After seeing TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn behind closed doors at E3 earlier this year we were convinced that, despite being aimed squarely at a very young audience, there was a real possibility of it crossing the line into hardcore must-have territory too. Sadly this isn’t quite that game – primarily because it’s light on genuine challenge and not really long enough – but that target market are in for an absolute treat. This is a game that’s got real love for the source material, charm by the bucket load and enough different modes and challenges to satisfy even the most demanding of junior completionists.

It also steals from the best. Some of the biggest moments in the game are inspired by titles like Uncharted 2 and Pilotwings, and the neat little puzzle-box set-pieces that crop up every so often are oddly reminiscent of sequences from games such as L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain. Like almost all movie licences it hedges its bets relentlessly with driving sections, flying sequences, quick-time events and third-person action set-pieces all present and correct. Those bits of business are all solidly entertaining if derivative, but the bulk of the experience is made up of the sideways-on, two-dimensional platforming sections.

And these bits are an absolute joy. They’ve clearly been influenced by games like the original Prince of Persia and the Commodore 64 classic Impossible Mission, although this is a thoroughbred platformer first and foremost. There is some light puzzling (throw the burning torch to burn the rope etc) and also some stealth, and the most entertaining aspect of each new screen is finding a way to stop it all from descending into a mindless beat ‘em up. The toys that help you to do that – stray banana skins, beach balls, empty suits of armour, chandeliers – are never particularly difficult to find, but you’re occasionally tasked with dispatching two or more enemies with one makeshift weapon.

This is where the game is at its most endearing. At one point we threw an empty plant pot (or what looked like one) onto the head of one enemy, and when his companions ran to his aid he panicked and started dispatching them with a flurry of blind punches, before shakily walking straight into a wall and knocking himself out cold. The hilarious character animations during these moments are straight out of those classic Warner Brothers cartoons, and discovering them is a reward in itself. Being crafty and stealthy is always rewarded, and you’re frequently able to sneak around unseen in air vents planning your next move if things get a bit hot.

The fact that things will never get hot for experienced players isn’t quite as detrimental as you’d first think, as a surprisingly relentless pace manages to keeps things feeling quite fresh. This means that the main story mode isn’t especially lengthy – anyone who’s played more than a few classic platformers in their time could probably race through it in about five hours – but a smattering of easy-to-find collectibles add some replay value, and the co-op missions (which can be completed alone if preferred) are almost as substantial as the main game; and even more consistently inventive. If you’re a parent and like the idea of playing a game co-operatively with your kids, then this is only a few notches beneath some of Nintendo’s finest output.

The controls aren’t quite as tight as they could be and the presentation is occasionally scrappy – especially those repetitive FMV cutaways of your location, which replace traditional loading screens – so while it isn’t a perfect kids game, it comes far closer than anticipated. Everything that isn’t a 2D platforming section is fine but far from ground-breaking, but those elements are essentially the glue that hold the rest of the package together, as well as lend a (seemingly mandatory) sense of variety to proceedings. TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a slight game to be sure but it’s also an undeniably impressive one; not only a kids game but a movie licence, and an unusually thoughtful example of both.

TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn is available now on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, PC and Nintendo 3DS.

Watch the TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn trailer below: 

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