60 Second Retro Gamer – Episode 51 – Lassie (PS2)

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Blast know no limits when it comes to acquiring licences for well known franchises (see some of our other videos for more – and what’s worse is there’s a lot more we’ve yet to cover), so it should come as no surprise that in 2007 they released a game based on the long running Lassie franchise.

I have no shame in admitting that I don’t know much about Lassie other than the character has traditionally been played by a male dog, and that Lassie is loyal and dependable. After that, I seem to get Lassie mixed up with Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and, strangely, the dogs from Homeward Bound. Thankfully I haven’t yet mixed Lassie up with any talking animal from Disney, or with Beethoven (the dog, not the composer). And, for the record, I have no intention of watching any Beethoven movie after Beethoven’s 2nd. No Charles Grodin, no sale. I’ve just read there are SIX sequels to Beethoven. Ye Gods…

A Lassie movie was released in 2006, taking the character back to its roots and set shortly before World War 2 kicked off and ruined things for everybody. The game takes on the premise that Lassie has had six pups which have been stolen by Eddie Hynes (who appears to be the dog-equivalent of the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Playing as Lassie, it’s your job to rescue each pup across a variety of levels. Well, six. Yes, in typical Blast! fashion this game is a mere 6 levels long, and assuming you can see past the broken collision detection and bad controls, it’s another game that can be finished in under an hour. Once again Blast! have provided a guide to each level in the booklet and tells you how to proceed.

Despite this being a Blast! title, the graphics don’t actually look that bad. It’s all cel-shaded so that gives it a pleasant “Wind Waker” vibe, even if the gameplay doesn’t get close to hitting that found in the Legend of Zelda series. To be frank it would be a push to liken it to the PS2 Crash Bandicoot games, which look like masterpieces by comparison. The soundtrack isn’t too shabby either, but it’s a touch overdramatic for this game – it makes it feel like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie simply on the level of bombast alone.

Seeing as you’re playing a dog, the controls allow you to take part in various activities such as digging, jumping, sniffing and, erm… sneaking. All that’s missing is a dog equivalent of Snake’s sneaking suit and I think we’d have a new genre to mess about with. Who could turn their noses up at a stealth dog? Throughout each level there are various bonuses to collect, including a pink bone that gives you a temporary burst of speed – the dog equivalent of a caffeine boost. Sadly this never seems to work particularly well, as you end up bouncing into any and every obstacle before the boost runs out, leaving you exactly three paces ahead of where you started. Blue bones scattered around the levels can be used in the Nurture level (more on that momentarily) but otherwise serve no purpose. The booklet says each level starts with a cut-scene, which is stretching the definition a little – you’re treated to a series of slides that explain the story and what the purpose of the level is. Very basic stuff and not particularly well programmed.

To add a little variety to proceedings, after rescuing each pup there is an option to look after all of them in a low budget version of Nintendogs. Using blue dog bones as currency, you can provide food, water and exercise (all free, apparently), as well as special meals, drinks and play (costing 1-3 bones). The game doesn’t mention what happens if you neglect any of the puppies, so that’s probably for the best. I don’t think we got through more than half of the game when we captured it, by that point the generally bad gameplay had irritated us to the point that carrying on wasn’t an option. I persevered and actually finished the game earlier this week. Levels 3-5 weren’t hugely difficult, but the final level proved troublesome mostly because it didn’t give any indication as to what was expected from you. After a few hours at the pub (for a meal…) I went straight back to it and worked it out. That marks one of only a couple of games I’ve finished on the PS2, and the other is Paddington Bear. That’s slightly depressing.

Again, this is probably one that a certain number of kids would enjoy and play through, but then I have more faith in children’s ability to recognise a bad game when they see one. As an adult playing a game aimed at kids, and knowing that it’s from Blast!, I can appreciate the graphics and the needlessly overwrought soundtrack, but otherwise this is a typically short and unpolished effort that had potential to be… not great, but certainly acceptable. As Blast! games go it’s one of the better ones we’ve played so far, but that’s not saying much.

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