Animal war against nasty neighbors

Forest animals have a rude awakening when they discover - after the end of winter hibernation - that a newly constructed housing development has taken over most of their forest habitat and reduced its size and sustainability.

hedge disk 88 (photo credit: )
hedge disk 88
(photo credit: )
Over the Hedge, a DVD-ROM in English by Dreamworks and Activision, distributed with a 24-page English-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and an 800 Mhz Pentium III PC or better, for ages three and above, NIS 179. - Rating: *** 1/2 Forest animals have a rude awakening when they discover - after the end of winter hibernation - that a newly constructed housing development has taken over most of their forest habitat and reduced its size and sustainability. When an opossum is kidnapped by Dwayne, a malevolent exterminator, RJ the wisecracking raccoon, Hammy the hyperactive squirrel, Verne the neurotic but fearless turtle and Stella the cynical skunk invade the suburbs to rescue their friend and restore their food supply. That's the cute story line behind Dreamworks' animated movie currently playing and its new computer game based on the film. Although the movie provides the background in detail, the DVD-ROM barely explains in an introductory cutscene from the film what's the cause of all the mayhem. But no matter. You're plunged immediately into a battle of the critters against Gladys (president of the Rancho Camelot Estates Homeowners Association), Dwayne and the countless rats, rabbits and moles he captures and equips with mind control helmets to attack the forest animals from the other side of The Hedge. Another creature to be dealt with is Vincent, a rather grumpy grizzly bear who gets particularly upset when you mess with his food. The game does not strictly follow the story of the movie, but this is not a serious flaw. The exterminator has also set up laser traps on the estate grounds and within the houses, as well as sleep-cloud generators and other traps to defeat the pesky animals. Each of the three rodents and the one amphibian has somewhat different abilities and you can alternate among them whenever you like, but you can't switch weapons and the different animals have pretty much the same performance. The game, presented at three levels of difficulty, can be played alone with the computer fighting for another animal or two people can play at the keyboard, one using a gamepad. The four animal heroes are armed with golf clubs, plumber's plungers, hammers, hockey sticks, rolling pins, wrenches and other weapons to fight their enemies, and they smash almost everything in sight, from blenders to birdbaths. When they are injured, you can heal them with typically obesity-promoting American "medicine" - nacho chips and pizzas - while one's energy meter is boosted with cavity-producing soft drinks, cookies and candy (it's odd that such politically incorrect foods would be used in a US-made game). This activity, albeit fun for younger kids, makes the disk very much like an arcade game. There are some extra thrills when you double your force by making one animal jump on the shoulders of another. The game's locations are the woods (where you'll return throughout to store all the goodies you've taken); The Hedge; the Rancho Camelot Estates; a Western theme park (including a shooting gallery, a mini-golf course and a final battle against the theme park owner to score the ultimate food prize); and VermTech, where Wayne devises his evil plans and creates the latest high-tech artillery for his war on the animals. In addition to nearly three dozen missions to be pursued, there are also three kinds of mini-games that unlock as you proceed - hitting golf balls at different targets on a range, racing RC Cars and (the best of all) a smash-'em golf cart bumper derby. The game's graphics, interspersed with movie clips, are good but not great; the voice actors are anonymous people rather than the movie actors, but they do a pretty decent job anyway; the musical background comes from the movie and is suitable. The minimum age given on the box is three years, but I know of no child that young who could cope with this game - three was clearly chosen because the game is bloodless and has a kiddie theme, but the gameplay is nevertheless inherently violent. Israeli children aged eight to 14 will have the most fun with it, but they will enjoy it more if their English vocabulary is good, as dialogue is fast and furious and whizzes by as text printed on the bottom of the screen.