Zathura is a third person action adventure game based on the recently released movie. From the same series as Jumanji, Zathura takes you on a crazy and frenzied trip through space as you try to finish a mysterious board game, and return to reality. The plot follows the movie exactly, with two brothers - Danny and Walter - being left at home. Danny, the younger sibling, comes across an old strange-looking board game in the basement, and unwittingly sets the two of them off on a wild ride after he starts playing the game. From the first move, Danny and Walter find themselves in danger as the game causes a shower of meteors to rain down upon the suburban house. From there, the brothers are hurtled into space and an unwilling Walter has no choice but to help his younger brother as they fight to stay alive.
Throughout the game, you’ll be playing as either Danny, Walter, or occasionally a robot that’s come along to help out the youngsters. Each character has different abilities to reflect their physical attributes. Danny, the younger brother, is a small child so can do no more than insignificant kicking, and exercising his talent with a slingshot. While his unlimited basic rock ammo does a reasonable amount of damage, it’s the range of other materials he can find and fire off that’ll be the most helpful. The older and more imposing Walter is able to climb and swing off objects, and can use his weapon of choice (a metal robot arm collected early in the game) to fend of ranged attacks. Walter is also able to throw objects in order to take down enemies.
After watching some drawn out cut scenes, you’re thrown straight into the action with only a small amount of guidance. While some of the areas are so basic there is even a pathway highlighted by power ups, occasionally objectives within the levels are unclear, which may confuse some young players. The beginning of the game is so ‘cut scene heavy’ it threatens to turn into a DVD version of the movie, with small interactive gaming sequences. Thankfully, the length of each clip seems to decrease as the game goes on, so the feeling of actually playing a game is restored.
One of the most annoying features of the game is the camera control. With a totally inverted camera (including on the x axis) you’ll often be swinging the camera in completely the wrong direction when you try to face unexpected foes. At other times, the camera becomes fixed, as you attempt to navigate a small platforming-based area. Not only does the change of camera style throw you off balance, but it is near impossible to accurately judge depth within these areas. These exciting and challenging parts turn into a frustrating mess as you repeatedly die time and time again.
While frequent dives into a lava pit would trouble some game characters, the boys of Zathura have the art of respawning perfected. Each time you die, you simply re-appear at the start of the area you were trying to pass through. While this is a great idea for helping the younger players along, it also seems to spoil some of the fun. Death is no big problem, so the temptation to become reckless is almost too much to handle.
The graphics in Zathura are simple and bright, which should appeal to the target audience. Everything about the graphics is cartoonish and larger than life, which no doubt helps to promote the feeling of just having fallen into Wonderland. The sound effects in Zathura are generic and unremarkable, but the music featured is fantastic at building up tension. Frantic and fast-paced, especially during combat, the music is sure to have you gripping your controller harder than is strictly necessary.
Zathura is aimed towards children, and will no doubt entertain them, particularly if they’ve enjoyed the movie, but falls short (quite literally) for older gamers. This is an afternoon’s worth of gaming at a stretch. Except for some unusually hard areas, the game is generally easy. A few boss fights may hold up your progress, but with unlimited lives and weak A.I. controlling the enemies, you’ll soon find yourself looking for another game to fill up your evenings.
Zathura is an exciting adventure for kids and a compliment to the movie, but fails to deliver for older gamers.