Ice Age was one of the more-successful attempts to emulate the success of Pixar's seemingly never-ending string of computer-animated family films by another studio (in this case, 20th Century Fox). Telling the story of a trio of celebrity voice-acted, prehistoric creatures on a mission to deliver a lost human baby to his human tribe, the film received both critical and fan acclaim. So, it's with no measure of shock that a sequel would be in the cards. Ice Age 2: The Meltdown hits theaters this weekend, and as tends to be the case with many animated films, there's a videogame tie-in to go along with it. But unlike most film-to-game tie-ins, Ice Age 2 is more than just a hacked-together platformer, built exclusively to make more money for the license. Ice Age 2 is fun practically from beginning to end, including solid gameplay, great production values, and even the celebrity voice cast from the film. Its one Achilles' heel? You can beat the whole thing in about four-hours time, if you know what you're doing. Still, there's fun to be had with Ice Age 2, especially if you've got someone in the younger set in your family with an affinity for the characters.
The three principal characters of both Ice Age flicks, Manfred the mammoth, Sid the sloth, and Diego the sabertooth tiger, are all on hand in the Ice Age 2 game. In fact, actors Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Dennis Leary are all on hand as well, and they turn in capable performances for each character (although Romano does sound a bit bored, even more than usual). However, none of the primary trio is the star of this game. Rather, the character you'll spend the bulk of your time with is Scrat, the nervous, twitchy muskrat-looking...thing that fans of the first film will remember as the star of the hilarious introductory sequence. Scrat isn't the main character in the Ice Age 2 film, but rather, his adventures in this game seem like something of a silly side story to the main plot, which is told mainly through scattered narration sequences by Romano's Manfred. So, while there are a few details of the film's plot in the game that might be spoiled if you haven't seen the movie, it's nothing major, and most of the game's events are purely ancillary to the main film storyline.
That turns out for the better in Ice Age 2. Scrat is an entirely endearing character, and spending the bulk of your time with him is far from a detriment. His twitchy mannerisms and goofy snarls and screeches are pretty cute, and the developers did a great job of giving him moves and abilities that don't seem out of place for a prehistoric rodent. Like the protagonist in any platformer, Scrat can jump, double jump, and pull off some very basic attacks that mostly involve stomping and swiping with his tail. Combat in the game is more of a secondary task, since most enemies can't be killed--just knocked out. Mostly, the game is all about solving various jump puzzles and collecting scads and scads of nuts.
The whole hook with Scrat's character is that he's constantly in search of nuts to hoard and bury. So it's appropriate that you spend the bulk of the game collecting more nuts than you could possibly imagine. Again, this is a platformer, so it's hardly shocking that the game is something of a collection-fest, but there are thousands of nuts scattered throughout the game. The jump puzzles featured in Ice Age 2 are fairly run of the mill for the genre, but more challenging and rewarding than your average kid-oriented game. Young children ought not to have too much trouble with the game, but even players from older audiences ought to be able to appreciate much of what the game does, even if it doesn't present an awful lot of difficulty. The control is tight, the puzzles are generally clever, and the levels are open-ended and provide a decent bit of exploration.
Diego and Sid do find their way into the game eventually, although purely in a second-banana capacity. The game features a series of minigames, including a whack-a-mole (or whack-a-possum, in this case) game starring Diego and a hybrid of a slalom and a rhythm game with Sid. There's also a number of target-shooting and item-collection minigames with Scrat. All these games are pretty decent, and fortunately, there's not much repetition or recycling of the same games throughout the adventure. Oddly, Manfred never becomes playable at any point via these minigames. While that might be a bit disappointing for a big fan of the film, his presence is felt enough through the game that it never feels like he's just been cut out of the equation.
Ice Age 2 is a great looking game. There's a surprising amount of detail in the characters and level designs--the kind of detail you don't tend to see in licensed games like this. Scrat looks just as snarlingly cute as he does in the movies, with his bugeyes and puffy tail. The same goes for Manfred, Diego, and Sid. The quality of the character models is well above average. The environments are bright, colorful, and heavily populated with enemies, side characters, and various collectibles. Everything animates nice and smoothly, too. Frame-rate drop almost never occurs in any version of the game, no matter how much action is going on onscreen. The camera can occasionally get in the way of things, especially in situations where you need to see down a cliff or behind you, but there's a nearby wall preventing the camera from moving. It doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen.
All told, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown is a fun, engaging platformer that ought to appeal to multiple audiences. The gameplay is enjoyable, the characters are well represented, and the graphics are top notch for this sort of game. So, what keeps it from greatness? The one, fatal flaw that holds Ice Age 2 back is its brevity. This game won't take more than a few hours of play to complete, except perhaps in the case of the youngest of younger audiences. It's over practically before it starts, and the scant bits of bonus content aren't enough to justify paying $40 for a four-hour game. If you liked the film, Ice Age 2 is a game well worth playing. But before you run out and pay full price for it, be aware that it won't last you very long.