Poor game adaptations of popular cinematic properties are as expected as Mario games at Nintendo system launches. Sometimes-- as with the GameCube-- those expectations are thwarted.
Before its release, Ubi Soft's Tarzan Untamed looked to be one of those rare exceptions. With dyamic gameplay and visuals lifted right off the silver screen, Tarzan looked to be the fun, fast launch-day antidote to Luigi's ponderous vacuum action. Fun and fast, Tarzan is; but unfortunately, it's also shallow and shorter than Luigi's Mansion.
And that's short.
Tarzan Untamed begins shortly after the movie's narrative ends. Tarzan and Jane are spinning through the jungle, when their primal paradise is raped by a scientist and his sinsister (and retarded) profiteers. As Tarzan, players must brave pistols, killer kitties, and Rosie O'Donnel sound clips to restore order to the jungle.
The game opens with nice, minimalist menus: easy to navigate, and accompanied only by jungle-drum selection 'chimes.' No gaudy, distracting visuals usually pumped out by pre-teen software to sustain the attention of its shortwired audience. The menus drop you quickly and discretely into the game's opening FMV.
Said FMV is solid, and resembles the source material. It's a bit grainy, and shiny in the wrong places, but loads quickly and gets its job done. Exposition posited, Tarzan jumps into action.
Ubi Soft does a good job cheating its way into a very pretty game. Crowded environments and beautiful 2D backdrops disguise the limited draw distance; the guided action limits what's onscreen and keeps the framerate steady. What you can't see can't hurt you: and what you can see is a faithful recreation of Disney's exciting jungle.
Most of the action is fixed on pseudo-rails; anchored behind Tarzan, the camera isn't usually an issue. In those rare occasions where Tarzan has to maneuver fully in three dimensions, it can handicap the player and block both secrets and essential platforms. As seldom as this happens though, it's a minor issue.
Various ape yells, growls, gunshots, footsteps, crashes and thuds round out Tarzan's aural world. It's a refreshingly patient, laid-back approach for a kids' game.
The voice work is generally adequate, except for that evil hole in the universe some sad parent innocuously named "Rosie." There's a level where her character, Terk, is barreling down river rapids, and Tarzan must rescue the ape. She calls for your help the entire level. I admit it: my first few times through, I died intentionally. Tis a kinder thing for all the world to let that rancid beast die. Keep the remote nearby, and your eye on Mute.
The main game is broken into levels of three types, each accentuating a stylized 'extreme sport.'
1. Exploration. These levels play a little like Crash Bandicoot in the Jungle. The heart of the game, Exploration levels involve combat, platform jumping, spear tossing, the occasional wrestling match-- and lots of grinding. On bare feet.
Ubi Soft tries to capture the kinetic 'tree surfing' action of Disney's movie, sending Tarzan down spirals of branch and vine, soaring from bough to bough. Context sensitive gameplay keeps the action fresh and uncomplicated. It is, ultimately, rather shallow; but when the speed picks up, and demands precision, these levels are fun. There's a certain satisfaction in leaping from vine to vine, while taking out a poacher with a well-aimed spear before hitting the ground.
It isn't so fun, though, when Tarzan's not grinding at 30 miles per hour. For such a limber semi-primate, Tarzan handles much like Drunken Conker. Ubi did a good job capturing Tarzan's galloping, four-limbed gait. It must have seemed a good idea at the time. But in those few seconds between standstill and trot, Tarzan moves like a zombie: it's disorienting and can lead to frustrating combat damage or fatal falls.
In classic platforming fashion, items cue your path. Also in classic platforming fashion, some obstacles are unnecessarily and inexplicably difficult. It's frustrating, and more so because it's a kids' game. You'll want to hit your controller harder than that five dollar hooker who snuck off with your wallet.
2. Surfing. Every man who's been raised by apes knows how to turn a piece of driftwood into a surfboard; just ask Larry King. Tarzan does it in style.
Predictably, the Surfing levels play a little like SSX; less 'tricky,' perhaps, but quicker too. It's frantic, fun action, catching enormous air and plunging subsequently beneath the waves. Tarzan earns points and bonuses for tricks executed along the path.
3. Water Skiing. The Water Skiing levels are similar to the Surfing levels, with less emphasis on speed, and more on maneuvering. A friendly (if unwilling) bird pulls Tarzan at high speeds across bodies of water in pursuit of the scientist and his cronies.
Thankfully, Tarzan Untamed isn't a Rare-esque "Collection Platformer," but there are several things the monkey man must find along the way. Bananas restore health; film canisters open new paths for exploration; finding lost baby apes... makes mommy apes happy. These few searchable items add a little to replay-- especially the film canisters, of which 45 must be collected before Tarzan can complete the game-- but not so much that the game can be called 'lengthy.'
Indeed, most experienced gamers can complete Tarzan in a couple of hours. That was acceptable for Super Mario Bros. in 1985; it simply isn't now. There are hidden paths, secret levels, and a second mode of play-- "Terk's Challenges," which replicate each main level in a timed challenge for bonuses-- but there's no reason to return to Tarzan's Jungle once it's been liberated.
Those fans of the movie, especially kids or players with exceptionally short attention spans, might appreciate having Tarzan Untamed in their library. Otherwise, save it for a rental: a rental, after you've played everything else, and have already seen The Seven Samurai twice.