Everybody do the Dinosaur!
The films story is introduced and pushed along by Diego and Sid who are off-screen telling a tale to the offspring in the film. Very simple visuals are used to convey cave paintings, but there isn’t much animation used. It is a nice touch making it into a storybook retelling, but it isn’t the only way the game progresses. After a short back-and-forth between Sid & friends, the game brings you to the scene where the cast interacts through a rough in-game engine. The characters, in fact, look like they would in the film, albeit downgraded severely. Lip-syncing isn’t a huge problem, but the textures are very unpolished. For the most part, this sums up the game's presentation: visually, it works okay, but it doesn’t look like a current-generation game. This could be, and probably is, a PS2 game.
The gameplay itself varies a little bit, mixing 3 core characters with different play mechanics. The majority of the game you play as Sid, who plays like a basic 3D platformer. His fighting mechanics are very rudimentary but is a very good introduction to the game. This portion of the game is very collection-oriented, sending the player through various levels collecting all different types of fruit. Most of the fruit is used to buy upgrades (really, in-game cheats and unlockable multiplayer levels). It is the Sid missions that help new players get their feet wet, as for some, 3D gaming can be difficult to get a hang of. Scrat (the helpless squirrel), on the other hand, has a 2D platforming section that mixes with his 3rd film counterpart. A lot of hopping over gaps and clinging on for dear life here.
The final major player is Buckminster, who has the most depth of any character in the game. Not only is his character interesting, but playing has him can be fun. Despite his small size, Buckminster has an arsenal (yeah, you read that correctly) of weapons that he uses to take down the many dinos he faces. For a kids game, this is probably the more violent section. His equipment is organic-based, so don’t worry too much. The primary weapon is a whip that actually has a combo system behind it! Though the game relies on two attacks and two movement buttons, it clearly was thought out well. What’s more is that as you hit more enemies in a row, a different combo motivating word pops up. Sadly, “dino-genocide” isn’t one of them, but it might as well be as you slaughter countless dinosaurs in arena events along the way. Aside from combat, Buck has the most agile movement of any character. Though the game is very linear, Buck has many sliding (like Sonic Adventure 2 rail grinds) and wall running sections (Prince of Persia, anyone?).
Other portions of the game do not have the same depth as Buck, unfortunately, but they do remain easily accessible to young children. There are many throwbacks for adults to enjoy, such as an R-Type section and even a Ghostbuster reference. The multiplayer follows in the same footsteps as other children’s’ games would, with a plethora of party games to keep people entertained. While slamming a bunch of snowball-rolling sloths into each other isn’t enjoyable, it doesn’t have the same depth an adult would enjoy for more than a few times. Still, they are good in their own right, but somewhat watered down.
In the end, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a children’s game that has some heart. I spent a lot of hours playing and enjoying the game for what it was. The multiplayer is definitely not something to go out of your way to play, nor is it a reason to buy the game. However, it does deliver a solid tie-in to the film that is a good stepping-stone for kids. While it is intended for kids, adults will likely have trouble with the challenge mode. It consists of several sections of the game that need to be beaten in one shot under strict time or score conditions. This will be where your average gamer will go for his kicks, and it is actually pretty tough. As a single player game with quick loads after ‘death’, unlimited lives, and lots of in-game help at your disposal, don’t hesitate to pick this up for your lil Ice Age fan. They will love it, and you might get a kick out of it, too!