Hype is a brave and noble little knight. As this game is set in a world based on the popular PlayMobil toys and dolls, Hype is also a cute little action figure. The trouble begins when the malicious Black Knight casts a spell to send Hype back in time. Plenty of exploration and sword swinging await as Hype tries to make his way through the 3D rendered worlds, across time itself, back home to stop the Black Knight from wreaking more havoc. Aside from the challenge of just surviving, Hype must find special objects in each level to move forward in the game.
So many times, you hope so much for something that no matter how good it is, it can never face up to what you want it to be. Like Tootie's career move from the Facts of Life to Living Single. Sure, it was stellar, Emmy-branding stuff, but could her career ever really rise any higher after being the golden child of the "teen-girl living in a boarding house" sitcom genre? Hype was such an interesting phenomenon because it was the critics that raised the game up on their shoulders, to the stunned glee of Ubi Soft. Hype was just part of a children's line using the Playmobil license, focused on the 8-10 age group. The designers, of course, had more elaborate plans, and what resulted is the big, beautiful adventure you see (metaphorically) before you. Is it fun? It's blast. Is it the next Zelda? It never was to begin with.
As a knight sent back through time by the evil Black Knight, Hype must find a series of crystals, meet up with a wizard named Gogoud throughout the time periods, pair up with a well-spoken dragon, and ultimately, travel back through four different periods in order to get back to the present. Most of the game takes place around the Taskan castle, occupied by Taskan I-IV (depending on what period you're in). Once you've found a crystal, you can access the next time period, and begin jumping between the periods in order to change certain events in your favor. For the most part, this consists of finding an object or freeing a character in order to bring that group or character in the future into your debt. The game is very linear in terms of events -- the actual field of play is small, with specific areas opening up as the plot permits. You'll visit the high skies on your dragon, travel through treetop villages, and creep through a variety of underground passageways throughout the adventure, but all of them are firmly connected by plot, with a feel of a cohesive environment rather than a set of levels put together by the connect the dot method of storytelling.
Though some people may be turned off by the toy-like environments in the game, anyone who's touched a Playmobil character will grin the instant they spot a flowerpot, character, animal or object lifted directly from the series of toys. Just keep in mind that these Playmobil characters are of a mutant breed, and have the disturbing ability to actually bend limbs, unlike the rest of the normal Playmobil public. Hit an enemy with a sword and you'll be treated to a nice plastic thud instead of a fleshy slash, and a spinning set of stars instead of a dead body. My personal favorite was the wolves, who slid on the ground with impossibly bent legs after a set of sword thrusts. The characters have a great deal of personality, and add to the Playmobil mystique with their fun animations, and wide-eyed, crescent moon-mouthed conversations. And frankly, extra points go to whomever thought that an appropriate name for a knight and his girlfriend was Hype and Vibe. Because you get to see the same characters in different time periods (and at different ages), the designers have taken special care to make sure that you're not just talking to "townsperson #4," but that you're actually meeting characters with a personality that shines, even when you track the same person down years later.
If there was one thing that I was hoping that the designers would maybe, possibly, please please hopefully pilfer from Zelda, it was the creamy control system. Unfortunately, instead of quick, free movement, you're stuck with a Tomb Raider style "turn then walk" system. Though it works fine, it makes it much harder to tackle certain areas, such as the jumps in the prison, or even worse, the Gladiator boss battle. Jumps are imprecise, and just don't include the design features needed in order to take on harder platform tasks. You get a bow and a sword in the game, and both do exactly what you'd expect -- no combos, special slashes, or magical instruments for you, gamer. You also do a lot of retreading in the game, which means that although you don't have to walk all that far, you'll encounter the same enemies in the same areas, which makes for a certain predictability as you get farther in the game, and start to return to the same areas again and again. The amount of spells that you'll gain in the game is surprising, handing you more powers than you can shake a wand at by the time you're finished with the adventure. Unfortunately, most of them prove to be variations on the same attack, just with different graphics. Some bosses are weak to special attacks however, and smart players will keep an eye out for a monster's environment and attacks. The control and gameplay is entertaining, but you'll rarely find yourself challenged by the AI, or the levels themselves.
You can definitely see where the designers were trying to emulate some of Zelda's greater points, but at its heart, this is a much simpler game. Events are laid out for you squarely, and most side-quests deal with mini-game tasks like finding and destroying beehives in town rather than, well, experiencing an elaborate universe of large and small events. Even flying the dragon, which is fun, doesn't really pose any serious challenge, and can be accomplished on the first try without any real effort (or without even attacking the other dragons). Taking out bosses like the Sumo Monk is accomplished in seconds (literally), and finding the bosses/major events is an even easier task. Go up a level, pull a switch, and repeat a few times. Voila, instant level. There's always something going on in the game, and the pacing is really nice -- you'll rarely be bored by an event, but the simplicity is really what keeps the game from being great. For adults anyway. And that's the whole problem with promoting the game as a standard game title in the first place.
We did it all to ourselves. Ubisoft kept telling us that this was a children's game, but we all kept interrupting and saying "yeah, but it's the next Zelda." It's a good title, but overall it's just too simple to charm most adult gamers. That's fine -- it was never for us. Seeing this through a child's eyes, this game is perfectly crafted, and aimed squarely at a youthful skill level. Things are just simple enough to avoid confusion, but filled with enough challenge to make the average 8 or 9 year old sweat Nerf bullets. There was never a moment when I felt this game was substandard, badly crafted, or shoddily engineered, but there was more than a few times when I thought I was a bit too old. If you're addicted to action adventures, then you should buy this, and experience the world of Hype for yourself, but those of you with tricks up your sleeve may not find your fingers challenged enough to make this worth your while. Fortunately, there's a simple solution to the problem -- buy this for your cousins, your nieces and nephews, and any half pint within arm's reach that owns a computer and an imagination. Then play it when they aren't looking.
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