It was easy to tell that Smurf games from the ’80s and ’90s were developed under strict guidelines from the licensees. Most took the form of simple side scrollers, mimicking the look and feel of the harmless ‘80s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. These days appear to be behind us. Prisoner of the Green Stone is surprisingly contemporary, with a focus on third-person shooting – via multi-purpose backpack – while introducing a menacing new villain, known as Stolas.
The plot, too, takes a surprising twist during the opening sequence, with the Smurfs forming an unlikely alliance with Gargamel to recapture the titular, sizeable, crystal-encrusted foe. We’ve come a long way from avoiding falling acorns and leaping over fluffy woodland creatures in a bid to save Smurfette.
If it wasn’t obvious by its title, this is a follow-up to 2021’s enjoyable The Smurfs: Mission Vileaf – which was easily the best Smurfs game to date, comparable to other recent 3D platformers in terms of ingenuity and presentation. This sequel shares some similarities – and thankfully retains its responsive controls – while making a few substitutions along the way, switching out its squad of playable Smurfs to welcome Handy, Brainy, Dimwitty, and Storm, and replacing the weed-whacking Smurfizer backpack with the crystal-smashing SmurfoMix.
Gargamel, meanwhile, provides the Smurfs with magical portals, connecting his cramped and cluttered hovel to the areas Stolas has taken refuge. The hovel acts as a hub and a place for the Smurfs to regroup between missions. It’s a far cry from Mission Vileaf’s spacious secret-filled village, removing the chance to free roam and explore. Turns out Gargamel’s hovel is precisely that – unappealing and unattractive.
Throughout the first world, the SmurfoMix’s abilities are gradually introduced. Its default purpose is to fire green shards, cleansing the emerald slime pools that trail behind Stolas, but it serves other uses too upon collecting glowing seedpods. Honey can weight-down seesaw platforms and gunk-up watermills, while electrical charges push and pull stone blocks into place. Quite often to progress, you’ll need to scour and traverse the environments to find the right ammo type.
These newfound abilities come into play during combat too, with this being more combat focused than you may expect. Here, honey glues enemies to the spot, while the electrical charges tether and harm Stolas’ army of craggy crystalised enemies – which include toads, wasps, and fungi. All four Smurfs have their own unique ability too, with Storm harnessing a bow and arrow, and Brainy able to create a chemical explosion. If used proficiently, they can wipe out several foes at once.
While this may sound positive so far, and quite involved for a Smurfs game, repetition quickly settles. The story takes place over three worlds, each with three zones – varying from an ice realm to an autumnal volcano world – but despite the different settings they still quickly blur into one another, with little variation in gameplay between each. One stage has strong winds to take into account when platform jumping, while another is full of slippery slopes to navigate – and that’s about it for variety. And while each stage has mission objectives, they essentially boil down to chasing after Stolas while following a trail of landscape ruining crystals. As such, the quest log is largely redundant.
The level design is generally fine, though, even looping back around in some locations. The biggest problem is that although the SmurfoMix can be upgraded, improving the firing rate and damage of each ammo type, combat quickly becomes tedious. The same six or so enemies are rolled out continuously, and quite often you’ll have to defeat as many as fifty to open the next location. Stolas shows up at the end of each world, and these battles don’t change a great deal either, simply having different Returnal-style bullet formations to avoid until his weak point is exposed. After beating him once, you’re set for the rest of the game – the final battle included.
Scouting locations fully often reveals challenge portals, with rewards including new outfits. These are mostly combat focused and can be time consuming, lasting up to six minutes each. Any failed challenges can be retried back in the hub, providing a reprise from the main storyline, and the game also charts your progress with cleansing each area. When the credits rolled, after around 7 hours of play, I had only unlocked around half of the SmurfoMix’s upgrades. To gain gold medals in each challenge room, you’re likely going to need a fully upgraded backpack and maxed-out abilities, providing some replay value for those still engaged.
One more thing to address is that the visuals aren’t quite as striking as before. The original game favoured a bold clash of red, blue, and green – it was surprisingly vibrant. This sequel opts for a palette of different shades of turquoise and teal. I guess this was to help tell the two games apart in screenshots, but coupled with Gargamel’s predominately brown hovel, this results in visuals that often look washed out and drab. Playing on Xbox Series, I also noticed the occasional scrappy texture. It isn’t an ugly game, but neither does it catch your eye like before.
Despite apparent signs of a brief development cycle, The Smurfs 2 – The Prisoner of the Green Stone is still able to showcase descent design ethos: the controls are intuitive and responsive, the shooting mechanics are proficient, the checkpoints well-spaced, and the difficulty level can be adjusted at any point. The Smurfs themselves are endearing too, with Dimwitty spouting some amusing dialogue. The magic of the first game simply isn’t here though, with tedium settling long before the halfway point. It never left me feeling blue, but I certainly felt increasingly weary as time went on. Next time the Smurfs and Gargamel call a truce, hopefully the consequences will be more eventful.
Microids’ The Smurfs 2 is out 2nd November on all formats. Developed by OSome Studio.