Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a multi-level game that uses your observational skill and wit to forge a path through an underwater adventure. Your mission: nothing less than unraveling the mystery of Atlantis. To accomplish this task, you lead a multi-faceted team, each member with a critical skill or strength. Clues (and occasional narrative text) shepherd you in the right direction. Solving the mystery is a combination of exploring numerous environments, collecting artifacts and getting past bad guys who would rather you leave it all be. Everything, from rock monsters to Atlantean police to what appear to be giant New York cockroaches to difficult terrain, will try to derail your effort. Will you successfully discover the mythical empire or be consumed by both passion and circumstance, never to prove your claim of its existence?
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Reduced to its simplest, the objective of Atlantis is to meander through various underground and underwater levels, fixing machines or collecting objects used to gain access to more levels. It's a cross between Metal Gear Solid and Crash Bandicoot, but doesn't quite live up to either. The first level is a skill test; you show off your ability to explore areas and become acquainted with the controls and characteristics, all while completing relatively simple tasks. The second level is fixing the guns on the submarine. You must find them, use some cunning to actually get to them and change characters (to Audrey) to fix them. The only disappointment: they are fixed merely with her arrival. There's no skill or thought required. The Fire level was more involved and better thought out. It requires some skill and a more explorative mentality than much of the game. You must be more defensive-minded and daring to complete the level. The bulk of the game is like that: solving puzzles and collecting objects aiding your search for Atlantis. The scenery changes (underwater cove, ice level, Atlanta, etc.) but the objective is pretty similar throughout.
The various levels and tasks needing completion are fine though unremarkable. At no point will you be overly impressed with the thoughtfulness or creativity offered by the storyline. It did become somewhat harder to progress to the advanced levels. Part of this is a result of more challenging environments which require more attention and skill. Part of it was that any necessary precision in movement was a bit hard to come by because of the sloppy controls. Characters are able to run, duck, jump, punch and use a range weapon of some sort. Milo, the main character, throws a boomerang; Moliere (the Mole) throws rocks -- though barely, Vinnie throws grenades, Audrey shoots a politically-correct flare gun, and so on. Though each character has a unique ability, they are essentially the same -- just with different appearances.
Before starting, one aspect that intrigued me was the need to use multiple characters to progress through the game. To change characters, you walk up to radios that are placed periodically throughout the game. Once the radio zooms in, you change the dial and call for other characters. Any that are within range will respond and may be chosen. Since they are so similar, the only strategic reason to change characters is the occasional need to use a particular character's unique ability -- not especially interesting and a bit of a nuisance.
While nothing is specifically wrong with this game, nothing is entirely right either. The storyline is simple and mercifully short. An adult (if you could find one who cared enough to play Atlantis) would probably make short order of this game, though I'm confident it would be challenging for the targeted age group. To make the 'rents happy, the violence is reasonably limited and fairly Disney-ized. Though I had a difficult time caring whether I finished the game or not, I'm certain a pre-teen would be immersed in the story and enjoying what exploration is required. I understand that the target market is probably composed of people who are utterly unconcerned about federal monetary policy, don't have credit cards, don't drive and have yet to change majors even once. Accordingly, the game is simple to understand, simple to play, reasonably simple to complete, but a bit hard to enjoy.
Controlling the movement of characters was somewhat counterintuitive. Initially, your perspective is behind and slightly above the figure, simple and useful. Turning circles produces an irritating tendency to move the camera angle to the side of or in front of the character, but still facing it. Essentially, it was like driving an 18-wheeler from the trailer. Innumerable times, I found myself running forward but seeing my own pretty face. While in reality this is nothing less than sheer pleasure, in the context of this game it was less than perfect. Using the shoulder buttons gives you control over what direction the "camera" is facing, but it can take a few precious seconds to adjust, often resulting in being damaged by monsters or elemental traps. Another quirk was the difficulty in aligning your character with the leveled column or rock you're trying to cross. Even when you were directly in front of it, perfectly aligned, you would too often fall off to the side.
Navigating the game's features was a simple and reasonably quick task. The menus are understandable, logical and don't require much thought. For example, occasionally it is necessary to consume food or a first aid kit to restore health points; just hitting a couple of buttons resolves this -- very simple and quick. The same goes for using colored crystals to strengthen your weaponry; it just takes a moment when a moment is all you've got.
Excluding the full motion video used between levels, the graphics were somewhat mediocre. As mentioned, it was surprisingly difficult to navigate your character accurately. Occasionally, it is necessary to align your character with an object to jump onto it which proved somewhat frustrating, simply because the visual placement of the body wasn't where the game seemed to think it was. For example, you may need to push a boulder; your character must walk up to it and push. The issue is that it doesn't appear that you are near the boulder. In addition, some of the surface textures were somewhat crude and the motions of the characters lacked any fluidity and were limited and repetitive. Throwing a boomerang always looked exactly the same, time after time. Any objects of significance only stood out because they were a slightly different color.
The audio meets the same standard as the graphics. Not too many sounds are used, and those that are used aren't very impressive. You hear the constant din of whatever background noise is appropriate for the environment and the noise of your character running around, but not much more than that. Punching, shooting and detonating explosions create noise too, but again, nothing too noteworthy. It's just enough to tell you something happened; no variation or deviation from the norm regardless of circumstance.
No other video game has the exact same title. It is light enough to carry for extended distances.
Branding has made Disney an entertainment juggernaut -- T-shirts, mugs, picture frames, dolls and occasionally whole theme parks. (I thought I saw an Atlantis head gasket sealer at the auto parts store; not sure though.) To that end, Atlantis is a brand; just like Nike, Pizza Hut and Ford. Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire video game is a product within the brand Atlantis, just like Air Jordan basketball shorts are a product in the Nike brand. I fully understand the need to capture market and increase shareholder value, but Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire was created for no reason other than to fill a product line.
This says it all… "Disney's overriding objective is to create shareholder value by continuing to be the world's premier entertainment company from a creative, strategic, and financial standpoint." - Disney.com
Ultimately, it's far from terrible, but not far enough -- maybe worth renting but probably not buying. By the way, on the back cover of the game box is advertising for Aladdin in Nasira's Revenge for PlayStation. The Disney marketing machine rolls on….