The days are hot and long, and it's time for bar-b-ques, camping, and
baseball. Summer doesn't just happen outside, though. It's also
blockbuster movie season, when theaters screen entertainment that's
typically a little lighter in content and more technically dazzling than
the award-oriented films shown in the colder, darker, shorter days of fall
and winter. Accordingly, summer big-screen fun has come to belong to
Disney, which releases an animated feature every year to coincide with the
conditions that make it easy to spend an afternoon in an air conditioned
movie house, often time and time again to see the same feature over and
If you've spent any time near fast-food franchises or a department store, then you know from all the merchandise that this year's offering from Disney is "Tarzan," the beautifully rendered retelling of Edgar Rice Burrough's classic about the Victorian nobleman raised by apes. True to Disney formula, this movie pushes the limits of 2D media in ways that are stunning even for Disney. In the last few big Disney movies--from "Beauty and the Beast," to "The Lion King," and "Mulan"--audiences where treated to amazing computerized visual articulations of movement on a grand scale--marches, stampedes and battles--usually rendered from a privileged, 3/4 perspective. Viewers gazed upon the action from above and were awed by the spectacle of thousands, indeed millions, of intricate elements existing in space and time as a single entity. In "Tarzan," Disney has shifted the audience's focus from massive panoramas and breathtaking vistas to a dense, compact jungle environment. While this lush, redolent world serves as the complimentary arena for the dynamic forces that are Tarzan, it is not a static realm. Indeed, every leaf and vine seems to course with chlorophyll and sap, conveying the sense that despite their lack of motion, every tree and root in this film is just as alive as any stampeding gazelle in "The Lion King," just as determined as any marching clansman in "Mulan," and just as delicately rendered as the individual crystals on the glorious chandelier in "Beauty and the Beast."
Of course, Tarzan himself is the genius of this paradise, and as such, he moves through it with a kinetic ease that is dazzling. The ways Disney Studios have devised to illustrate the idea that Tarzan belongs to this edenic world, that he is a "natural" among the trees and denizens of the jungle is astonishing. As often as the Ape Man appears to jump off the screen, the audience finds itself in the treetops, surfing branches and swinging from vines. It is this blurring of the line between passive observation and active participation by means of visual artistry that Disney Interactive further develops in "Disney's Tarzan Action Game."
First of all, it would seem enough of a challenge for Disney Interactive to have successfully created a 3D action game that at once captured and extended the already beautifully wrought 2D world of the "Tarzan" movie. This task would seem doubly difficult considering how convincingly Disney had already pushed the limits of 2D in the movie itself. Disney Interactive, though, in the spirit of innovation that produced the animated feature, has done something truly remarkable: they have created a 3D side-scrolling adventure that doesn't really scroll from the side at all. In "Disney's Tarzan Adventure Game," players maneuver Tarzan--first as a boy and then a man--who runs, leaps and swings through a panoramic environment that scrolls heighth, breadth, depth and width.
We chatted with Dan Winters of Disney Interactive about the implementation of a 3D graphical environment within the structure of a feature produced in 2D and discovered that the engine used in Tarzan is produced by Eurocom and is a modified version of the same engine they designed for the Hercules action game. It's interesting to note that the full range movement in Hercules was rendered in 2D and changed to full 3D in Tarzan. The additional efforts were implemented with the intent of total immersion within the jungle environment that Tarzan inhabits and the results are nothing short of spectacular. We found ourselves marveling time and again at elements as diverse as tree trunks, waterfalls, and all manner of fauna.
Among the typically wondrous graphical treats are some astounding transitions, one of which is partially shown above. As young Tarzan you're scrolling along, encountering numerous game play elements, and you make what appears to be a rather ordinary leap from one ledge to another when suddenly you're gracefully arcing through the air, sailing ever downward until you cut Louganis-like through the water's surface. It is simply breathtaking. Another scene implementing a very slick transition comes later when you play as Jane being pursued by a gang of baboons. At one point in the level Tarzan swoops out of the trees, plucks Jane up, and performs a little tree-surfing action. What's happened is that the player has transitioned from Jane to Tarzan, smoothly, seamlessly, and elegantly within a single level.
Although Tarzan shoots for an audience from eight years upward, apparently there's no clear top end to the target audience. For instance, Tarzan is designed to run on high-end machines with 3D accelerated video cards, somewhat unusual if the game was limited to younger audiences. Game play fluctuates between familiar side-scrolling and Crash Bandicoot-like chases and the levels are linked by digitized clips direct from the feature film. Camera triggers within the game exert great fluidity combined with artful control over the variety of perspectives players encounter in the game. These elements begin to orchestrate a sophisticated approach to gaming that simply screams to interact with an audience beyond pre-teens.
For all the considerable accomplishments achieved by Eurocom and Disney Interactive, there remain some shortcomings to the game. The 13 levels play surprisingly quickly, and the two levels that incorporate "the chase" are probably too similar to Crash Bandicoot; a bit less fun and a bit more predictable than the other levels. There is no multi-player component to the game. Finally, while the voices of both young and adult Tarzan, and Clayton are those of the feature actors, the voices of Terk and Jane are too often unconvincing imitations of Rosie O'Donnell and Minnie Driver.
The biggest disappointment of the Tarzan Action Game is how quickly it passes because it really whets our appetite and makes us hunger for more. The presence of many revolutionary game play elements effectively breathe new life into the tried-and-true side-scroller genre and take it to another level. Through thoughtful and innovative narrative and aesthetic pacing, Disney feature films have often appealed to young and old alike; with the Tarzan Action Game, Disney Interactive looks to pursue the same goals with interactive entertainment. Despite its brevity, we are inclined to borrow a line from another summer blockbuster to summarize our review: "the force is strong with this one."