It seems that movie tie-ins for handhelds, particularly those based on children's films fall into one of two categories: mini-game collections or 2D platform games. Disney Frozen: Olaf's Quest falls squarely into the latter category, but despite being a simple affair designed with the youngest fans in mind, it manages to be a charming little game in its own right. Not concerning itself with following the plot of the film too closely, you'll instead step into the no doubt soggy shoes of the lovable snowman sidekick, Olaf, to give him a helping hand on his quest. And just what is his quest? Well, to find enough flowers to make a bouquet. Handily this seems to fit within the confines of a traditional platform game rather well, as all you'll have to do is run from left to right, avoiding spikes and occasional enemies while stuffing as many collectables into his little snowman pockets as possible.
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Borrowing heavily from Mario's 'Big Book of Platforming', Olaf's moves will be familiar to anyone who's ever played a 2D platformer. A lets you jump, holding it lets you glide, or pressing it a second time gives you a quick mid-air boost. A quick tap of B sees Olaf actually remove his head, sending it hurtling off to attack enemies or pick up items, while pulling down mid-jump unleashes a ground pound. It's simple stuff sure, but these straightforward controls enable children to get to grips with the game without too much hassle. The action takes place over a surprisingly generous 60 stages, and while the theme of the levels changes every so often (icy snowscapes, a Summer picnic etc.) the objective remains the same: get Olaf to the goal in one piece and pick up anything that looks remotely pick up-able.
Olaf's Quest is a remarkably stress-free experience, largely due to the general lack of enemies. It's not until quite a few levels in that you'll experience any resistance at all, and even then the baddies (wolves, usually) are easily dispatched with a quick bounce. It's obviously a concession made with the target audience in mind, and it certainly makes the game much less frustrating for little ones. Taking damage from spikes or enemies means that Olaf loses some items, but he has no 'health' as such, which is another smart move in a game like this. There's no time limit either, so you're free to backtrack and hunt for more well hidden objects (the flowers tucked away in each stage can be tricky to locate in later levels), but even then most levels are over within a couple of minutes. Bite-sized stages like these make perfect sense for a portable game, especially one for kids, and we felt that the levels were well designed enough to offset their short length. Olaf's Quest does shake things up a bit as you progress though, and new ideas are introduced gradually. Some have Olaf running from a large enemy (a charging reindeer or a huge ice monster for example) in auto-scrolling stages, while others introduce slippery slopes which turn Olaf into a runaway snowball able to plough through blocks similarly to Mario's alter-ego in Wario Land 4. Despite this, the run, jump and collect formula doesn't really change over the course of the game and it can become a repetitive experience - at least for anyone above the age of 8.
We were worried that the absence of enemies would mean that the game wouldn't pose a challenge for older players, but happily that's not the case. For older children (and adults, too!), the challenge instead comes from trying to find all the collectibles in each level, and trying to "100%" each level. It's a mechanic we're used to seeing in 'grown-up' games and it's no less compelling here, with collectibles that can be tricky to dig out. Of course, it helps that the more items you manage to pick up, the more unlockable outfits you can choose from to customise Olaf. In a nice touch, the hat, scarf and gloves combo you choose for the little snowman actually appear on him in the game, rather than being reserved for a separate 'dress up' mode. The minimal enemies and gentle pace mean it's not a difficult game by any stretch, but it's clear that some thought has been put into making it appealing for different ages.
It's also a bit of a winner in the looks department. The Wintery levels look as crisp and frosty as they should, while the warmer environments are rendered with a lovely glow. It's a simple but pretty game, and the animation on our chilly hero is adorable, particularly when he's sneezing or busting out some victory dance moves. The 3D effect is nicely implemented too, and adds another layer of depth to proceedings (although not much is lost if it's played in 2D, so those who don't want or can't see 3D, or are playing the DS version aren't really missing out). Sadly though, elsewhere it feels as though corners have been cut. The story is dished out in between levels via a slideshow of static pictures (no animated story scenes here, which is a shame considering it's a Disney game), leaving a bit of a 'budget' feel. Audio suffers too, as the tunes on offer aren't particularly memorable and hearing Olaf's few soundbites repeated again and again soon gets tiresome, at least for grown-ups. Children do tend to be oddly forgiving when it comes to incredibly annoying tunes. Perhaps the biggest niggle we had, though, was that there's no dash option, which can make the game feel sluggish.
While Olaf's Quest is definitely one for the little 'uns, fans of the film will definitely relish the chance to spend a bit more time with the (snow) man himself. Older players more used to platform games won't find much here they haven't seen before in the Mario or Rayman games, but the well-designed stages, appealing character and simple gameplay mean that it's still a fun experience.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS