Plays for a Pound: Happy Feet

UTM is collectively broke, a massive barrier for us game fanatics, however, this has inspired this new feature, Plays for a Pound. This sees us delve into CEX’s PS2 library, hunting for games that cost 100 pennies or less, dissecting the merits of said game and ultimately search for enjoyment on a meagre budget.

We’re all familiar with the cliché that films that adapt video games are complete trash, yet common knowledge was once that the opposite was equally true. Transferring big screen experiences into a playable format left us with hollow experiences that rarely captured what we initially loved about the film. Thankfully, the video game industry has largely sidestepped this depressing fad, with time leaving behind unlikely video game titles of properties like Grey’s Anatomy and Babe.

Happy Feet, the George Millar (!!!) directed animated family adventure about dancing penguins, is one beloved film that birthed a game of unequal critical acclaim. Despite knowing that I was signing up for a less than extraordinary experience when trading my hard earned 50p and even harder earned dignity for a copy of Happy Feet, curiosity took over, what could a mid-noughties game about dancing penguins possibly offer in gameplay? So, I loaded up my dusty PS2, which is unfortunately missing a crucial memory card, and sped through Happy Feet’s gruelling three-hour playtime in one sitting, all in the pursuit of, uhh, investigative journalism.

imparting the killer factoid that “Emperor penguin mothers search for fish while the father tends to the eggs,” from the outset delivers hope that this game is gonna be a tight learning experience, however the game’s role as an elder of penguin knowledge disappointingly never resurfaces. Instead, you’re soon forced into a tutorial into its D-Pad centric rhythm game, one that insulting talks down to you, leading to an existential crisis, a reminder that my 23-year-old ass is tethered to a game that is solely targeted at kids. Backing these lightweight rhythm games is a selection of ‘gets-your-mum-on-the-dancefloor’ 70s disco hits like KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘Shake Your Booty’ and Chic’s ‘Everybody Dance’, which leaves the banger quota left unfulfilled, for this reason Happy Feet definitely isn’t better than Persona 5.

The other two modes in the game is your chance to do penguin stuff. Time trial based swimming, often requiring you to collect fish or avoid villainous leopard seals, offer super janky controls, that feels akin to actually swimming against a current. Belly sledding is the games’ opus, races offer high-adrenaline adventure that feels like the best chance to penguin role play, as you slide and stunt through the mountains.  Completing a level earns you a medal based on performance, and it still stings that I can’t boast collecting all the gold medals in Happy Feet as a significant gaming achievement.

Happy Feet follows Mumble’s journey from hatching to hero and focuses on his place within penguin society, a society that’s kinda fucked up considering he’s packed off to school immediately post-egg. Mumble is shunned from his kind due of his inability to sing, employing dance as his core skill instead, leading to a message that actually resonates about how it feels to be an outsider because you don’t fall in line with societies norms. This unravels, however, when the game takes delight is mocking differences, portraying some truly offensive stereotypes when viewed through the lens of 2017, like the exaggerated Russian accent of Mrs. Astrakhan, and the Latino Adélie Penguins, who, of course, call everyone amigo.

Overall, Happy Feet offers an experience atypical of film licensed games of the time, but it’s hard to be particularly mad at something that offered a breezy afternoon of mindless gameplay. And hey, it’s probably better than the March of The Penguins mobile game.

Connor Cass

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