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Review: The Munchables

6:00 PM on 06.26.2009 // Jonathan Holmes

The Munchables is a kids game, but you know what? Almost all games are kids games. I recently had the opportunity to play Dead Rising, GTA 4, and Halo 3 with the less-than-ten-year-old children of some "progressive" friends of mine, and it became abundantly clear to me how appealing "mature" content is to kids. They loved those games, far more than My Sims, or Mario.

So yeah, like almost every videogame ever made, The Munchables will likely appeal to children, but unlike GTA 4, it will probably also appeal to non-progressive parents who are looking to buy a game for their kids that's "safe". "Games of this "safe" nature tend to suck, as they are usually made for as little money as possible and the understanding that few people of discerning taste will ever play them. 

During the months leading up to the The Munchables release, I started to think that maybe it would be different than other "safe" games. Pre-release videos and early impressions likened it to a cross between Katamari Damacy and Pac-Man, and considering that The Munchables comes from the publisher of those two classics, it wasn't impossible to think that it could live up to that expectation. Sure, it was bound to be simple, and at $30 new, it definitely wouldn't look as good as a $60 game, but I still had my hopes. 

Hit the jump to find out if those hopes were dashed.

The Munchables (Wii)
Developer: Namco-Bandai
Publisher: Namco-Bandai
Released: May 26, 2009
MSRP: $29.99

So yeah, The Munchables is sort of awful, but I love it. The things that make it awful (low difficulty and repetitiveness) are all intentional design decisions surely implemented to make the game not only accessible to young children, but also accessible to young children who don't normally play videogames, children who say they hate videogames, and everyone else on the planet. The Munchables is a game that anybody with two working hands and at least one working eyeball can beat from beginning to end with little in the way of thinking or losing, two of the things that many hate the most about videogames, but also the two things that make games interesting to many fans of the medium. As for the stuff that makes me love the game, those are traits that were also put in the game to make it "fun for everyone". For instance, the game's theme of "big dog eats little dog" is so universally understood that it's hard to imagine not "getting" it, but the way it's expressed here is so weird and fun that it's hard not to love. 

The Muchables story is really just an excuse to make poop jokes and show cute little dog things eating everything in site. Munchy, the pink one, and Chomper, the piranha-looking one, are the Henson-era muppet-looking stars of the show. They are natives of the planet Star Ving, and under the tutelage of the onion faced "great elder", they go forward to defend the land from invading space pirates called Tabemon. These pirates imagine themselves to be quite terrifying, but to the Munchables, they all look like lunch. Actually, to the Munchables, everything smaller than they are looks likes lunch. They even eat half of the great elder's face from time to time. It's quite a site.

I'd say that in an average level, you'll go no more than five seconds without eating something, or somebody. Those five seconds will feel like forever compared to the rest of the game, because more often than not, you'll be eating dudes non-stop, and pushing to eat them even faster. The game rewards you for eating stuff in rapid succession, which requires frequent use of the "turbo chomp" button, which sends your Munchable into an open mouthed charge that is a little bit harder to maneuver. It's worth the loss of control though, especially a little farther into the game when the space pirates look like angry chocolate covered bananas and strawberries with chainsaws and hockey masks. You'll sincerely want to eat them as fast as possible, because they are so genuinely tasty looking.

At the end of each level, you're graded on how many "meals" you've had. This is factored in by how many enemies you ate, how many combos you got, and how many times you took a hit (taking hits makes you lose meals and shrink too small to eat anything). When tallying up your meals, your Munchable poops out orbs that look like something you may get out of a .50$ toy dispenser. He poops them all over the great elder, much to his delight. It's pretty awesome.

You can also collect acorns in every level. Collecting them all of them and/or beating the end level boss (one for each of the game's eight worlds) and you get a new outfit for your Munchable to wear. There are six per world, totaling 48 in all. There are also over 150 different enemies in the game, which you can view after eating in the game's "Tabemon Encyclopedia". It's a cool little feature, and adds to the game's already sizable charm.

And that's pretty much it. You eat enemies, try to eat them in combos, and poop them all over an onion-headed man, and repeat. After the first level, you'll frequently run into enemies that are bigger and tougher than you, which you'll need to attack with a Sonic-esque roll move to break them into smaller versions of the same enemy, then eat them before they re-form. The more you eat, the bigger you get, to the point where you'll be able to eat anything without breaking it apart first. Little things like this keep the game from getting completely repetitive, but not by a lot. There are also boss fights, a few token power-ups, a generic spooky mansion level to explore, a level where you need to eat a hundred robotic fish, a level where you need to deep sea dive, all nice little diversions. All the same, you're still spending nearly every second of your time with a space pirate in your mouth, be they bosses, robotic fish, or whatever.

You can jump in the game, not with a button press, but with a flick of the Wii remote. Sound annoying? Don't worry, it's rarely necessary. Walking, eating, and occasionally attacking is all you need to do in order to meet most of your goals. It's a little disappointing, though. With some platforming mixed in, The Munchables might have been as good as de Blob or one of the other many quirky platforming oddities on the Wii.

The game also suffers from random bouts of becoming totally generic. About half of the music in the game is really cool, sort of like a cross between the Loco Roco soundtrack and more peppy tracks from Katamari Damacy. The rest of the music is pretty uninspired, and leaves little to no impression. Same with the environments; half are interesting, like the giant cookie factory or Jumping Flash-inspired flying islands, and others are boring as sin, like the desert, lava, and ice levels. One thing I can't complain about are the bosses. From the rice ball sumo wrestling Tabemon who breaks into little bits of sushi when you hit him, to the giant chocolate bar who forms giant Hershey-hands out of the chocolate fountain you fight him in, they are all funny and fun to look at. 

The game has some other decent stuff going for it, like a new character to unlock after you beat it, and the option to play all the levels over in "mirror mode" after you beat it the first time, but none of it is all that great. Really, The Munchables lacks anything that could be considered "great". In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the Onechanbara series, in that it doesn't even try to be anything more than a constantly violent outlet for our least sophisticated impulses, except where Onechanbara speaks to our love of half naked girls and decapitations, The Munchables speaks to our love of puppy-looking things and eating till our stomachs burst. It's far from sophisticated, but it's so shameless and so strange that never becomes truly mediocre. Buy it if you're rich, rent it if you're poor, but either way, give it a try before you die.

Score: 6.5-- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.) 

 

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Jonathan Holmes, Bad Joke Uncle
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