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For: DS   Also on: GameBoy, Mobile, PSP

Spicier than expected

Product: Ratatouille | Developer: Helixe | Publisher: THQ | Format: DS | Genre: Adventure, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1-4 | Version: US
Ratatouille DS, thumbnail 1
Egg on my face, then. It's not long since I talked about kids' gaming, and said some bad things about movie licensed games. Now I've been served Ratatouille, I've no choice but to eat my words. Not only is it a cracking kids' game that delivers some good fun on a plate, but it's based on Pixar's latest film. How's that for starters?

The 'rat' of the title is Remy, a Parisian rodent who dreams of working in the famous Restaurant Gusteau. After getting washed away in the sewers one day, Remy finds his way to the restaurant of his cooking hero, and begins a journey of gastronomic proportions.

After washing his paws first, naturally.

The main course of Ratatouille consists of platforming levels set in sewers, city rooftops and kitchens. The missions and locations aren't terribly varied, but they're kept nicely simple for the intended audience – you either explore the level to get somewhere else or to collect things. Hardly revolutionary, but the gameplay is kept interesting with environmental springs enabling high jumps, as well as wall-jumping options, some enjoyable ball-walking and even tightrope-style balancing required.

When it comes to exploration, Remy is frequently tasked with gathering ingredients for recipes, some found in more hygienic places than others (we grabbed a clove of garlic out of the guttering), and the pattern of searching for things while avoiding obstacles becomes familiar as the game progresses.

The obstacles are what you might expect from playing a rodent in a kitchen-themed game – Remy can get caught in rat poison, burnt on oven hobs or zapped by electrical wires. And if he stays in the open for too long, he gets spotted by humans who throw tomatoes at him until he hides. There's a crude Splinter Cell-style attention meter to warn you when this is about to happen and that it's time to jump under the nearest cup or old tin can.

These stages are where the careful kid-oriented design shows through. Ratatouille is a true children's game – all about fun, not challenge – so there's plenty of cheese scattered about to boost Remy's health. And if he gets injured, Remy's able to start moving again almost instantly.

These little design niceties garnish the game throughout and make it much more painless to play for younger gamers with briefer attention spans. The missions are also short and sweet, enabling you to play for as little as ten minutes at a time. And if you're getting really stuck, you can tap Y and Remy will sniff out the nearest ingredient or level exit. It makes the game that little bit easier and enjoyable.

But the big surprise lies in the dessert. In between platforming missions, Remy will teach the apprentice chef, Linguini, to cook. These levels run like a simplified version of the DS niche hit Cooking Mama. First, you chop and prepare the ingredients with the stylus in a pleasingly tactile way. Then it's off to the pots. You have three pots or pans on the stove at once, into which you place ingredients as they become available. The game helpfully prompts you when it's time to put these in, and also warns you if a pot is overheating (in which case you blow onto the microphone to cool it down).

After a final stage garnishing the meals, the cooking stage is complete, although in contrast with the ease of the platforming levels, we found the cookery stages extremely hard (see PG Tips for some handy hints). It's played against the clock, too, so you can find yourself forced back to the beginning of an eight-minute mission if you foul up near the end.

It doesn't entirely ruin the game, of course, but it does mar the kid-friendly feel.

On a brighter note, cookery is good fun in multiplayer. With the pressure off, racing against friends can be quite amusing, and only one of you needs a copy of the game, thanks to the DS's Download Play feature.

Overall, the game's presentation is good, with clean 3D graphics and a simple control mechanism (the option to use the touchscreen is overcomplicated, but easily bypassed with a buttons-only approach). Even the sounds, though limited to simple music and bright effects, mix in well with the easygoing, younger feel.

The difficulty of the cooking sections does leave a bitter aftertaste, and the game is repetitive given its length, but this is likely to be a symptom of having to fit in with a movie release date rather than a lack of design ambition. And let's not over-analyse what is ultimately a game aimed squarely at children. Just click your fingers for the waiter, sit back and enjoy some simple pleasures.
Reviewer photo
Mike Cook | 25 July 2007
While not quite worthy of a Michelin star, fans of the film and kids looking for fun will be thrilled. It might not offer the biggest of helpings but, while it lasts, Ratatouille tastes great
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