The Ice Age franchise has been a mammoth success since its debut on the big screen back in 2002, with sequels, spin-offs and all manner of merchandise spawning from the original movie. Given that the cast is full of high quality actors like Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary, who provide voices for the main characters – Manny, Sid and Diego, respectively – not many could’ve predicted a speechless, acorn-obsessed, sabre-toothed squirrel would become one of the most beloved characters.
Now though, the hapless sabre-toothed squirrel, Scrat, has been let loose in order to shine as the sole protagonist in a video game; he’s the star of Just Add Water’s (developers of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty!) Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure. The cynic in me wonders whether this could one of those poorly put together projects made to cash in on a popular series, but equally, there’s also potential for it to be a smashing adventure for all the family to enjoy. So, let’s find out if Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure is a hit worthy of the franchise or should be left out in the cold.
The story begins with Scrat losing a precious acorn after stumbling upon an ancient Scratazon Temple. In order to retrieve the acorn, he must embark upon a journey to locate some relics known as Crystal Nuts and return them to ‘The Forgotten Temple’. That’s the tale in a nutshell, with very little else to embrace in terms of a narrative. Even then, you must prepare to be satisfied with a text-based delivery of the premise and a minimal offering of cutscenes. It feels like a missed opportunity to pull out a few tricks and give the gameplay purpose with real quality storytelling, but alas, Scrat’s usual calamitous hijinks aren’t portrayed well at all in that sense.
As Scrat’s Nutty Adventure is a 3D action-adventure, you’ll traverse 12 levels which are split across four different areas – the Ice Cliffs, the Ice Fields, the Ice Caves, and the Hidden World. The levels are well-designed in regards the layouts, feature collectibles to search out, and generally don’t outstay their welcome length-wise. Within them you can expect to leap from platform to platform, collect shards, battle a fairly varied bunch of creatures, and solve puzzles. Every so often there’s a boss, or bosses, to contend with too. Despite being aimed at kids, there’s still a decently paced difficulty curve in place as you progress through the game, ensuring every aspect gets slightly more complex.
For example early on, jumping from a slab of rock to another or between floating ice platforms is relatively straightforward, but by the latter stages sections are moving and timing becomes extra important; especially with freezing water or boiling hot lava awaiting your failings. That helps keep up a respectable amount of interest in proceedings.
The same can’t be said for the confrontations with enemies however, mainly because the monotonous pressing of the main attack button – which may or may not be detected – against a beetle-like creature or flying insect is only built upon by introducing an annoying stealth element. Having to tiptoe around a wolf or guanlong is a pain when you’re trying to manoeuvre towards the next section, especially when the alert radius seems iffy. Fortunately, combat can regularly be avoided and you can outrun the strong enemies who are invincible to damage, so neither is a major problem at least.
Naturally, the puzzles aren’t going to require the equivalent of a Mensa IQ to solve, but it is necessary to note patterns and be able to repeat them by throwing rocks at symbols in the correct sequence. Additionally, in a different form of problem solving, there’s also the opportunity to re-arrange the placement of blocks to create a suitable platform needed to advance. That will bring one of Scrat’s special abilities to the forefront, telekinesis, which is a strange one to have.
There are only a handful of abilities to unlock through completion of each main area, but they are quite important and the most valuable of these is acquiring the heavenly double jump. What this does, alongside other abilities, is open up new pathways to explore for each level, adding a layer of replayability. It also makes finding collectible statues and tablet pieces a bit easier; if you have the drive to go through and complete the game again that is.
And then we have the boss battles, with the first conflict involving the infamous rhinos from the original Ice Age film, Carl and Frank. It doesn’t matter whether it’s those two, Cretaceous and Maelstrom, or the pesky ‘Pteradon’, these battles are frustrating because the mechanics don’t hold up well in the heat of the moment. Trying to avoid taking damage by running around, at the same time as throwing rocks to cause damage, is horribly exasperating as the aiming is far too finicky. But that’s not the only issue I have…
The camera angle ensures it’s a nightmare to navigate tight spaces in Scrat’s Nutty Adventure and you’ll even be fiddling in more open areas to get a good look at where you’re heading. Furthermore, the previously mentioned hit detection isn’t the biggest issue to worry about on the technical front, for the worst aspect is seeing Scrat fall endlessly through the world. There’s supposed to be rock beneath him, but on occasion you could be jumping or falling back onto it and it’ll disappear – looking a glitchy mess in the process. Sure, it has only happened a few times, however it shouldn’t happen at all.
It’s nothing to shout about in terms of visuals either, with a standard you’d be accustomed to on the Xbox 360. I don’t think it helps that the environments seem a bit bland, meaning when you’ve seen one ice cavern or rocky area, you’ve seen them all. On top of that, even the cutscene quality is rather poor and that’s a real shame.
All in all, Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure on Xbox One lacks polish, is bereft of a worthwhile story and fails to make the most of the blockbuster Ice Age license by looking low budget. On the plus side, the majority of its shortcomings are outweighed by the enjoyable gameplay that delivers age-appropriate platforming elements and puzzles. There’s also a decent amount of replayability to almost double the length of play via a second run to hunt down those collectibles, with an initial playthrough taking around five to six hours.
The price tag is a bit steep and obviously I’d not recommend Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure for grown-ups as the easiness would get tiresome too quickly, but for young Ice Age fans it’s worth a go. Just about.