A suprising amount of fun in a small package.
Considering the circumstances, Stuart Little 3: Big Photo Adventure should really suck. Not only is it based on a movie license, but it's based on a movie that wasn't even released in theaters, and while I mean no disrespect to Sega, my first reaction upon receiving this in the mail was to get rid of it like a dead roach. So you can't even begin to imagine my surprise when I tossed the disc into the PS2 and almost immediately fell in love with it to the point where it kept me from playing Xbox 360. When a $29.99 game starring a cute mouse gets the nod over Activision's $59.99 Call of Duty 2, it truly puts things in perspective.
The driving force behind the movies is Stuart's wild imagination and the trouble he gets into, and developer Magenta Software Ltd (who!?!) has managed to almost perfectly capture this sense of wonder. I'm supposed to be snapping pictures to replace George's school project, but I often disregard the missions and just explore the expansive environments. The five levels are truly massive and there are lots to see and collect, and most of the fun comes from swinging on poles, discovering hidden items, and solving the simplistic yet fun puzzles, but I'm also fond of the various play mechanics. Stuart has a few costumes that can be changed on the fly, and each of them allows me to alter the game environments in some fashion. While riding his skateboard he can perform tricks and reach destinations faster, his fireman uniform lets him water flowers, his Native American outfit provides him with arrows that can be used to pop balloons and hit switches, and his slicker comes with a flashlight that can be used when in impenetrably dark places. But going a step beyond that, Magenta's tossed a heck of a lot of vehicles into this game, some of which can only be used in certain levels, so not only is it fun reaching a new destination, but also visiting the garage to see all of the various rides, all of which are really cool. Stuart can pilot a tank (complete with pop gun), a quad bike, a buggy, a roadster, a BMX bike, a police cruiser, a fire engine, a 4X4, a speedboat, a taxi, a hovercraft, a jet ski, a blimp, a helicopter, a plane, and even a jet pack, and the developers did what others simply fail to do when it comes to vehicles: they not only make them extremely awesome to drive, but the game's camera perfectly reacts to every maneuver and the frame rate remains incredibly stable. Regardless of how fast I'm going or what I'm driving, I'm always in control.
Of course, the whole goal in this game is to take pictures for George, and all of them require Stuart to perform a task. For example, in the very first level he has to turn on a sprinkler in order to make a rainbow appear, and later on, he must pop open a window with his bow and arrow, then launch his quad bike off a ramp to get the picture snapped while he's in mid air, so there's always some condition that must be met. Also, Stuart's camera needs to be powered up with flashes before he can snap a photo, so he needs to explore in order to find various power ups that aren't always easy to locate. But that's the trick with this game. Stuart can't die, so the challenge comes from locating these flash power ups that are fairly easy to locate when you first begin playing but become incredibly difficult to find when you have one or two pictures left to go. Thankfully, while each environment contains ten photographs, you don't need to take them all in order to progress, though you can always return to that area to reach 100%.
As I previously mentioned, Stuart can't be killed, which is something I'm not used to in games, but I quickly adjusted because the story mode isn't exactly a life or death struggle, and seriously, one of the most attractive and welcome features is the healthy amount of positive reinforcement. Even when Stuart loses races, a game of golf, or just fails to complete an objective, all of the support characters encourage him to try again. No one says, "Oh, that was terrible," or "you suck". They're always heaping praise, and while that's something that's very important in a child's development, I think it's actually helpful for adults as well because it feels good to play a game that has nothing but positive messages. It's certainly in stark contrast to other stress relievers that often involve killing something in order to feel good.
Unfortunately, the main quest is a bit short, though I managed to extend the play sessions by trying out the different vehicles and performing stunts. But there's other things to check out that'll keep this game inside your PlayStation 2. There's a few unlockables to discover as well as support for Sony's EyeToy camera, and while the bubble popping mini game isn't the most original concept that I've seen, it's still a welcome diversion.
Had I saw Big Photo Adventure in the store I would have never purchased it because of the horrendous movie based game stigma, but I'd actually be quite a fool since I would've missed out on what is one of the most delightfully entertaining children's games of 2005. Stuart Little 3 is bursting with imaginative possibilities and it's just amazingly fun to play, and while it's a perfect gift for children, it's entertaining enough that even adults can enjoy it.
For more information about this game, please visit Sega's Stuart Little 3 Website
Also, the movie Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild is being released on January 3, 2006, and you can preorder it at at Amazon.com
This game is so good that I consider it one of 2005's sleeper hits. It doesn't present much of a challenge for adults, but when it comes to entertaining children Stuart Little 3 is golden. Buy this without hesitation, and if you need some more convincing, read through my Extended Review.
by Chris Buffa