It occurred to me the other day that the current game landscape was missing two things: Co-operative games, and rip-offs of Luigi's Mansion. Just when I was ready to give up videogaming as a hobby, along comes Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit to answer both of my prayers simultaneously, to at least a moderate degree of success.
Based on the Oscar-winning film of the same name, Curse concerns Wallace, a lovably addle-minded inventor and his loyal pooch Gromit as they attempt to rid their town of rabbits, squirrels, and badgers before the lovable pests can devour the season's crop of fresh vegetables. How to accomplish this? By hooking a large vacuum truck up to the city's sewage system, turning every manhole into a convenient source of rabbit-transporting suction. Then it's up to Wallace and Gromit to herd the pests into the vortexes as quickly as possible. It's easily the biggest advertisement for humane pest-control ever made.
The game is a co-operative 3D platformer. In addition to some minigames, this co-operation mostly takes the form of chasing rabbits and other pests around small backyard farms. It seems like a simple enough task, but the pets move quickly and erratically enough that it's a surprisingly complex experience requiring a lot more strategy than I had expected. While this is a fun challenge for two players, the game is exceedingly difficult for one. While the computer-controlled second player is great at flipping switches and standing on pressure plates, the pest-chasing AI just isn't very good at all. My computer partner never seemed to be where I wanted him to be. Even though it's possible to switch between characters at any time, even if I moved one character to exactly where I needed him to be, the second I switched back to the other character, the AI takes over the first and runs off, ruining the trap I'd set up.
Curse really is the most co-op intensive game since Lego Star Wars. Herding animals is so much easier when two players can work together to set up blockades, flank their prey, and move in tandem to capture the foes. While the computer manages to acquit itself quite well in combat—much better than in Lego Star Wars, where only the player could damage opponents—having a second player also makes the fighting much easier and more enjoyable.
Of course, there is a bit of a catch to the co-op gameplay. While it isn't much of a problem during the missions, which tend to take place in relatively clear, unobstructed areas, just walking around the town finding missions can be something of a chore for two people. The camera has a nasty habit of not pulling back far enough to get both characters onscreen at the same time, and all too often I found myself lost or stuck behind some piece of geography. It's best just to have the second player only jump into the game when actually in the missions—it speeds things up quite a bit. It's too bad the entire game isn't as conducive to co-op as the missions are, but the co-op missions are decidedly top-notch.
As for the game's plot, it mirrors the film's story, so I won't repeat it here for people who have seen the film, or ruin it for those who haven't. Suffice to say that the game does that rarest of things for a videogame adaptation of a film—it manages to not only replicate the humor and the character of the subject matter, but the spirit as well. Part of this I'm sure is how closely the game recreates the look of the original. Computer animation has always been only a few steps away from claymation, and here the transfer works flawlessly. All of the characters actually look like they could be made out of plasticine, and move as if they're being rendered through adorable stop-motion.
Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a passable single-player action game, and a massively fun multiplayer one. The co-op gameplay is what makes this game special, and while there are enough bugs and hitches in the co-op mechanic to ensure players will be annoyed a little on their way to the fun, it's still a worthwhile experience. Making entire co-op games is something of a twist in the videogame industry, and it's moving forward nicely. Lego Star Wars showed that co-op could work for the length of a game, and Curse shows that the gameplay can be more complex than simple brawling and blasting. This is an interesting direction for the games industry to be headed in, and I can't wait to see where it takes leads next.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Playstation 2 version of the game.