As with any holiday, I like to start playing games with thematic content around the Christmas Holidays. Hallowe’en has a staggering number of options, considering every horror game fits the bill, but for Christmas, what do you go to? I’ve been able to assemble a decent playlist this year, which I need to dive straight into, since they’ll be competing for space with the 2018 releases I try to cram in at the last minute.
What was I talking about? Oh, right.
Back in my youth, my sister and I had a tradition to watch the Nightmare Before Christmas around both Hallowe’en and Christmas. It feels like that tradition went on for an eternity, but it was probably only, like, two years. Anyway, the movie also holds a special place in the heart of my husband, who is a diehard Tim Burton fanboy. So, for the holidays, we decided to sit down with the only console game spawned from the movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge.
Have you ever heard of it? Did you know there was a game based on the movie?
WHAT’S THIS!? WHAT’S THIS!?
Oogie’s Revenge is predictably the story of the principal antagonist of the movie being resurrected by Lock, Shock, and Barrel; those creepy kids who ride around in a bathtub. Jack’s away from town and returns to find that its been taken over by his old adversary. You’re then left to set things right as the only competent citizen of the town.
It’s a pretty basic plot that meanders around without really caring about pacing. You largely just explore the branches of the hubworld and beat up on the children until you reach the end of a chapter. It’s not exactly imaginative, which deviates heavily from the source material.
What it does nail in regards to the movie is its aesthetic. As an original Xbox game, Oogie’s Revenge is actually not bad looking. The geometrically askew architecture, wonderful backgrounds, and varied lighting all look great for a game of its vintage. Likewise, the animation stays true to its stop motion roots, though it would have been cooler to see Capcom take this further by trying to emulate it with more detail.
YOU’RE JOKING! YOU’RE JOKING! I CAN’T BELIEVE MY EYES!
The game plays out like a bootleg version of Devil May Cry. You’ve got two attack buttons and a dodge, but everything is so sticky. The dodge only works once your current animation is completed, so it’s only possible to pull one off successfully if you plan it in advance. Likewise, the two attack buttons don’t really work together in any way. One is your basic attack, which combos depending on how many times you press it (starting at two flimsy attacks and advancing to four). The other is a grab, that is actually kind of fun, since you can either slam enemies repeatedly into the ground or hurl them at their friends. Most of the time, however, combat just favours hammering on the main attack, throwing in the occasional dodge.
The controls in general are kind of crap. The game uses a maddeningly fixed camera angle at all time, giving you absolutely no control over it. This works occasionally, but even in combat areas where you’d expect a fixed camera to work, enemies find ways to attack from offscreen and foreground objects sometimes obstruct the action. It’s not completely hopeless, but I found many occasions where I found myself wishing for the ability to look around my vicinity.
Despite the fact that you don’t have a jump button, Oogie’s Revenge still insists on having a few puzzles where you’re required to jump atop something. This means you have to use your dodge to give yourself some verticality, but not just your dodge. No, you have to dodge three times in a straight line to perform a higher somersault. Tilt the stick slightly in a direction and you’re going to screw it up. It’s horrible. Just horrible.
THE ONLY PUMPKIN KING
The Nightmare Before Christmas was primarily a musical, so if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how that factors into the game. Interestingly, it ties into boss battles, which I actually found to be pretty cool. Throughout most battles against the big baddies, you collect musical notes that fill a gauge. Once the gauge is full, a rhythm game starts up, and depending on how well you do, you cause more damage to the boss. They’re kind of awkward segments, but I absolutely love them. I think I just have a secret affection for button-based rhythm games.
It’s just too bad the soundtrack consists largely of bastardizations of Danny Elfman’s classics. You’re initially just bludgeoned by the awesome “This is Hallowe’en” song every time a fight pops up until it’s thoroughly glued into your ears, but starting with the first boss battle and continuing through the game, you wind up with versions of familiar songs with horribly insipid lyrics. The lyrics are so shallow they constitute a slipping hazard.
Stanzas are broken apart and awkwardly pasted together, phrasing is weirdly jumbled to fit a rhyme, and the characters ham it up with cheesy lines about the situation they’re in. The worst part is that they’re invariably just overlaying some existing song from the movie, underlying just how amateur the production is.
This also extends to simple level music, with songs like “This is Hallowe’en” being twisted into “Take Our Town Back” and “What’s this?” just becoming “Oh no!” It’s absolutely tragic.
THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT
None of this would be a dealbreaker if the gameplay, as a whole, held up, but it really doesn’t. A lot of the segments where you’re required to solve puzzles are either obtuse, require the awkward use of skills that were obviously not meant for the task, or both. Everything else is just kind of bland. There’s very little variety, especially when it comes to the enemies you fight, and the game just sort of plods along. It’s not terrible, just painfully mediocre.
Of course, my husband watched me play through all 12 hours of it, and he was delighted. He asked how I’d rate the game, and when I told him, he enthusiastically tried to change my mind. So, yeah, I guess if you’re a huge diehard fan of the movie, then this game has something to offer. You may simply enjoy seeing a beloved film transformed into a game.
Keep in mind, however, that he didn’t actually play the game. I was behind the controller the whole time, and I found the game to be boring. It’s not the worst licensed game I’ve come across, there’s certainly a degree of reverence for the source material, and I enjoyed the inclusion of rhythm sections in the boss battles. It’s just bland, doesn’t bring anything new or creative to the table, and is outclassed by other games. Also, the new lyrics suck, and the songs that were left untouched get hammered into your brain.
Oh, also, there’s a disappointing amount of Christmas to be found. It’s there, but really, it makes a better Hallowe’en game than a Christmas one.
This review was conducted on an original XBox with a disk copy of the game. It was paid for by the author.