The year’s first Hollywood release to earn solid-to-glowing reviews almost completely across the board, Gore Verbinski’s Rango is something many critics have been expecting for some time, both a 30 Rock for the post-Shrek era, with countless, curveball verbal and visual gags landing haphazardly in and out of the viewer’s perceptual zone, as well as an animated feature with a complex enough—and beautifully mounted enough—aesthetic to make it honorable to finish second behind the latest meteorite to be hurled from Pixar’s heavens.
It seemed intuitive to me, before I thought through all of the above, that video-game spinoffs from blockbuster movies were, as an axiom of gaming, supposed to be dashed-off half-pieces of crap, and that Paramount/EA’s Rango video-game tie-in would be no different. With that expectation, the game is actually quite a pleasant surprise, an inventive adventure/shooter with competent cutscenes and a healthy balance of navigational challenges and (stationary) combat scenes. Taking aim almost exclusively at the film’s target audience of older younger kids (say, eight to 11) who require unfailingly linear narratives and busy scenery—but not so linear that they get bored from lack of variety.
The best part of the game for the adult gamer is its success in imitating some of the better aspects of the film. The voice cast does decent mimic work; the sunlight falls evocatively across dusty cutscenes, the jokes come fast and loose and barely heard, and Rango’s unending stream of bullshit is fittingly baffling. And, like the film, there’s almost more eye-catching brick-a-brack than the thin story requires (how did an empty water cooler jug end up in the middle of the Nevada desert?), shoehorned in purely for the pleasure of world-building: Take a moment to deconstruct the freight train Rango runs across and you’ll catch matchboxes and sundry other knick-knacks from the world of golf and Oscar trophies. Chalk up a win for the artists.
Are we looking at a hall of famer? Not really. It’s admirable to exceed expectations as, let’s face it, a game you get by sending in six Honey Nut Cheerios proofs of purchase and a self-addressed stamped envelope, etc. But let’s have a little perspective. It’s good for one or two complete plays and the narrative departs far enough from the Verbinski film to enjoy its free-range status. (If you’ve seen Rango, you probably don’t remember UFOs or zombies.) I wouldn’t pitch this to anyone old enough to cut a swath through, say, Half-Life or Call of Duty. But let’s picture the scenario where you’re a parent of a duly-appointed Rangoholic and you don’t enjoy the prospect of either (a) plunking down an additional 50 bucks at the multiplex for an encore presentation or (b) explaining over and over that the movie isn’t on Blu-ray and won’t be for some time. Consider the Rango game your stay of execution. At least until Cars 2.