Whatever your opinion on the Trolls franchise, it’s perfectly set up for video games. Trolls World Tour created regions based on Pop, Rock, Classical Music, Techno and more, which is pretty much the template for any world-spanning platformer. Those regions are made out of real-world textiles, as felt, fabric and glitter all play a major part, and that gives the platforms you jump onto a lovely Little Big Planet tactility. And then there’s the music. You’re going to be jumping around for hours, so having a toe-tapping soundtrack is a must.
DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue knows it’s got these cards to play, and it plays them like a pro. I love how the Rock Land is stitched leather, tight denim, and the occasional sewn on patch. There’s a cracking moment where a giant palm blocks your way, but a guitar riff later and it pulls a demon-horn salute, giving you a path through. Those textiles change completely in each of the four regions.
The music repeats a little too often for my liking – there’s a single track playing on rotation through each region, which is about an hour of the same song – but those songs are bangers, so it’s dependent on how much you can stomach repetition. Once per region (too infrequently – we’d have liked more) you can also step behind the decks and play a rhythm action section using a different, equally cracking song. With a bigger budget for pilfering from the Trolls soundtrack, it would have been spot on.
And then there’s the game map. It’s more sprawling than you’d expect from a licensed game, taking in four of the film’s areas, broken into three different levels each. It’s perfectly pitched in terms of variety. Each of the levels has a different theme, whether spinning round vinyl in the Funk Land, or bouncing on booming speakers in Pop Land. We’ve played plenty of kids games, and this is definitely in the top 25% or so for ambition. Turn a corner and you will likely come across a new enemy, obstacle, upgrade or region. When other licensed games tend to rest on their laurels, Trolls picks it up and hulas with it.
There are a few bulletpoints that parents might want to keep in mind with DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue. First off, this bears little relation to the movie. If you’re looking for a true tie-in, then your kids might be disappointed. It tells a spin-off tale where Chaz – the smooth jazz one from Trolls World Tour – uses his hypnotism powers to put all trolls under his thrall.
It’s also worth noting that this is four-player, and better with four too. If you have four pads, or even just a couple, then the experience is improved. That’s because (and this is point three), DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue is surprisingly hard. That difficulty is lessened when there are four of you to increase the odds, but our eight-year old had real trouble, and our five-year old gave up after the first level. This is a game with spikes as tough as Barb’s dog-collar.
I will hold my hands up and say that I, a forty-something games journalist, also had a torrid time with certain parts of DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue. Now, you can chortle all you want, but we’d argue that it’s misunderstanding its target audience. Someone over at GameMill Entertainment must have realised that something was a wee bit off with DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue.
We’d pinpoint ‘over-ambition’ as being the problem. DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue has big ideas. As we’ve already mentioned, every corner introduces a new game element, and that’s something that gets two thumbs up from us. But there’s an abiding sense that the game developers couldn’t keep up with the new ideas, and each one turned out to be shaggier and more untested than they really should have been. We’d guess that the synchronised release-date with the movie didn’t help much either.
The biggest example of this is at the end of each region. A boss turns up, and the 3D game world suddenly becomes a 2D race against that boss. The camera moves slowly at a fixed perspective, and the player has to keep up while avoiding earthquakes and fireballs. It sounds awesome – a sudden cinematic detour that breaks the rules of everything that came before.
But it isn’t. It’s horrible. While it’s 2D, it’s still using depth to navigate obstacles, but you’ve got no perception of depth anymore. Wall jumps, platforms, hair-grapples: they all become improbably difficult. Our kids passed us the pad, and we had the ignominy of dying more than they did.
It’s a fantastic idea with mucky execution, and that’s going to be written on DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue’s tombstone. Enemies are problematic. There’s loads of them, each with dedicated attacks, and – having come from Skull Island: Rise of Kong – it’s a complete embarrassment of riches. But that must have meant less time to bake for each of them, as we found them stunning and attacking us without any rhyme or reason. Precious health pips got knocked off even when enemies were a distance from us, having fired no projectile, and it was just too random to feel satisfying. Sections where a forcefield drops down and you’re fighting waves of enemies, in particular, are a pocket nightmare.
The list goes on. The levels are hard to read, because – that ambition again – they are stuffed with so many things to look at. But knowing what’s a platform, what’s a collectible, and what’s purely decor is more challenging than it should be. Short platforms look like they can be jumped on, but invisible walls bash you back. The same goes for knowing where to go: there’s an open world-ish arrangement here, but gaining an upgrade and then figuring out where to use it becomes a trial-and-error trudge through various levels. We did more backtracking than we wanted in DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue.
These criticisms hurt because there is such a good platformer here, hidden beneath the hair. It’s huge, varied, and knows exactly what makes the Trolls series such a vibe. Someone at GameMill and Petit Fabrik is clearly shooting for the moon. The problem is that ambition and determination wasn’t backed up by development time, budget or some other limitation, because it constantly bites off more than it can chew.
With a bit more time, a bit more sparkle, DreamWorks Trolls Remix Rescue would have shone.