In a streamlined and dumbed-down version of the movie’s plot, Larry Daley has to save the day after the magic tablet that brings museum artifacts to life finds itself at the Smithsonian in the hands of evil pharaoh Kahmunrah. Larry and his ancient museum-dwelling pals must stop Kahmunrah and his newly-enlisted historical evildoers before they use the tablet to open a gate to the underworld and unleash an undead army, presumably to have them do his evil bidding, like gnawing off the faces of his enemies, fetching his dry cleaning, and dancing the Macarena for his amusement.
Your key task in the game is to defeat various legendary nutjobs (Al Capone and Napoleon Bonaparte, for example), steal back a variety of golden tablet pieces from Kahmunrah’s clutches and use them for your own nefarious means. Each new golden ingot handily grants Larry a new ability, ranging from transforming his keychain into an Indiana Jones-style whip to bestowing his flashlight with the power to fix broken mechanics or reveal hidden objects. Along the way you’ll platform your way around the various wings of the Smithsonian, using your new-found powers to complete simplistic puzzles, bagging a cornucopia of collectibles and interacting with the exhibits, triggering numerous factual museum guide titbits.
It’s the latter addition that’s the most refreshing; it’s a natural extension of the game’s museum setting to throw in an educational aspect, and it’s to the developer’s credit that they straddle the line between fun and educational without slipping into the void of wretched, torturously un-fun “edutainment” titles. The little historical snippets, delivered in dead-on museum guide voiceover are a fun little afterthought, though it’s a shame more isn’t done with it beyond the two-sentence history lessons. Presumably the developers were wary of kids stopping mid-play, dropping their controllers with a dawning realisation and quietly yelping, “It’s trying to teach me things, and it won’t let me shoot anything in the face! Kill it! Kill it till it’s dead!” , and of course, most may hate the idea of museum visits with irrational glee. Whatever the reason, it’s unfortunate that the actual museum aspect isn’t used to its full potential.
This unfulfilled potential is a complaint that extends to the controls, too. Early in the game, you’ll encounter Larry’s playful dinosaur pal Rexy, who’ll be anxious for you to play fetch with him. You’ll get ahead of yourself and naturally wind your arm back, ready to toss the bone with a throwing motion of the remote, only to discover that the entire game of fetch is completed with a single press of the ‘A’ button. It’s moments like these where the game’s slap-dash 360-to-Wii port control scheme regularly calls attention to itself and points out its own blatant missed opportunities.
The torch system is handled with more finesse, with the remote used to wave and point the shining light in your desired direction. It works well, and is mostly niggle-free, though an occasionally wonky camera system means you’ll often have to awkwardly move the viewpoint around manually to hit your desired spot, which can be an exercise in futility if you’re trying it while under attack from enemies.
The graphics are about par for the Wii, failing to push the system, but managing to be colourful, vibrant and well-rendered enough. Though Ben Stiller’s facial likeness is a rather close match, his body has been inexplicably mangled in the digital conversion process; with spindly spider legs that are freakishly disproportionate to his upper torso, Animated Ben looks like either his lower limbs have been run through a Play-Doh spaghetti-maker, or the animators based his appearance on some mutant hybrid action figure they pieced together that’s top-half Stiller, bottom-half Jack Skellington.
Stiller’s the only actor who reprises his role for the game’s voice-over work, and while he’s a welcome addition amidst the barely passable imitators doubling the other characters, his performance also skews towards lifeless and phoned-in at times – something not helped by his “I should do this next!” lines being repeated ad nauseum if you dwindle more than 30 seconds. It’s an intensely irritating practice, seemingly added for ADD-stricken children who managed to forget what to do in the half a minute since they were last reminded, and one which kills any enthusiasm for exploring. Likewise, Amelia Earhart’s incessant ‘30s-era slang-laced nagging will not only quickly discourage any collectible-snagging exploration, but you’ll hope with all your heart that there’s a mini-game where you can kick her smug face into a propeller blade and retroactively become the reason for her fabled disappearance.
The music choices are nicely done, with a liberal smearing of orchestral score, and each acheivement you earn triggering a jaunty majestic tune, which – though frequently repeated – never manages to feel grating.
While the majority of the game is surprisingly fun, it’s also near-drowned by simplicity. Between the nagging voiceovers, constant on-screen hints and the auto-tuning torch (which auto-selects the necessary tablet ability for you when solving puzzles, rather than allowing you to figure out the already effortless solution for yourself), the game mollycoddles the player with unrelenting hand-holding, offering no real challenge whatsoever. Even for a game whose target audience is younger gamers, it’s woefully excessive. Which is unfortunate, since much of Night at the Museum 2 is filled with diverse and entertaining gameplay, well implemented (albeit simplistic) puzzles, fun and varied game mechanics and some wonderful but underutilized ideas. Between riding T-Rexes and lunar landers, charming animals to do your dirty work, bringing paintings to life to beat your enemies, and leaping across the wings of jet planes, there’s a wealth of things to do, it’s just a shame players aren’t offered more challenge and breathing room while exploring them.
Overall, you’ll speed through it in 3 hours or less, and you’ll likely nail all the collectibles in one sitting, with little incentive to replay; the points and extras all feel like filler, with bland game concept art and the same historical factoids you covered in-game with nothing new, which feels like a huge missed opportunity considering the potential for behind the scenes extras from the movie itself, or a heaping of historical Smithsonian extras. Despite its shortcomings, however, Night at the Museum 2 still manages to be a surprisingly entertaining movie tie-in, and a fun, harmless game in general.
(Review originally published at WRAWReviews.co.uk)