As a rule, it isn’t bad to kick off a game by playing a dog, but it all depends on what the dog’s doing. The Adventures Of Tintin, a game based on the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson movie version of Hergé’s classic comic series, opens with players in the role of Tintin’s fox terrier Snowy rather than the eponymous cowlick-rocking Belgian reporter. Snowy has had some adventures over the last 82 years of Tintin; controlling him could be cool. Not here. As the jaunty soundtrack Django Reinhardts away, your time with Snowy captures some of Tintin’s stylistic pleasure, but lacks any of the inciting thrill of his comic searches. This is no thrilling chase, nor is it keen in-game detective work. You merely squeeze a trigger, and at a grating pace, snuffle around looking for vague footprints. This blend of charm and frustration is the central ingredient in Tintin, obscuring what could have been a great game.
Snowy does find Tintin quickly, and off the two go, unraveling the mystery of the infamous ship Unicorn in a journey that takes them across France, Morocco, and the seas between. The story is a loose adaptation of Tintin’s first meeting with lifelong partner Captain Archibald Haddock in The Crab With The Golden Claws, but rather than gabbing with old drunks, Tintin spends most of his time here jumping around tiered rooms, avoiding simple traps, and knocking assorted thugs unconscious.
There are four long, segmented environments (Marlinspike, the ship Karaboudjan, Omar Ben Salaad’s palace, and a ruined castle in Brittany) in the story, each split into longer jumping portions and smaller rooms where you have to knock out various guards before unlocking an exit. These are the game’s best moments, as you’re given tools to create slapstick chain reactions for knocking out the baddies: A well-tossed banana will send one witless guard careening into another, while a thrown jug will knock a chandelier down on the heads of conspiring crooks. Getting through a room with unseen jumps and item-based cunning evokes the comic fun that’s kept the series popular for nearly a century. The problem is that the game doesn’t prize these decisions. It’s just as easy to walk in and punch people’s lights out. Adding insult to injury, there are fewer and fewer of these graceful arenas as the game goes on; pride of place instead goes to boring driving/flight sequences and insipid one-button sword duels.
Not all is lost. There’s a full second game here that’s all platforming, and it takes place entirely in Captain Haddock’s subconscious, so the environments are more unpredictable. Here, you’re allowed to switch between Tintin and Haddock on the fly as needed—Tintin has a grappling hook, Haddock can move heavy objects—lending some much-needed variety to the game. But even then, the stages emphasize item-finding more than environmental manipulation, so it still feels like a missed opportunity. Since the movie is already an international hit, Ubisoft Montpellier will probably get another crack at Tintin. Their takeaway: People laugh at banana-peel pratfalls, but no one’s ever wanted to be a dog sniffing at footprints.