Shrek was just a simple ogre until adventure came along. Sweeping him up out of his swamp and into a whirlwind journey of fighting fairytale villains, saving princesses and spouting off one-liners, his epic comedy of errors has so far filled three full feature films. Shrek: Ogres and Dronkeys
picks up after the conclusion of the most recent movie, Shrek the Third, where Shrek became a father to three bouncing baby ogres. This Nintendo DS design tasks you to play the role of babysitter for the little green guys and gal, as well as watching over Donkey's half-mule, half-dragon Dronkey children. It's a different take on the traditional virtual pet design that finds success in presenting its license and characters, but its gameplay seems held back by a handful of errors and an unadventurous level of interaction.
A royal summons arrives at Shrek's swampland home as the game begins, instructing our favorite overbearing ogre that it's his responsibility to tour the kingdom of Far Far Away with his wife, the princess Fiona, for the sake of good public relations with the nation's citizens. Shrek is reluctant to comply, but Fiona convinces him of the request's importance, and the pair of parents is left with a need for a babysitter to watch the kids while they're away. There are a few different movie-like scenes like this to find and watch throughout Ogres and Dronkeys, and they're done well íV though the characters' 3D models certainly aren't the same as in the films, the comedic tone of the dialogue (all of it audibly spoken) and overall Shrek feel is maintained each time.
You step into the picture by first selecting two of the eight total children to take care of. There are Shrek's three kids, Ogre Jr., Ogre Boy and Ogre Girl, as well as Donkey's five íV Cocoa, Peanut, Debbie, Parfait and Bananas. The difference between the ogres and dronkeys seem to be only surface-level, as in gameplay they are all basically identical.
And that gameplay begins in Shrek's swamp hut, where you first take charge of the young one's welfare and are presented with an empty room, a toybox, a shelf full of supplies and a couple of doors. The babies will do little on their own. Wave at the screen, perhaps, or fall asleep. You have to introduce interactive objects into the room for them to begin to get active, which you can do by choosing from what's available in the toybox.
Half dragon, half donkey, all dirty.
Both toys and food are stored in the box, and as you drag each different object into the babies' playspace they'll interact with them in simple ways. Picking up a block, then putting it down. Then picking up a hat, then maybe wearing it for a few seconds. Then rolling a ball, or placing a doll on top of a car.
Every simple action the babies take is recorded, and you earns points every time one of them does something they've never done before. And it's a constant tally. Every single object seems to have some small amount of goals associated with it, as you try to drag and drop combinations of items to entice the babies to interact with them correctly. "Come on, kid, I'll get a point bonus if you place that carrot on top of that block instead of eating it! ...oh man, you just ate it again. I'll go get a fresh diaper."
It's a very hands-off gameplay design, really, as though you're in charge of what objects are in the room at any time, you can't directly influence how the babies will interact with each toy or food item. It becomes a waiting game, and frequently enough a boring one, as you just sit back and wait, hoping that the virtual kids will eventually independently act in the way you want them too.
The points you earn allow you to purchase more items and foods, continuing the cycle, but a break from the "action" inside is probably what you'll be wanting soon enough. So you've got the option to leave the playpen area for either the bathroom, which is home to a simple "bathe the baby" mini-game, or else head outside for a bit more free-roaming freedom.
There are a handful of different outdoor environments to explore throughout Ogres and Dronkeys, from the starting area of Shrek's swamp to the home of the Three Little Pigs, and even a take on Candy Land hosted by Gingy the Gingerbread Man. In these areas, only one baby at a time appears and you orchestrate his or her actions more directly by dragging the stylus around the screen. There are a few floating collectibles to find and gather, and mini-games to unlock and play.
The mini-games, though, are not so compelling. There are five, including designs where you help the Three Little Pigs rebuild their crumbled homes by tapping on the ruined structures with the stylus, eat excessive amounts of candy with Gingy while also remembering to brush your teeth, catch flying fireflies and more. These are fair enough diversions, but none of them are deep.
And the Snail Bowling mini-game even seems to be plagued by a programming error, as when you're asked to draw a line on the touch screen to determine the path of your snail-shaped bowling ball, the line will be interpreted incorrectly much of the time. Lines that are drawn in a way that look like they'll be simple and straightforward on the touch screen often end up going wildly awry when your active baby actually throws the snail, even locking the game up in a unresponsive stuck camera loop for several seconds at a time.
Errors like that are likely the result of time-crunched development time, as Shrek: Ogres and Dronkeys was certainly pushed to be featured alongside the recent DVD release of Shrek the Third. But while that sort of issue and the game's relatively low level of direct interaction with its titular babies is unfortunate, the product as a whole definitely deserves to be experienced right alongside that latest Shrek film. Its presentation, visuals and soundtrack are perfectly in keeping with the tone and comedic feel of Shrek's world, so much so that the events seen here feel just like a canonical extension of the established storyline. So give it a look if you're a fan of Dreamwork's big green ogre, or are shopping for someone who is. And keep your eyes open for the next feature film announcement íV because with the success he's had on his adventures so far, Shrek the Fourth can't be too far far away.