From comic books, passing through filters of cartoon, movie and video game, Tintin, at last, arrives on consoles. The character has survived the repeated percolation more or less intact. He’s still the same annoying, nosey, know-it-all reporter he always was.
The Secret of the Lost Unicorn is a whistle-stop tour through the plot and main set pieces of the recent Spielberg directed movie of the same name. As such it is spoilerific and should be avoided until you have seen the vastly superior film. At the cinema, of course. I’ll leave this review spoiler-free however, so don’t go just yet!
The titular Unicorn, a 17th Century pirate ship, is lost. Our intrepid hero picks up a replica at a street market and learns, as some shady characters try to make off with his recent purchase, that there are two other replicas, identical in every way but for the fact that each ship contains one part of a map that leads to the sunken wreck of the real Unicorn and all her treasures. Cue a globe-trotting race against time – complete with some very exciting dotted-line-on-an-old-map following, à la Indiana Jones – to retrieve said booty, with faithful pooch Snowy, drunken Captain Haddock and bumbling Thomson Twins in tow.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a digital download game in spirit, masquerading as a retail blockbuster. It is standing on the shoulders of all the right giants; Steven Speilberg, Peter Jackson, and game design legends of the past. Riding on coat-tails such as those can only get a video game so far and hopefully, the buck stops at this review.
It’s not that Tintin is a bad game – it reeks with Gallic charm, is faithful to the Tintin canon in referencing past adventures that only a true fan would notice, and has more variety in one hours play than many developers struggle to fit into ten. Yet it is exactly that variety of play which makes The Secret of the Unicorn one-third excellent, and two-thirds flat and tiresome.
I was sad that some levels – such as the rousing intro in which you pilot a biplane through a storm – were not longer, whereas other methods of play – like the frequent, insultingly dull 3D ‘adventure’ segments where Tintin is required to traipse from place to place with very little to do other than trigger poorly acted conversations – seemed painfully drawn out. Lucky then, that the ghosts of French programming extraordinaires Eric Chahi and Paul Cuisset were watching over the production of The Secret of the Unicorn, as the core of the game seems heavily inspired by some of their best work, namely legendary 16-bit 2D platformers Flashback and Another World.
Tintin himself – Snowy, Haddock and the Thomson Twins are also playable but in smaller measures – is at athletic ease in these 2D platform sections, stealthily leaping, cat-like, from wall-to-wall in some beautifully realised locations like Marlinspike Hall and Brittany Castle. Combat is a one-button, slapstick affair but the best bits are when you get the opportunity to take out guards using the environmental puzzles that litter the locations. From jumping in barrels and whacking henchmen over the head with the lid when their backs are turned, to plotting the trajectory of a peculiarly devastating beach ball with which to deal a knock-out blow, there is enough noticeable variety.
The encounters are tame and comical in a Laurel and Hardy meets Looney Tunes way, as stars spin around a fallen foe’s head, which is completely appropriate for, and in keeping with, the age of the player who should fall similarly head over heels for this Tintin tie-in. The PEGI 12 rating is perfectly pitched, and any young would-be adventurer should be able to clear Unicorn in a matter of hours. I, however, despite finding the film thrilling and enchanting in equal measures, struggled to contain the boredom as each linear path – with tiny detours available for finding hidden secrets – was followed. Well executed as these 2D levels are, they are unchallenging and only the promise of the unknown around the next corner kept me from prematurely switching Tintin off.
Atonement comes in the form of some creative and far-reaching multiplayer. Captain Haddock, you see, is almost constantly off the rails drunk, even when he is sober he is prone to hallucinations. It is within these ‘trips’ that co-operative play allows the adult gamer in the house to show the respective 12-year old how it’s done.
Playing as Tintin, Haddock or opera singer and Tintin mainstay Bianca Castafiore, you are bound to hunt for treasure, trapped in the world of the drunken Captain’s altered memories. Each character has a unique skill which further encourages co-operation; Tintin’s grappling hook ability makes good use of motion control capabilities, and one of the few similar occasions later sees it also put to particularly satisfying use during sword-fights.
The single player campaign can be completed in an afternoon, but expect Tintin to make repeated if brief appearances in the following weeks thanks to some seriously fun co-operative.
In this holiday season that seems to be dominated by games with a body-count to put Elizabeth Bathory’s best efforts to shame, it’s refreshing and comforting to find that young do-gooder Tintin – taking out snooty waiters with beach balls – can hold his own among the chainsaw-gun wielding sociopaths currently waging war on game store shelves. That is Tintin the character; Tintin the video game, however, should be approached with as much caution as if it were a live grenade.
Too many poorly executed ideas jostle for attention with enjoyable but too short levels. The 2D platformer that beats in the chest of this adventurous adaptation is sadly pedestrian. A marvellous romp for the young, but the young-at-heart will be left wanting.