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Open Season, a CD-ROM in English by Ubisoft for Sony Pictures, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and a Pentium 4 PC, for ages three and up, NIS 129.
With software companies releasing fewer programs for younger children every year (due to less profitability and market demand) and targeting violent games at teenage boys and adults instead, I should have been overjoyed to try out a new disk for the younger set, especially one with furry animals. But after playing it, I was not. I could hardly wait to delete it.
Open Season is Ubisoft-Montreal's way of capitalizing on the humdrum and insipid children's movie now playing in cinemas (where are those Disney masterpieces of yesteryear?). The PC version is no less uninspired, and probably more. This short adventure game consists solely of fetching and throwing objects and creatures through 25 missions and playing a few minigames with mediocre graphics. There is no reward for all your trouble except ranger badges you collect along the way and store in a virtual album.
It stars Boog the grizzly bear, who has been raised as a pet in the home of forest ranger Beth, and Elliot the deer, who tries to get him back into the wild and help him free the land of Timberline from hunters and other dangers. Everybody tells poor Boog what to do. A squirrel called McSwizzy who twitters with a Scottish accent orders the befuddled bear to chase away loggers who are cutting down the trees nearby; if not, the squirrel orders his comrades to pelt Boog with nuts. When a porcupine lands on the bear's backside, Elliot advises him to shake it vigorously (you help by pressing the A and D buttons a few dozen times) to free him of this "prickly situation."
Elliot, who has only one antler but plenty of hutzpa, instructs Boog to make his way into a grocery store and steal armfuls of chocolate bars. A skunk named Rosie whose mate is hopeless asks Boog to round up her kits (babies) and is overjoyed when you help him do it. "I should have married a bear," she tells her henpecked husband in a Spanish accent. When Elliot encounters a slender gazelle named Giselle, he asks Boog to collect purple flowers that she especially likes; as there are only blue and red ones, Boog has to bring both and meld them magically into a violet color. After all his trouble, Giselle thanks Elliot and munches on them, saying they are delicious. Boog also has to search for a wobbly teddy bear oddly named Dinkelman. More abilities for Boog are unlocked along the way, but the missions are still only "fetch-it" activities.
The game writers inserted dialogue and jokes written on the bottom of the screen that are no less silly than the missions. When the pair of skunks argue, they are described as "making a stink"; the deer tells Boog that "our adventures are so awesome, they should make a movie about us!" Well, Sony Pictures did one already....
Aimed at native-English-speaking pre-school and early-elementary-school children abroad, the game's instructions, dialogue and explanations are at a relatively high level of difficulty in the dialogue. This means that playing will be hit-and-miss for younger children whose English is not good enough, while older kids who do have a high level of comprehension will be bored to death by the fetch-it chores, the juvenile content and the dated graphics engine.
Players will also have trouble walking between trees and walls, as the animation tends to freeze, and you must travel down the middle of paths or you'll collide with invisible walls that prevent you from straying. I was also frequently told I couldn't save the action even when I didn't try. An owl gives on-screen advice very often that will just annoy players who are not novices; this birdbrained service should have been made optional.
P.S. Boog is also required to toss Elliot around, so he can reach a ledge and get a good view, or throw rabbits at Boog's bedroom window to get his attention or disarm a hunter. As a co-owner and caregiver of a beautiful honey-colored rabbit named Cookie, I don't like the idea of bunnies or other animals being hurled about. There is enough animal abuse out there without kids being assigned missions of tossing around small creatures; this game might give them ideas.