t's important to keep the child inside you alive. I accomplish this in many ways, but outside of my weekly trips to my local Chuck E Cheese, I find watching the occasional kid-friendly cartoon gets the job done. Of today’s crop of kid shows my favorite is definitely Phineas and Ferb. For those unfamiliar with the show, it is about a precocious pair of brothers who spend their summer vacation building highly advanced machinery that allows them and their friends to go on larger than life adventures, much to the chagrin of their teenage sister who wants to get them in trouble. Oh, and they have a pet platypus that is really a secret agent.
Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension is not the first videogame outing for the boy geniuses, but it is based on the show's first made-for-TV movie. The adventure makes its way to consoles as a charming action platformer that bears resemblance to the Ratchet and Clank games, due to its gadget-based gameplay and humorous script. The entire game can be played with drop-in and out co-op with two players or alone with an AI partner. The plot does not follow the narrative of the movie exactly, which is a good thing because the quality of the film is dubious at best. Instead, most of the major plot points are conveyed in an upbeat song played alongside animated clips from the film. In brief, the plot involves Phineas and Ferb discovering that Perry is a secret agent as he tries to thwart Dr. Doofenshmurtz’s plan to use a machine that allows him to travel to other dimensions when the giant badminton birdie they fly in crashes in on the conflict. The gang accidentally activates the machine which sends them to an alternate dimension where a more evil and successful version of Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s has taken control of Danville. They also encounter another set of Phineas and Ferb that inhabit the world where summer vacation does not exist.
The game begins as Phineas, Ferb, Candace, and Dr. Doofenshmirtz try to escape to their proper dimension but first land in one covered with gelatin. I know, the plot is strange, but it works for the purposes of the game. At first you only have the option to play as Phineas or Ferb but you do unlock many other characters as you progress. While you search for a way to travel to the next dimension, malicious robot enemies close in on you. Your options when it comes to combat include a melee attack achieved by shaking the controller and using ingeniously constructed gadgets such as a baseball launcher and an orange soda shooter. Combat is really straightforward because the game takes care of aiming for you. Your weapons level up the more you use them, growing stronger and adding on bonus abilities. Additionally you can collect mod chips to customize your weapons even further.
There is a nice level of variety. Aside from fighting enemies and performing well thought out (but basic) platforming, the game focuses on puzzles. You spend a great deal of your time searching for parts to help the characters create whatever contraption they deem necessary to progress. You build these fantastic machines with a single button press, and while it keeps things moving at a good pace I feel this was a missed opportunity for a more hands-on approach. Puzzles involve manipulating floor panels to redirect lasers to their proper switches.
Translating the look and feel of an animated show to a videogame is often tricky but Phineas and Ferb absolutely nails it. The character designs and animation stays true to the show, as do the locales (even though most of them were created specifically for the game). The only visual complaint I have is that the characters look weird as they speak to each other during levels; they talk without moving their lips. The entire cast lends their voices to the game as they deliver a hilarious script. The music is good, though you don’t get as many original songs as in the show, but what’s there is pleasant enough.
There are also sections when the characters take to the air in jetpacks to shoot down swarming normbots. It is a fun diversion as the game turns into something of a shoot 'em up. You have special firecracker attacks strong enough to clear an entire swarm of enemies with one shot and an even more powerful attack that requires both characters to work together to aim and shoot.
Like the show, Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension brings the brave kids to all sorts of imaginative places. Along with the aforementioned gelatin based dimension, they also visit a world completely constructed of balloons that somehow managed to sustain an indigenous porcupine population, a world where lawn gnomes reign supreme (I knew they couldn’t be trusted), and a world inspired by the seminal Disney classic Steamboat Willie. The boys constantly point out the impossibility of their adventures to comedic effect, even going so far as to criticize the writing of this “episode”. The game has its fair share of memorable moments, such as swinging on the uvula of a monster during one boss battle and controlling a giant mechanized Queen Elizabeth I during another.
Between levels the game allows you to choose from one of two arcade style minigames to play. You pay for the minigames using coins you find dispersed throughout the levels. One is a straightforward game where you manipulate a metal claw to grab capsules that contain surprise prizes. The other, called Perry-ball, is a modified game of ski ball where you roll balls and try to have them land in one of the specially colored areas. Either game rewards the players with tickets, which is used as currency in the in-game store where collectible figurines, costumes, weapon upgrades, and even playable characters are available for purchase. The minigames are rather dull yet I found myself playing numerous rounds of Perry-ball in order to unlock all the goodies.
The biggest drawback of Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension is the lack of challenge. For a game that wants us to believe that a group of adolescents can do anything, including deciphering the laws of inter-dimensional travel, it certainly does not think much of its audience’s ability to beat a game that is not a total cake-walk. I never once saw a game-over screen. If you fall off a platform your character instantly reappears a few paces back. There are numerous health packs littered around in case your health does get low. Whenever you come across an obstacle that looks like it will be a challenge one of the characters explains what you need to do out loud. To be fair, this is probably for the best though, as the target audience for this game likely skews towards younger gamers.
There are six different dimensions to visit, each subdivided into between two and six smaller levels, with a grand total of 24 stages to play. Levels take at most between 15 and 20 minutes to complete. The game take around 6 hours to beat but only retails for $39.99 on both the PlayStation 3 and Wii, which is an easier price to swallow. The PlaySation 3 version is playable with both the Dualshock and Move controllers, either of which offers up a good experience that utilizes motion control throughout the adventure. As an added bonus, the PlayStation 3 version comes with Blu-Ray playback of four HD episodes of the show, for about an hour of bonus content. For this reason alone I recommend the PlayStation 3 version for those that have a choice between the two consoles.
Phineas and Ferb: Across the Second Dimension works as a platformer, not because of originality, but because it manages to draw inspiration from great titles in the genre without feeling derivative. Whether you are swimming through floating globes of water, fighting on a high speed mine cart, or sliding down a rainbow, the game stays true to the humor and whimsy that makes the show so appealing. I feel parents looking for a family friendly title they could play with their kids will get a good kick out of this game, especially if they are fans of the show.