Review by YusakuG
Reviewed: 08/16/02 | Updated: 06/09/03
Finally, a Disney game where you get to blow stuff up!!
As a life-long fan of animation (both present and classic) nothing pains me more than to see the current state of the Disney films. Just 10 years ago, they were the untouchable kings of animation, delivering a string of non-stop high quality animated films that appealed to just about everyone. But, a string of recent disappointments, ranging from the mediocre (Hercules, Atlantis) to the downright putrid (Pocahontas) has soiled the studio's reputation during the past few years. That's why it was such a relief for me to see their most recent offering, Lilo and Stitch, which I felt was one of their best animated films in years. Unfortunately, although it was moderately successful, it was still outperformed by the god-awful live action Scooby Doo movie.
As if to follow suit, most of the recent games based on Disney endeavors have been dropping in quality. There was a time when respectable developers from Capcom and Sega were responsible for representing the Disney name and characters in the video game arena, and they crafted some of the finest 2D platformers around in the 8 and 16 bit days. Sure, a few stinkers got loose (read my review of Fantasia for Genesis), but for the most part, it was all good.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Game Boy Advance adaption of Lilo and Stitch was not half bad. Disney Interactive, and developer Digital Eclipse, have decided to completely ignore the movie's plot, and create a sort of sequel to the film. The game's original story allows the programmers to let their imagination run wild, and create their own environments and new characters to interact with. The end result, while far from the majesty that is the earlier Disney titles, is a very fun and original game, although it may be too difficult for its target audience.
For those of you who have not seen the film, Stitch is an alien who kind of looks like a blue koala bear. He was created by a mad scientist, and was designed only to destroy. When the Galactic Council captures the scientist, they decide that Stitch serves no purpose other than to destroy, and therefore, he is to be disposed of. Before they can carry out his fate, Stitch escapes in a police cruiser ship, and crash lands on earth in Hawaii. It is there that he is adopted by a lonely little girl named Lilo (who mistakes him for a strange, and super intelligent dog). The unlikely couple quickly become friends, and through Lilo, Stitch learns the aspect of family, and that there is more to life than destruction.
As the game opens, Lilo and Stitch are relaxing on the Hawaiian beach, when all of a sudden, a group of alien foot soldiers come storming out of nowhere, and kidnap young Lilo. They take her back to their ship, where the evil Dr. Pestus awaits. It seems that the mad doctor has an army of mosquitoes, and he needs creatures from various planets to act as a source of food for his mosquito army. (Side note: With the West Nile Virus scare going on, it probably wasn't the best time for Disney to make a game centered around killer mosquito aliens...) Anyway, Stitch must now race to rescue his human friend, while little Lilo tries to find a way to escape from Dr. Pestus' prison ship.
What sets Lilo and Stitch apart from the usual licensed crap that carries the Disney name is the diverse gameplay modeled after classic games of old. On most of the levels, you control the alien Stitch. These are 2D side scrolling levels that will instantly bring flashbacks of SNK's Metal Slug series. Armed with Stitch's twin blaster guns, you pretty much lay waste to everything in your path, blowing away a seemingly endless array of foot soldiers, and even parts of the background and scenery. Stitch can even board a giant robot spider-like tank, and crush his enemies like helpless bugs. This is quite surprising for a Disney game, to allow you access to so much carnage, but it does kind of fit with the Stitch character. Stitch can find power ups to make his guns stronger, and can even throw pineapple bombs that destroy everything it its path.
When Stitch gains access to a spaceship, the game switches to a shooter that is modeled closely after Konami's classic arcade game, Gyruss. You move Stitch's ship around the outer boarders of the screen in a circular motion, shooting at enemy ships that approach you from the distance. These levels are fun, but way too short to make any real impression, unfortunately.
If you need a break from the non-stop frantic action of Stitch's levels, that's where the puzzle-oriented levels featuring Lilo come in. In-between the Stitch levels, you take control of Lilo as she tries to escape from Dr. Pestus' ship. Armed only with her favorite doll (which she uses to whack enemies on the head with), Lilo must solve a variety of puzzles and avoid traps in order to escape. These levels remind me a lot of the classic Prince of Persia games, because of combination of strategic action and puzzle solving. There's even some stealth involved, as Lilo will have to sneak past sleeping guards, or find alternate routes through heavily patrolled areas to avoid being seen. These levels can be a lot of fun and challenging, but some younger players might have a hard time getting past some of the traps and puzzle solving aspects.
