chickens into a soup pot and 'guide blind mice to safety as they follow a trail of cheese'. There's a pretty diverse set of objectives, then, and, unlike Asterix, there's a more detailed co-op mechanism going on that helps to inject a little more enjoyment into the tasks.
There are four playable characters in your party at any given time. You always have Shrek, his missus Fiona and that stupid donkey. The fourth character changes as you work through the game and can be anyone from the Gingerbread Man to Puss In Boots or the Big Bad Wolf. When playing on your own, a simple tap of the shoulder buttons cycles through the characters under your control. Each one has their own specific special skills, and you have to use the whole group effectively to overcome the challenges.
On top of this, there's a sweet collection of minigames, like a rhythm action oddity where you have to sing to a bunch of blackbirds and a chase sequence where - in a Crash Bandicoot stylee - you have to get your dragon-riding donkey to high-tail it after a rampaging bulb of garlic.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that Shrek 2 at least tries to be fun, we can't honestly see anyone enjoying playing it for longer than an afternoon. 'A' for effort, then, but undoubtedly 'E' for achievement.
To start with, in single-player the AI of your motley band of companions is atrocious. They frequently die on important sections, forcing you to restart the area again. Through no fault of your own, they get stuck in the scenery forcing you to take control of them and manoeuvre them into open space so you can continue.
To compound matters even more, the presentation isn't exactly the best. Ugly visuals and irritatingly cheesy one-liners will make you want to thump down the pad in disgust. The story-telling sequences are voiced by someone who sounds like he really couldn't wait to collect his paycheque and get out of the studio, while the overall technical standard of the game can only be described as below average. The controls feel loose and vague, collision detection is weak and, ultimately, it reeks of a product that could have done with a few extra months' polish.
At the end of the day, at best, Shrek 2 only really has any merit in so far as it isn't quite as bad as some other games. Which is hardly much of a recommendation.
Shrek 2 is out now on Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, PC and GBA