Surf's Up
| Surf's Up

If the output of Hollywood's animators is anything to go by, natural history photographers really need to work a bit harder. Sure, gorgeous Sunday evening high definition fare of chimps in the jungle or killer whales patrolling the icy seas seems enjoyable enough, but it's not much compared to rats who can cook or insects who form superhero teams.

As for penguins, well, reels of footage of them looking cold doesn't shape up to what Surf's Up has to offer. Who would have thought the adorable laminated black-and-white birds take part in an annual surf championship? David Attenborough's kept that one close to his chest…

Of course, it's not just penguins involved in this escapade. While Cody Maverick the rockhopper, Big Z the emperor, and Lani the gentoo are there to represent penguin kind, Reggie the sea otter, Mikey the shorebird and Chicken Joe the, er, chicken also get in on the fun.

Each comes with his own board and superstyle, and you get to race against them through the rather meagre selection of 15 tracks, most of which need to be unlocked through trophy-winning and challenges.

The game's a relatively simple affair. In Championship mode, you start off against seven other surfers, darting along a watery racetrack which contains speed-up strips and the sort of pick-up items you'd expect to find in a racing game, such as shields, boosts, rockets and mines.

But considering the game's title, some tricks have to be included as well as the racing action. These come in the shape of the various jumps scattered around the courses – gain some air, and it's time to pull the moves. You can select tricks to perform for points by tapping four buttons on the touchscreen. It's easy (it's impossible to crash during a trick, for example) making it great for younger players.

Odd, then, how difficult other parts of Surf's Up can be. For instance, get hit by another opponent's item and you'll wipeout. In any other racing game that would simply mean hammering the accelerator to recover, but thanks to Surf's Up's method of starting – where you push a combination of buttons to paddle your way into the standing stance – you'll often find one wipeout is enough to lose you a race, particularly in the game's later stages.

The racetracks themselves also tend to punish mistakes harshly. It's a nice touch that the water swells and recedes, meaning the racing line moves as you travel around the course, but it doesn't seem as nice when it makes you grind to a halt or miss crucial jumps. As for the jumps themselves, they tend to throw you towards a watery grave as often as they pitch you into the air.

So, your success rides on really getting to know the tracks.

Sadly, many of them feel quite similar. There are some standout examples with huge jumps and interesting features, but most come across as simple circuits, where even the shortcuts aren't enough to vary the action. For that reason, the Free Surf mode, which enables you to revisit tracks you've unlocked to set new high-scores, won't grab your attention for very long.

What Surf's Up does best, however, is exploit its licence. The game is full of Sony Pictures Animations' finest – characters and locations will be immediately recognisable to anyone who's seen the film – and there are plenty of clips which are shown between races. The voices are here, too, with characters performing their catchphrases when they land tricks or knock out other players. In terms of pleasing its target market, most fans will find the game fits the bill, despite its difficulty and repetition.

Still, the problem remains. Like an amateur surfer, Surf's Up manages to see off some contenders and qualify for the competition, yet at the crucial moment it lacks both the ambition and skill to pull off big enough tricks.

It's generally enjoyable, true, but there's plenty of opportunity for improvements: from its relative shortness, to the painful music and the lack of gamesharing (meaning you can only play with people who have a copy of the game), there are many areas that could have gained from a little more attention. For instance, while the touchscreen is used for performing tricks, it does mean there's no space for a map, making it difficult to quickly learn the track layouts.

Ultimately, compared to the high quality of this year's blockbuster movie DS tie-ins such as Ratatouille, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and Transformers, Surf's Up is only really for fans of penguins doing strange things in strange places.

Surf's Up

Surf's Up uses its licence well but flawed execution means it fails to get the pulses racing. Fans of the film can dive on in, but the rest of us will have more fun back on dry land
Mike Cook
Mike Cook
Studying Computing in London means that Michael looks for any excuse to get away from error messages and blank screens. Puzzling and platforming on the DS are his ultimate escape.