Since this is a platformer, the controls need to be tight. Controlling both Lilo and Stitch is fairly easy, but there is one big flaw in the design: Stitch cannot duck and shoot at the same time. Since you have to be constantly on your toes during his more action-based levels, it would have been a lot easier if you could take enemies down while crouching under their fire. The fact that you have to stand to hit them makes you a sitting target. And since the enemies are so fast on the draw with their guns, you get hurt a lot more than you really should. Besides this, there's not too much to complain about. Both characters respond to your commands instantly.
In the area of graphics, Lilo and Stitch definitely does not disappoint. Digital Eclipse have gone above and beyond the call of duty, and have created a graphic engine that looks like a living cartoon. All of the character sprites, right down to the lowliest alien soldier, have an astonishing number of animation frames. I especially loved the look on Stitch's face when he would fire his guns, and how he would be bathed in the light from his blazing guns. The character sprites are small, but very detailed. Lilo and Stitch look exactly like their feature film counterparts, and the areas that they explore have a lot of nice detail, as well.
As an incentive to keep on playing, the programmers have thrown in a few FMV clips from the film that you can find hidden on the various levels. If you find them, you can watch them anytime you want from the game's main menu screen. The video is pretty grainy in quality, but for the GBA, it's impressive stuff. The only downside I can see is that these are just random clips from the film, with no introduction or information on how they fit into the story. People who have not seen the movie might be confused by these clips.
Unfortunately, Lilo and Stitch fails to impress when it comes to sound. From the music to the sound effects, everything has a tinny and far away sound to it. The gunshots and explosions just lack the oomph they need. There's nothing more depressing than seeing a huge explosion, and hearing a tiny little firecracker-like sound effect accompanying it. They did try to fit in a few digitized voice samples from the film, but these too are low quality, and scratchy.
If disappointing sound and the fact that you can't shoot while ducking were the only faults I could find in this game, I'd score it an 8 easily. But, unfortunately, I have not even gone into the biggest knock against the game - the horribly unbalanced difficulty. I have no idea how they expect kids to have the patience to beat this game, because it's hard. I consider myself a pretty good player, and it took me almost a half an hour just to beat Level 1. The reason why this game is so hard is because it literally throws a relentless barrage of enemies at you from literally every direction. On the Stitch levels, you'll often find yourself surrounded by five or six alien foot soldiers coming at you from both sides of the screen. Unless you have the reflexes of a cat, you're bound to get hit at least once. The enemies also seem to be a lot faster on the draw than Stitch is, and shoot rather frequently, too. What's worse, the game gives you a pathetically short life meter, so you'll be using up your lives in no time.
Digital Eclipse seems to think that giving you unlimited continues makes up for this fact, but it's just not enough. Level checkpoints are very rare, so you often find yourself having to replay through a lot of the level just to get back to the point where you previously died. I can easily see how this could cause frustration with young gamers. They should have just scaled back on the number of enemies on screen at once, or slowed them down, so they're not so fast. The only saving grace is that the enemies can only hurt you with their guns. If they touch you, you do not receive any damage, like in most games. However, it was often a welcome relief to take control of Lilo, since her levels were slower-paced, and emphasized thinking over action.
As it stands, Lilo and Stitch is certainly not a bad game. With its multiple gameplay modes modeled after arcade and video game classics, this game may take a lot of people by surprise. Unfortunately, this game may turn off its target audience with the sometimes unfair challenge. This is an odd game, indeed. It's targeted at younger gamers, yet it seems to be designed for older players who like good difficulty, and remember playing these classic games that the levels are based on. If you need a Disney game, you could do a lot worse than Lilo and Stitch. But, if you want my personal advice, I'd hold out for Square's upcoming Kingdom Hearts, which I believe will be the Disney game to top them all.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
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