As someone who buys very few games, and takes a review score of less than 9 out of 10 as sufficient reason to spend my money elsewhere, Space Chimps is the type of game that in the usual scheme of things is very unlikely to find its way into my home. Yet there is something intriguing about occasionally taking a look at a game that has no aspirations to greatness, even if it’s just to reinforce the well known computer game adage that it is often the little things that make the difference between a genius game and a heinous one.
Of course the other odd thing about this particular game for me is that, perhaps for the first time ever, I was settling down to play something that was a spin-off from a movie, while having no prior knowledge of the parent production. Surely, such a scenario is a rarity in gaming – after all, movie-tie ins sell almost exclusively off the back of the merits of the film itself, rather than because anyone has any expectations that the game itself will be classic.
So to what extent Space Chimps evokes its source material is almost impossible to discern. Certainly as the game begins, the uninitiated is thrown into an unexplained battle and asked to take on the character of a chimp, Ham III, in order to achieve some, unknown greater objective. In practice this amounts to negotiating various levels of a 3D platform world, crafted in the mould of the seminal Super Mario 64.
But where that game was a crafted classic with nothing left to chance, the litany of different companies credited at the start of Space Chimps reveals the game’s pick-and-mix construction. Most significantly, the gaming engine seems to have been acquired from off the shelf, rather than custom-built, leading to various moments in which the intention fails to match the delivery.
Our chimpy avatar is expected to get to work undertaking quite audacious platform jumping, but with the lack of a helpful shadow to place him within this 3-D world, or other cues to indicate exactly how far away our next vine is, it is very difficult to plot a path, or work out exactly when a double-jump is required. This is of course, frustrating, but there is some kind of pleasure to be had: making it across a particularly perilous stretch of terrain can feel like beating the odds, as if you’ve managed to roll a six on a dice, several times in a row. You celebrate your good fortune, while never forgetting you had little influence over the result.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Space Chimps is its brevity. Although at no time did I ever feel any degree of mastery over the game, it’s telling that after just one session I was informed I was already a third of the way through. Clearly for those who stick at it, this is to be no epic, and I can imagine there being quite a few grumbles when it’s all over after just three playing sessions.
So, Space Chimps is not terrible, but it is rather perfunctory. It will probably appeal to those who love the film, but pretty much no one else. But then when it comes to movie tie-ins, that is no more than what we’ve come to expect.