George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret (PlayStation 2) Review


As part of my recent initiative to play critically panned games on purpose, I picked up unassuming licensed relic George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret on PlayStation 2, based of the 2007 animated iteration.

While I remember watching George of the Jungle ’07 on Cartoon Network in my youth, I don’t remember what I actually thought of it. I definitely didn’t forget the janky Flash animation—I was always perceptive of visuals—but I forgot just about everything else.

Fortunately, my lack of memory grants me the unique opportunity to experience the video game adaptation with fresh eyes. Will Search for the Secret reign as king of the jungle? Or will it monkey around with my emotions?

Those were the best puns I could come up with.

George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret

Developer: Papaya Studio

Publisher: Crave Entertainment

Release date: March 18, 2008


Gameplay

George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret is admittedly the most stripped-down 2D platformer I’ve ever played in my life. Weirdly enough, I was able to derive some charm and enjoyment from the simplicity of it all.

The gameplay largely consisted of walking forward, punching enemies, and (less frequently than I would’ve liked) jumping from ledge to ledge. This rather basic gameplay loop isn’t super rewarding, but it’s a tried-and-true formula.

George’s walking speed was super slow, giving me an immediate feel for what I should expect of the other mechanics. Even the very act of jumping felt floaty and imprecise. Once again, these gameplay facets weren’t horrible, but I’ve seen what this game does rendered so much better in other games.

In fact, none of the platforming challenge seemed to come from the level design itself but instead from the how poorly the jumping often performed in practice. This is something I’ll discuss at greater length in the “Controls” section.

As much as I hate to be overly critical, I can’t deny that the “combat” system was quite clunky It mostly boiled down to running up to enemies and hoping I punched them before they attacked me. (I later determined that stunning enemies with the dodge roll before I punched them was a better strategy.)

It’s worth noting that not everything on display here is uninspired. George has a unique arsenal of abilities at his disposal, including his charge run, air stomp, and the aforementioned dodge roll. The manual also details other moves like crouching, vine swinging, pushing/pulling, trampoline jumping, wall jumping, and ledge grabbing.

The abilities would be fine and dandy if they didn’t feel so darn slow. As I alluded to before, the game practically craws at all times. I would’ve paid good money for an alternate version running at x1.5 speed so I could just get through the levels without so much dawdling.

George also has a context-sensitive interaction mechanic dubbed the “jungle call”. At certain well-marked intervals, you’ll press the triangle button to activate a drawn out cinematic of our faithful protagonist yelling at the top of his lungs to summon his friend Tookie Tookie, who’ll usually bring forth a swinging vine to aid you in reaching another platform.

Speaking of context, you’ll also occasionally be thrust into momentary “struggle events/obstacles” (A.K.A quick-time events). Whether it was a pillar falling onto the path or a lever that needed pulling, I was elated to discover that some of these sluggish distractions could be avoided by dodge-rolling past them.

One particular quick-time event, however, stood out to me as particularly interesting. I was locked in an enclosed space with ceiling spikes slowly closing in on me. The only way to survive was to…well, pull a lever. This was actually a pretty cool method of momentarily upping the tension.

The standard gameplay is twice broken up by “Shep Stomp” levels. Riding the dog-minded elephant, I chugged through obstacles and gathered coins to reach “first place” among my nonexistent competitors. These levels were decent diversions that ultimately didn’t rock my world.

If none of this sounds particularly engaging, I’m deeply sorry to inform you that the collectibles weren’t terribly gripping either. Scattered throughout each environment are coins, bananas/banana bunches, voodoo dolls, and golden pineapples.

Golden coins increase your score. If you collect 50 of them, you’ll earn an extra life. Single bananas fill one sliver of your health meter, and banana bunches fill up your entire meter. Voodoo dolls serve as extra lives. Golden pineapples serve one purpose and one purpose only: unlocking minigames.

While there’s nothing wrong with these collectibles in theory, I wished so dearly that there was more incentive to collect things—and more things to collect. I was able to nab all the golden pineapples in one go to unlock the three minigames. I’m afraid I may be a Negative Nancy asking for too much.

Speaking of minigames, I unfortunately didn’t find the offerings in George of the Jungle very intriguing. There’s a “repeat-after-me” rhythm game, a game in which you catch falling objects in a basket, and a comically brief Frogger clone. I played each of these minigames once and never touched them again.

The general difficulty throughout Search for the Secret isn’t terribly challenging at face value, but the wonky controls crank the dial all the way up. I would’ve smoked this game in two hours if I hadn’t died over the game’s nonsense so frequently.

Running out of lives sends you back to the title screen, which would be fine if each level wasn’t so bloated. Instead of separating the platforming sequences and boss battles into their own separate levels like a most games, George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret tasks you with completing both all in one go. This questionable decision severely dampened my enjoyment on multiple occasions.

Before I forget, I should probably elaborate on the scoring system. The first thing you need to know is that it’s honestly pointless. Although you could spend time upping your numbers, you can’t view scores on the main menu, and the exercise nets no rewards. Like I said, score doesn’t matter.

While George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret isn’t an outright offensive platformer, too much of the experience ranged from bad to bland for the title to scratchy my proverbial itch.

Content

At your disposal are nine stages, made up of six proper levels and three unlockable minigames. In practice, these offerings aren’t too bad. I got multiple days worth of play out of the title. However, the bulk of my playtime came not from the content but from the difficulty.

The poorly functioning controls led to unavoidable mishaps far too often. With each “game over” sending me back to the title screen, it ultimately became a real slog to trudge through these 15-minute levels in one go.

Beyond that, I can’t say there’s a ton of replayability in this package. Because I was able to snatch ever collectible on my first try, I had no reason to jump back into completed levels. Even the scoring system, as I mentioned earlier, didn’t drive repeated play.

