It’s time to load-up and saddle-up for the latest platform jumping, pop-corn shooting, wind-up fish finding, movie tie-in video game. Released by EA Games, Rango looks and plays as good as any movie game in recent memory. But, it also gets very, very weird. There are mariachi owls and gun toting prairie dogs (of course). There are also zombies and aliens and giants in floral shirts (okay?). But when you get sucked into a broken coin-op video game where everything turns into a strange kind of Lego version of the game, the whole experience starts to feel like you’ve just spent the week-end hallucinating in the Mojave Desert sun.

However, what you end up with is a game that’s faithful in spirit to Rango, the new Johnny Depp movie by Gore Verbinski, the guy behind Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a modern take on the old-fashioned western, so it’s full of varmints and critters and old west cliches, but it also has a relevant message. It’s also kind of scary, and has plenty of cultural references and in-jokes.

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The hero is Rango, a pet chameleon lost in the desert. He’s a typical urban dandy trying to bluff his way out of the wild west, with comic (and ultimately, heroic) results. In the game, when we meet Rango, he’s in the saloon telling the locals of some of his most daring exploits. This sets up each chapter of the game where he tells of battling bad guys, including the movie’s protagonists Bad Bill the gila monster and Rattlesnake Jake, and about saving his iguana friend Beans’ father from alien kidnappers.

If you have played any movie tie-in games before, the rest you can probably guess. Rango has a gun that shoots popcorn. He can punch, double jump and power slam. Every crate or barrel he breaks, or every armed rodent he shoots, showers him in sheriff badges. On every level there are deposits of ore to mine and fish to find, both of which multiply your badges at the end of each stage. So, while most banditos don’t need no stinkin’ badges, Rango collects them to spend on health, skills and weapon upgrades. It’s all nice to look at, there are no glitches or terrible camera angles to stop you in your tracks. The difficulty is set low, with unlimited ammo and a friendly auto-lock function so the kids can enjoy blasting their way out of any sticky situation. Also, with a story lasting around five or six hours, you can hire it for the weekend and not have to worry about getting it out again because you didn’t manage to get through that last level.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things to like about Rango. The artistic design is great. Coming straight from the film, and despite the absence of the film’s stars, the characters are cute, likable, and at times inspired. The hoards of bad bunnies and rotten rodents have a cool post-apocalyptic look, with their goggles and matted fur. Rango’s saloon pals also have their own charms, even the one with the arrow through his head. And the owl mariachi band, as well as adding to the game’s effective sound design, are suitably smug and annoying. It just shame Rango’s gun doesn’t work on them.

Although the level design gets a bit repetitive (the desert town of Dirt, the water train out in the desert, a mine shaft out in the desert and back to the desert town of Dirt), there are some interesting asides. Occasionally you jump on the back of some animal or other to race or fly through a level, while at another time you end up in the Land of the Giants. Over here you’re in the trailer of an obsessed alien hunter. Looking like Johnny Depp’s version of Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (without the bucket hat, cigarette holder or immense drug habit) the giant tries to track down a scurrying Rango among all his evidence of alien visitations. It’s kind of cool and creepy and in the end Rango hits him in the head a few times with an exploding golf ball and escapes.

The exploding golf ball is one of the couple of mini-games that are included. While the golf thing will knock out bunnies bunkered down with Gatling guns or attacking zombie hoards, on occasion you also have to use Rango’s sniper ability. When Rango finds a single large bullet he loads it into his gun and fires. In slow motion you follow the bullet to a series of three or more targets. You can adjust the flight with the analog stick to hit all the targets and get you through to the next level.

So Rango is a perfectly good movie tie-in game. It has familiar, but well executed gameplay with the occasional road-runner or bat-riding diversion. This, together with good graphics and sound, makes for a tidy enough game for fans of the film. While there have been movie games to hate, this isn’t one of them. Although it’s short, and is definitely aimed at the very young, it plays well and has the odd quirky moment of sun-burnt, hallucinatory inspiration, making for a perfectly enjoyable week-end’s worth of entertainment.

"Badges? Yes we do need stinkin’ badges."
- Rango
Follow Own it? Rating: PG   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 5 Min


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