Posted by Female Gamers on Jan 19, 2010
Zathura – Review

Zathura – Review

Post Rating

Tut…sigh…groan…grumble…yawn. There are times when industrious perseverance and dedication to the written craft can quickly descend to craving the submission of the 5 aforementioned words as a full and printable description for a videogame review. And, unsurprisingly, the temptation to implement this timesaving minimalist approach to reviewing generally occurs when dealing with bland and unoriginal Hollywood tie-ins. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the wonder of Zathura.

“The intergalactic journey begins when a mysterious board game thrusts the house of two young brothers, Walter and Danny, into outer space. The boys must put aside their sibling rivalry, and players must utilise each character’s unique strengths, to survive each challenge. Battle deadly aliens, menacing robots and other celestial hazards in the space journey filled with action-packed adventure in order to get back home safely to planet Earth.”

Tut: Zathura is essentially a 3D platform game consisting of simplistic button pushing and obstacle dodging, mundane door opening and platform navigation, and repetitive enemy blasting and dull item collection to unlock Zathura-based extras in the Start menu. As an experience it offers nothing especially taxing to its audience, and its single ‘difficulty’ setting and 22 levels can be rattled off in a measly 4-5 hours. Criticism here may well be deflected by publisher and developer alike due to the game’s youthful 10+ target demographic, but that would only further expose their collective ignorance concerning adolescent consumers as ANY gamer of 10+ will demolish Zathura without breaking a sweat and then subsequently wonder exactly why they bothered.

Sigh: In terms of recent gaming quality it’s a case of ever-decreasing circles with Hollywood tie-ins, while the publishing profit circles are seemingly ever expanding. And Zathura exists as a truly blatant attempt to prize those last few pennies from unknowing parents keen to pad out the Zathura movie experience for their children—not many kids standing in GAME with money to burn are likely to reach for Zathura, regardless of its 19,99 price point.

Groan: Aesthetically, Zathura occupies that grey middle ground where nothing in the game causes waves of uncontrollable nausea, but also fails in every way to inspire anything beyond frowns of disappointment. Visuals are flat and unoriginal, colours insipid and dull, and animation is jerky, weightless, and thoroughly unconvincing (apart from the occasional robot levels—yes you get to control a robot as well as Walter and Danny—which only work as said robot doesn’t require accurate human movement). Game sound and dialogue are delivered without passion or emotion, and the effects are hollow and lack aural kick; the constant and poorly delivered arguing of the two brothers quickly grates the senses (and the accompanying story subtitles are even resplendent with spelling and grammar mistakes). The musical score is fairly impressive, though it is, of course, taken directly from the movie and therefore conveniently more impressive than the rest of the game package. Ultimately, Zathura performs more like an old PS1 game and, considering the squeezed power presently available through the PlayStation 2, that’s downright appalling.

Grumble: Gameplay in Zathura is instantly recognisable, and players will easily grasp the mechanics of necessary jumps, platform navigation, button pushes, weaponry usage, and boss clashes. Yet, that immediate familiarity will also expose the game’s central failing: it’s all been done before—and SO much better. Character control is easy enough; it’s lots of repetitious running and fighting from room to room in space stations and galactic prisons, with intermittent levelled platform negotiation through lazily designed environments including fiery lava pits, dust-filled canyons, and giant floating asteroids. However, every gameplay element, though passable in terms of execution, is fundamentally disgraced by a total lack of ANY innovation and/or originality. Every available weapon causes damage, regardless of the opposition; there’s never a need to select an appropriate tool for the job. Buttons to open doors are never hidden, or restricted, there’s no puzzle element and a sense of achievement through progression. And boss clashes are laughably easy. There’s nothing new on show to test player ability, no fresh angles, and no perplexing reinvention. Nothing. It’s routine and by the numbers from start to finish, and, frankly, it’s just not good enough.

Yawn: As per usual, girl gamers don’t get a look in with Zathura when it comes to playable female characters. Its central male protagonists (including an NPC astronaut later in the game) are all thoroughly dislikeable, and the robot, which is ‘technically’ without gender is referred to as a ‘he’ by the two brothers throughout the game. There’s not a woman in sight during Zathura—but then most girl characters wouldn’t wish to be associated with such a profit-scraping exercise in mediocrity. It’s about time that some kind of independent QA board (consisting of videogame consumers perhaps) was set up to monitor and control the output of publishers and developers in the videogame industry, especially when some companies strive tirelessly to create products of the utmost quality. The reduced price point of Zathura does not excuse its complete inability to provide anything more than a paint by numbers sideshow to the glitzy Hollywood product, and its absolute failure to achieve the most basic of gaming requirements: fun. Boo and, indeed, hiss.

Review by Stevie

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