Now that I’m thinking about it, the minigames could’ve provided a bit of added enjoyment if they had been multiplayer, but that unfortunately was not the case. I genuinely hate to say it, but I couldn’t milk much game time out of these offerings as they were.

Despite my negative words, remember that the base package isn’t fun enough to play through once and put down for good. I found this for five bucks on eBay. At that price, I’m not pained by the lack of content.

Not to cop out or anything, but this is a classic case of “your mileage will vary”. I prefer reasonably brief campaigns at low prices. Other folks prefer bloated journeys at higher prices. Assess your own personal preferences before picking up Search for the Secret.

Controls


While the controls are basic in theory, they became needlessly convoluted in practice due to what seems to be sloppy programming. While I mean no offense to the team behind the game, these issues were impossible to ignore.

The first thing you need to know is that Search for the Secret is a painfully slow game. The overly deliberate movement animations—from walking to pulling levers—take eons to complete, making for a true exercise in patience. The snail’s pace of gameplay inherently cripples the feeling of the controls. Nothing ever felt satisfying to pull off.

To top it off, the jumping in this game about jumping wasn’t as refined as it should’ve been. The double-jump was particularly wonky. It took me a few levels to realize that, unlike most platformers, I couldn’t jump again at any point within my first jump’s arc to get maximum airtime. If I missed out on the vague double-jump window, I plummeted to the jungle floor.

Punching enemies was similarly unsatisfying. The way combat encounters played out always felt strangely arbitrary, mostly due to, once again, the subdued pace. I didn’t enjoy the many cheap deaths that resulted.

I don’t want to bash this game—I promise you that—but it’s extremely difficult to deny the clunky controls. At the very least, I was more or less able to get used to how things felt by the end of the game.

Graphics/Presentation

I have to give George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret its proper dues for faithfully realizing its animated namesake in video game form. This is as close to playing the show as we’ll ever get.

The title screen (following, like, 30 seconds of vanity plates) blasted me with good feelings the very moment I saw it. I was treated to a rotating view of what’s I assume is George’s hut accompanied by the 2007 show theme. I knew then that this would be a positively pleasant visual experience.

That notion was reaffirmed by the cute yet effective menus guiding the player from title screen to gameplay. The only complaints I have are with the level select screen, which doesn’t contain relevant completion information like it should. What’s my top score? What items have I collected? That’s what I would’ve liked.

If you think everything else seems nice, just wait until you see the in-game graphics. The lush, colorful, cartoon-like visuals managed to astonish me with in spite of (because of?) their simplicity. I’d even say the polygon count was up to snuff for the time, too.

The characters made the transition to the third dimension fairly well, as far as I’m concerned. The trend during the PS2 era was no doubt to make THQ-esque balloon models out of flat properties, and the artists here certainly pulled that style off as faithfully as they could.

That being said, I’m torn as to whether or not this game would’ve looked better if rendered as 2D art. Seeing as how the gameplay operates purely in two dimensions, it would’ve been totally possible and superbly neat to play something that actually looked like the show, ya know?

By that same token, carrying over the show’s flavor of bad Flash animation to a home console release would probably make the experience feel like a cheap browser game instead. I’d say the developers made the right choice.

Fans of the show will be overjoyed to know that the cimematics feel rather in line with a standard episode. These interludes are pretty well animated and do a solid job of wrapping the experience up in a proverbial bow.

Even the box art and manual contribute effectively to the presentation as a whole. The box art practically screams George of the Jungle ’07. The manual, despite some quirky grammar issues, serves up all the necessary information a newcomer could need.

The bottom line is that I very much so appreciated the graphics and presentation. If there’s anything Search for the Secret does right, it’s looking pretty while you play it.

Sound/Music

Believe it or not, the sound design—or rather, the soundtrack—marks another high point for George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret.

As I touched on earlier, I absolutely love the opening theme song pulled straight from the television series. There’s something so infectious about the 2007 reimagining of the original ditty, with its bumping beats and radical rhythms. I would sometimes doddle about in the main menu so I could listen to my favorite jam some more.

The in-game music, composed by Stephen Card and Paul Millunzi, was a surprising treat for my ears. The subdued tones of the soundtrack were downright soothing as I progressed through increasingly annoying levels. While I can’t honestly tell you how similar the background music is to a given episode’s score, I will say that the tunes work perfectly in a video game context.

Fans of the show will be delighted to know that cutscenes are fully voice acted by the show’s cast, including Cory Doran as George, Paul Dobson as Ape, and Tabitha St. Germain as Magnolia, among others. I know some people find George’s voice in this version annoying, but you can’t fault the developers for striving for accuracy.

While the general ambiance is nice, I have to admit that gameplay sometimes feels a bit…quiet. George doesn’t speak frequently enough, some quick-time events are totally silent, and many of the sound effects feel a tad timid. I really, really don’t like the unsettlingly human noises that some enemies breathe out when defeated. (You’ll see exactly what I mean if you play the game.)

But honestly, I can’t complain. The audio was one of the primary aspects that consistently delighted me throughout my playthrough.

As much as I love looking for the good in everything, it’s tough for me to recommend George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret. Despite its short length, the game was so mind-numbingly frustrating that I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Listen, not everything’s terrible. The presentation is spot-on, the music is soothing, and the game shows glimmers of promise on occasion. The problem is that these shortcomings didn’t ultimately make me feel any better about the time I was spending on this title.

If you get a rise out of any and all 2D platformers, you should most certainly give George of the Jungle a whirl. But if you demand a certain level of quality from your ledge-jumping trials, this is not the game for you.

That’s all I’ve got, folks. Keep it real.

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