Sure, they won’t ever be regarded in the same light as Pixar’s gallery of critical hits, but the Ice Age film series (now curiously a part of Disney) has given us reliable slices of family entertainment for the past seventeen years. Combining a very loose attitude to prehistorical accuracy with a focus on slapstick and downright silliness, the films have their charms. They also have their tie-in video games.
With movie tie-ins now few and far between, Ice Age: Scrat’s Nutty Adventure feels like a blast from the past, but should it be greeted with joyful nostalgia or left to be forgotten by the passage of time?
The titular squirrel-thing, Scrat, is well known within the Ice Age Universe as the unintentional catalyst to all manner of planetary disasters. Whether he is responsible for the cracking of glacial walls or the meteor that wipes out the dinosaurs, his single minded quest for the nut that continually eludes him sees him constantly in the background of the movies. Nutty Adventure moves him firmly into the foreground, with none of the other movie characters appearing. This has the odd effect of making the game feel only very loosely connected to the movies themselves, perhaps a symptom of there being no current new release to base the story on. In fact, there is very little story at all, and what’s there feels like a very old fashioned excuse for the platforming that follows.
Scrat’s latest quest for a nut takes him to a mysterious temple that was the ancient home of the Scratazon race (bear with me here). He accidentally activates a message that reveals the location of three magical nuts that will bestow magical powers upon the clumsy Scrat and enable him to do something… or prevent something. To be honest, the plot is so flimsy I can barely remember the details. The result of this prophecy is a series of 20 3D platforming levels in which Scrat must make it to the end and find the magical crystal nuts.
This structure itself feels more like an old 8-bit Mario game than the open world 3D platformer that screenshots might suggest. The levels are linear and relatively short, but do contain some well hidden secret collectables for the more curious players.
Scrat’s travels take him across the main iconic locations of the Ice Age movies, so alongside the obvious icy wastes, he traverses ancient ruins and volcanic hazards. This does offer some variety, but they’re also the stereotypical zones and worlds that you’d find in a retro platformer. Outside of the visual themes, there’s actually very little difference in the various locations, as all contain almost identical hazards to negotiate.
To begin with, Scrat is only armed with a basic jump, some melee attacks (because fighting is the first thing you think of when you think of Ice Age movies), and a ranged attack which amounts to throwing snowballs. As you collect the crystal nuts, you unlock a double jump, a catapult manoeuvre that allows you to access high points, and a telekinetic power that lets you drag blocks. The basic outline could almost make this a Metroidvania, but there is no need to go back to previous levels unless you are looking to grab all the collectables. The distinct levels make this an easier process, but also stop the world from feeling truly connected.
There is a surprising amount of combat in Nutty Adventure, as Scrat must karate kick a range of insects, crabs and meerkats. There are also boss fights featuring characters from the main movies, though these amount to simple puzzles and a few racing style sections as you slide down icy paths or negotiate rivers. These different elements do break the game up somewhat but there is nothing here that you won’t have seen before in a thousand other tie-in games.
While the tone of this review has been fairly negative, the actual experience of playing Scrat’s Nutty Adventure is pleasantly distracting. The target audience of younger gamers won’t have the same critical eye, and my eight-year-old has already announced his intention to try and find all the hidden collectables. This is perhaps just as well, as the game is very short and simply racing from start to end would leave you feeling very shortchanged given the £35 price point. As a budget title many of the game’s shortcomings would be less egregious, but it is difficult to feel generous when it’s such a clear attempt at scalping a Christmas present market.