Remember when licensed games were uniformly terrible? Buying a video game based on a beloved movie or character would, more often than not, be rewarded by the crushing disappointment of a poorly engineered, hastily slapped-together cash-in. Eventually, licensors like Disney got wise to the reputation damage, and gave talented studios the time and freedom to make spinoff games their own way — even Spider-Man and Star Wars games are good now.
But if you thought disrespecting fans and the video game medium itself with trashy tie-ins was a thing of the past, I’m afraid I have to disabuse you. There’s one community that still has to put up with this kind of thing on the regular, and it’s kids. It brings me no joy to report that the latest example (and one of the most egregious) of this slash-and-burn game licensing is Bluey: The Videogame — news that will be galling to preschoolers and parents, as well as to the many adult fans (and, presumably, the creators) of one of the best things on TV.
To reiterate, Bluey is an Australian animated show about a playful family of dogs who explore the mysteries, truths, and foibles of life through play. Its seven-minute episodes are densely packed with layers of comedy, sentiment, visual invention, and even philosophy. Bluey is far from the only great show aimed at kids of a young age, but the finesse of its animation, the brilliance of its jokes, and its ability to address the whole family at once without siloing its messaging for adults and kids set it apart. The show’s creators clearly believe that a seven-minute kids’ cartoon can be a profound and brilliant artwork; why wouldn’t it be?
How dispiriting, then, to find that Bluey: The Videogame lacks respect for both its audience and its own medium. It’s technically rough, has very little content and minimal design, and — worst of all for an adaptation of a show that constantly stresses the transformative power of imaginative play — it has no imagination at all.
It’s a truism that nobody sets out to make a bad game, and there’s evidence of some love for the material here from developer Artax Games and publisher Outright Games. The character select screen is a lovely riff on the TV show’s iconic credits sequence. All the original voices are here, along with some of the show’s wonderful music, and it looks as though many of the assets and animation rigs for the characters have been imported directly from the animators at Ludo Studio. At a basic level, the gameplay embraces the show’s whole-family-watches-together premise. It’s playable in four-player co-op, with the players taking the roles of the four members of the Heeler family: Bluey, little sister Bingo, Chilli (Mum), and Bandit (Dad).
But the developers clearly had neither the budget nor the time to realize anything at all with this raw material. This $39.99 console and PC game takes about one hour to play through — maybe two or three if you want to find every last collectible. It consists of four brief and shallow story episodes, four perfunctory minigames, and the most basic fetch-and-carry gameplay imaginable. Bluey jumps clumsily, pushes and pulls things, and picks up items. That’s it.
An initial impression of polish quickly wears off, too, with glitchy performance, abrupt transitions, makeshift physics, and blurry, low-resolution art assets that mar the look and feel of the game. It ought to be more fun to run about in co-op, but a camera that struggles to keep players in the field of view extinguishes any chance of that.
There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, especially in a game aimed at the very young. But Bluey: The Videogame is so basic, it’s barely there at all. Less thought has gone into it than much of the avalanche of Bluey pajamas, pens, and playsets in your local superstore. As a premium game for preschoolers, it draws unfavorable comparison with a raft of rich and varied paid apps like Pok Pok, Lingokids, and Sago Mini School, all of which have infinitely more educational, aesthetic, and entertainment value. And as an adaptation of a sophisticated, humane, hilarious work of art for people of literally all ages, it’s more than a disappointment. It’s an insult.