Roving reporter Dan Griliopoulos is driving home from GamesCom, but he turned the wrong way at the Baltic. Today he's passing through Belgium.
Belgium! Where the only heroes are fictional! Hercule Poirot, Tintin and... The Smurfs? Anyway, it's easy to sneer at Tintin; the plucky Belgian journalist went through an odd inception, passing quickly through the same facist, colonialist and racist phase as much literature of the 1930s. (Tintin in the Congo is essential reading if you want to understand why your great-grandparents in all probability shared these traits). But his adventures were always Jolly Good fun, in that way that inter-war kids stuff could be; all villainous millionaires and smugglers, where no-one who mattered was ever hurt except by fisticuffs, and the Cluedo-esque cast retired to Marlinspike Manor after an adventure to have their lugholes rent asunder by Bianca Castafiore's rendition of the Jewel Song from Faust. When I was a kid, he was up there with Asterix and, um, Johnny Alpha. Apparently, Simon Pegg loved him as much as I did, because they're making a film. And John Walker's beloved Ubisoft have the rights to the tie-in!
Admittedly, The Adventures of Tintin: The Games is a very simple tie-in; a straightforward platform adventure, designed quite obviously for kids. The section we saw involved Tintin attempting to get into Marlinspike Manor, via a hitherto-undiscovered and conveniently plot-extending catacomb system. The whole thing is portrayed in what the developer chappy (who I believe was named “Drew Quackenbush”, but I may have been at the Loch Lomond) called “two and half D”, which as far as we know equates to 2D; half a dimension is like being half unique. You may have seen early 3D shots of the game - it appears they were ‘proof of concept’, unless they crop up later in the ‘exotic gameplay’ mode.
The manor appears to be packed with patrolling butlers, whom Tintin is mandated with the beating up thereof, for plot reasons we are not cogniscent of. It's extremely complex, involved and meaningful; the butlers take one beating, fat butlers two. “Fighting's not the only way to get through the game” says the developer demoing, as he just beats everyone up in sight in seconds, sometimes hiding inside barrels to jump out and beat them up.
He's right though; sometimes there are puzzle elements, involving pulling levers simultaneously, triggering water wheels, or throwing beach balls at switches. One time he dropped a chandelier on their heads using a beach ball. We don't know why Captain Haddock has filled his basement with beach balls. “You'd never think of a beach ball as a fun object.” says the developer. We never will again.
Then he introduces us to the game's 'exotic gameplays'. “We have three main types of exotic gameplay; plane-flying, sidecar and sword-fighting” he says, obviously interpreting exotic differently from us. The level we see is Captain Haddock and Tintin flying a biplane through a very convoluted canyon, to get to the Sahara. We don't know why they're going to the Sahara, but they attempt banter all the time they're flying. Apparently the three exotic gameplays are also used in the Challenge mode, a time-attack version of the game.
The main redeeming element of the game appears once you've completed the main story; the co-op mode, which takes place entirely in Captain Haddock's dreams. His dreams, oddly enough, are platform-oriented again, rather than about Red Rackham's treasure, the time he went to the moon, or what was meant to happen at the end of Tintin and Alph-Art. To help the co-op players distinguish between the six playable characters, they've turned one of Thompson and Thomson's suits white and made a black version of Snowy. You can unlock more costumes if, like me, this total heresy offends you. Each character has a different special power; Tintin can use his grapnel-gun to get higher, Haddock can punch through walls, the Thom(p)sons' canes deflect gunfire, Snowy can dig for gold. Everything explodes in coins. I must have had an aneurysm, because I don't remember anything this crass from the books. Nurse, my medicine!
On the showing of this, Tintin really isn't for the RPS reader, or very much for the Tintin reader. The characters may be rendered like the books and the classical tension music conveys mild peril very well, but the throwaway platforming and kiddy fisticuffs don't really work with the more mature and interesting investigative side of the Tintin world. We haven't seen anything of the spy plots, Professor Calculus' inventions, or the varied locales that really gave the books that distinctive feel. At the moment, the game may as well be an asset swap for another generic platform game.