Surf's Up is pretty good, for a movie game
Let's face it - as a general rule, movie-based games generally suck. Without enough development time or resources, it is nigh impossible for even the most talented studio to adapt a movie to a game effectively. And for the most part, Ubisoft's Surf's Up is no exception. However, it has to be said that the developer made a few smart decisions, and Surf's Up is not nearly as bad as it could have been. In fact, it's quite good… for a movie game.
Probably the best decision that Ubisoft made was only loosely basing their game's story on it's movie counterpart. The only similarities between Surf's Up the game and Surf's Up the movie is that you travel from Cody the penguin's hometown of Shiverpool, Antarctica to Pen Gu Island to surf in a big competition. The game doesn't even bother to tell you this clearly, though. There aren't any cut-scenes, and you'll only know where you are going next when you unlock a new level. One can't really comment on Surf's Up story because there isn't really one.
Surf's Up's gameplay is surprisingly fun, but very basic. You will surf along levels with a wave on your left or right-hand side, moving up and down the wave to gain speed for performing tricks, taking jumps, or grinding rails. Tricks, jumps and grinds will earn you points, and each level requires a specified amount of points to secure a victory. You will also earn bronze, silver, or gold medals depending on how many points you get. As you perform stunts you will also fill an adrenaline meter which can be used for speed boosts or entering adrenaline mode, where you can pull off tricks worth major points.
There are ten playable characters, but you have to unlock more than half. They all have different attributes in speed, handling, jump, and freestyle, and you can also choose different boards. The attributes don't really matter in the long-run, so the main draw to switching up your characters is the different tricks they all perform.
The main problem with the gameplay is that that is it. It's very basic and simple, obviously to make it accessible to younger gamers. It's surprisingly fun, just way too easy. You can beat the whole game using just the Y and B buttons. There are other options, but why bother? The A and B button both control tricks, but hitting B performs a trick worth four times as much as A.
There is another mode, called leaf sliding. Basically, you sit on a leaf and go rocketing down a narrow trench, trying to collect trophies and stopwatches that slow down your time for a few seconds. There are jumps and secrets to find in each level, but the controls are really awful - you will often rebound endlessly from side to side, unable to right yourself. Plus, there are only three levels, and so the mode is best avoided.
Surf's Up's graphics are actually not half-bad. They are very cartoony, which makes sense in that it's based on a cartoon, and the water looks pretty decent. Being this a surfing game, nice-looking water makes a huge difference. The colour palette is bright and exaggerated, giving the game a "happy" atmosphere. Textures, apart from the water effects, are nothing special. Overall, the graphics are pretty average.
Surf's Up falters badly when it comes to sound. The game features an awful soundtrack featuring run-of-the-mill, generic bands such as Blink-182 and Simple Plan. I suppose they fit the surfing theme, but there aren't a lot of songs, either, so you'll be hearing the same ones a lot. Even if the songs were good in the first place, they would surely grow tiring after the twentieth rendition.
The other audio features are disappointing as well. Characters give the odd cry, cheer, or complaint when they crash, pull off a nice trick, or win a race, but other than that, they are mute. The SPEN (Sports Penguin Entertainment Network) announcer does some brief coverage and introducing, but for most of the game you'll hear only the repetitive beats of the less-than-stellar soundtrack.
Surf's Up can be picked up in a bargain bin for about twenty bucks, and if you're looking for a quick, fun, and easy game you can't go wrong. There is also multiplayer, so it's also good to play with younger children, be them your children, siblings, or nieces/nephews. The single player is very short, and can be beaten in as little as a couple hours. There's lots of opportunity for replays, though, as you can always go for a higher score or try and nail that tricky jump halfway through the level. There are also many collectables, and finding them all is a surprising challenge.
All-in-all, Surf's Up is pretty good: for a movie game. It's very shallow and can't compete with big titles like skate. or the Tony Hawk series, but Ubisoft did well to strip away any attempt at a story and keep the gameplay simple. This one's perfect to play with or give to younger children, and even the more mature gamer can have a couple hours of fun.