Was it even possible that Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo would not have a videogame to complement its theatrical release? Not likely. The license was probably handed out while the movie was still in production. Perhaps even earlier, since this isn't the first time that Traveller's Tales has worked on a Disney/Pixar license, having previously done Toy Story and A Bug's Life.
For the most part, I don't play very many licensed games like Finding Nemo, though it wouldn't be for the most apparent reason. While it's true that licensed games tend to have a reputation for poor quality, there have been a few excellent licensed products, like GoldenEye 007. Additionally, seeing as hundreds of games get released every year, the ratio of wheat to chaff probably isn't that much different for non-licensed games. My main gripe with licensed properties is that they're usually not much more than cross promotion, and that holds true for Nemo. Finding Nemo the game is the same as Finding Nemo the Kid's Meal, Finding Nemo the toy line, or Finding Nemo the limited edition popcorn bucket. It was never meant to be a stand-alone product, but rather paraphernalia that helps push along the license. Often, when I play a licensed game I get the odd sensation that I've just paid to watch an advertisement rather than feel like I've actually bought a game.
But personal prejudices aside, Finding Nemo is a competent, if somewhat uninspired game. Traveller's Tales takes a safe and cautious approach for Nemo, avoiding anything that might alienate those who already have seen the movie. The game closely follows the movie script rather than branching into side stories, and the gameplay is kept very simplistic and easy to ensure that Nemo is accessible for young kids, the movie's core audience. Traveller's Tales also manages to avoid any major technical difficulties as well. Control issues exist, though the game is easy enough that it doesn't bog down the experience. Graphics are decent, though unsurprisingly, the game lacks the obsessively fetishistic amount of onscreen detail that Pixar is known for. Still, even without Pixar's cutting edge equipment, Traveller's Tales does produce character models that are spot on with the movie, along with their movements. The only real problems graphically are the backgrounds, since they lack the vibrancy the movie environments had. Players basically swim through lots of blue with craggy rock surfaces. Many environments look deserted, both in sea-life and in color. Even where there was abundant life, like the jellyfish level, the creatures seemed static and hung in empty space like props.
Getting back to the story, Nemo the game is virtually the same as the movie. Even the cutscenes in the game are lifted directly from the film itself, and there are many to be seen before the game ends. Of course, there isn't anything necessarily wrong with using so many movie clips, especially since the DVD isn't out yet. Still, it would have been nice if Traveller's Tales had tried to expand the world of Nemo beyond just the movie and attempted a side story or even an original story featuring characters from the movie. Simply following the movie script causes gamers some complications since playing the game first essentially ruins the movie, but seeing the movie first makes the game rather boring to play.
Nemo's gameplay isn't all that bad, though it is very simplistic. The experience is an eclectic one, and often moving from one level to the next feels like switching between mini-games. The game spends time alternating between race and chase sequences, exploration, platforming (yep, the fish do more than just swim in this game) and simple puzzle solving. Most of the elements are fairly standard and conventional and the game moves at a fairly leisurely pace. As I said before, the execution of all this is solid, but there are some problems I wanted to get into.
Very early on the game feels simplistic and tires quickly. Much of the levels in Finding Nemo focus heavily on gathering seashells and swimming through different kinds of rings. Collect all the available seashells, swim through all the rings available, and some bonuses will be unlocked in the game later on. The problem however, besides being done to death by every other platformer out there, is that the exploration levels have a very straightforward layout. Again, this game is geared towards kids (hence the ease), but it would have been good to put something in for adults, or at least allow for a two or more player experience. Finding Nemo is not just a kid's movie, but a family movie too. Naturally, Finding Nemo could work well as a family-oriented game instead of a single-player one.
Another problem that arises is more a technical one, and it occurs during the racing/chasing sequences. During those sequences, the game takes either a behind view (race) or front view (chase), and the player is expected to gather seashells and rings at the same time. Unfortunately, gathering rings from a front-view perspective is difficult as the rings don't show up until the very last second and become nearly impossible to collect. Rings and shells can be seen well in advance during a race, but they don't seem to line up properly with the fish the player controls. Once the ring gets close enough, it seems to suddenly veer off as if it's moving on a curved path. Though levels can be replayed again once they're finished, trying to gather all the rings and shells during a race and chase level seems rather aggravating because of this.
Finding Nemo is very plain and ordinary, and without the Nemo license there wouldn't be much reason to actually own it. Traveller's Tales put forth a competent effort and the developers did the job they were probably expected to do. The game doesn't expand the license, exploring or imagining other things that might happen in the Nemo world, but it does push the license as any cross-promotion is meant to do. An original script alone might have gone a long way to extend the experience, making the game feel more like its own entity, rather than yet another commercial for the movie.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.