The new wave of digital animation isn't all that different from the traditional films Disney were making 50 years ago. Whether it's Shrek, Toy Story, Ice Age or The Jungle Book, over the years these movies have all had one big thing in common - they were all savvy enough to appeal to both adults and children. But the game of this summer blockbuster is aimed directly at actual kids, rather than the 'child inside us all'.
We've always found it strange that the many videogame tie-ins churned out didn't even attempt to offer anything to the older gamer when the films themselves so often did. Of course, the biggest audience is going to be kids under 15, but there's always room for gameplay that's a bit more rewarding and humour everyone will appreciate.
Being funny is definitely one of Over the Hedge's stronger points. The script and voice-acting are surprisingly sharp. It follows the tale of a group of suburban animals who go out on nightly food raids, like a gang of bad-smelling Sam Fishers who haven't shaved for months.
This involves jumping over laser beams, dodging searchlights and tip-toeing carefully past motion sensors. Okay, it's hardly original, but it's not the kind of thing you'd expect to see in this type of licensed game either. Another way in which Over the Hedge disobeys the traditional rule of animated movie tie-ins is that it's more of a beat-'em-up than a platformer. The game plays almost identically to Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows - it uses the same vaguely isometric viewpoint, there are loads of monster generators to destroy, and you have to find quest items to open up new parts of the level.
The gameplay is very basic and becomes repetitive fairly quickly. But to Over the Hedge's credit, at least there are a few mini-game sequences that revitalise your interest every now and again. There are also heaps of unlockable items hidden throughout the levels, and some of them, like the original comics and storyboards, are well worth putting in some extra effort for.
Combat is the biggest - and unfortunately, the most repetitive - part of the game. There are a couple of good ideas hiding among the generic gameplay, though. The characters use golf clubs (a homage to the original newspaper comics where they were sports fanatics) to whack balls in their enemies' faces. The controls for this are pretty engaging, allowing you to aim a crosshair using the Right stick. Alternatively, it's possible to use the club as a bludgeon and just clobber your way through hundreds of mind-controlled rats.
There's a charge attack and a basic combo too, but that's about it. All the enemies can be defeated in the same way, meaning that you never really have to think about it, nor feel challenged in any way. It's really unlikely that you'll ever die either. Every defeated foe drops health, and most of the destructible scenery items contain yet more energy-giving goodness. Because there's very little sense of risk, there's nothing stopping you just steaming into a pack of enemies and winning easily.
Even if you somehow manage to lose, you can just switch over to the other character and take control of them instead. It's possible to jump between characters at any time, although there's really very little point. Aside from having them execute a team move where they jump on each other's shoulders, we're not even sure why you even need two characters in this uninventive single-player mode. Thankfully, the AI's decent enough - there were only a couple of occasions when the character we weren't controlling got stuck.