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ups: Good controls; not too difficult for young gamers; decent graphics.
downs: Obscure license; lacks any real innovation; bland sound; they changed Donald Duck's voice.

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Disney's PK: Out of the Shadows
game: Disney's PK: Out of the Shadows
two star
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Ubi Soft
date posted: 09:10 AM Sun Dec 22nd, 2002

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If there is a place in the cartoon pantheon for loveable hotheads, surely it belongs to Donald Duck. Surly, stubborn, obnoxious, and none to bright, he nonetheless has one of the most endearing personalities going. It is his frustration over the little things in life that we relate to the most. When Donald sets out to do something as simple as pick apples from his tree, and over the course of a few minutes events escalate to the point where he is flying around in a helicopter trying to annihilate two chipmunks with nuclear explosives, I watch and think: \"yeah, I can see that.\"

It is too bad, then, that when Disney and Ubi Soft decided to give Donald his own superhero title, they removed all traces of his personality from the game. It's not that I resisted the idea of Donald sporting tights and a cape. I have seen him as a farmer, a zookeeper, a construction worker, a ghost buster, you name it. Why not a superhero? However, the people behind the PK license have rendered Donald all but unrecognizable. His suit covers any distinguishing features. They did away with his temper tantrums. Then they did the unthinkable: they changed his voice. Can you even for a second imagine hearing Donald Duck speak in a clear, snobbish, English accent? There is no gag here, no punch line, just a duck doing a lame Niles Crane impersonation.

So why would they bother? Well, rumor has it that the PK character (PK stands for Platyrhynchos Kineticus, or \"Duck of Energy,\" the game tells us) is a popular comic book icon in Europe, although that sounds suspiciously like the Matt Dillon character in Singles claiming that his struggling band was \"really big in Belgium.\"

Of course, a better reason might have been to create a really good action game. Unfortunately, PK: Out of the Shadows manages only to be a well-meaning, occasionally fun, derivative platformer at a time when games like Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper are blowing the doors off of the genre.

Essentially, the set-up goes like this: a sentient holographic computer duck has chosen Donald to suit up and do battle against an evil race of alien ducks that have captured Earth's most brilliant scientists in order to take over our world. As PK, the superhero, you must run around, fighting the aliens with your wrist-mounted arsenal, and save the scientists.

On the plus side, the controls are pretty tight. This is a fairly precise 3D platformer with a lot of jumping and shooting, so anything less would have been terrible. The target lock on and strafe is a nice touch, allowing you to navigate the levels and do battle at the same time. Pretty much all of your game time will be spent shooting and jumping, shooting and running, or just shooting and shooting some more, so learning a little finesse with the lock on is necessary. The game also has a nice progression of difficulty. This is the kind of game that young gamers can pick up fairly quickly without the worry of being overwhelmed.

The graphics are pretty solid. This is not the most imaginative use of cell shading that I have seen, but it does its job of conveying a classic cartoon look. The design work on the alien ducks, their ships, and gadgets is humorous. The cinematics use animation within changing comic book panels. The opening movie was great, showing the alien invasion and the transformation of Donald into PK. Then Donald opened his mouth, or bill I suppose, and things went down hill from there.

The sound is on the whole average, aside from that voice which is utterly terrible. The sound effects are generic, the music forgettable, and none of it takes full advantage of the PS2's capabilities.

The camera system is horrid. You know you are in trouble when you are trying to walk through a hallway and the camera can't figure out which way to point. Forward would suffice-just a plain old over-the-shoulder shot so I can see where I am going, nothing fancy. And changing the camera angle is at times a Herculean task rather than a function of your controller.

However, the true underlying fault of the game is that it doesn't even attempt to do anything new. You shoot down endless alien clones, jump across gaps, open doors, flip some switches. There isn't a single puzzle or challenge in this game that you haven't seen a million times before. And the level design is uninspired at best-just another hallway, another crate, another pool of acid with stuff floating in it so you can make your way across.

Disney's PK: Out of the Shadows is yet another title that proves the paradigm that videogames licensed from popular cartoons are destined to suck. The thought behind these games seems to be that there is money to be made by tacking a proven license onto crappy games. However, as this game features PK rather than a traditional Donald Duck, the license isn't exactly recognizable around the world. To add insult to injury they messed with a classic and beloved character, one that I have loved since childhood. If you are jonesing for a little Donald Duck in your game playing I have two words for you: Kingdom Hearts.

Jeremy Kauffman (12/22/2002)