Welcome to the sunny sands of Pen Gu island, where the sun is high, the waves are higher, the weather is perfect, and the penguins surf. A chicken, too.
Surf's Up is based on the movie with the same name. Seven characters from the film make their appearance as playable ("surfable") characters, as does another eighth character, which makes a guest appearance from another film. Each of them has different stats that affect various areas of their surfing experience. With them and their boards you'll be surfing through a series of straight-forward courses that take you through lustrous tropical island backgrounds. In each of the courses, you'll be a given a certain number of points that you're to reach, as well as some optional goals that involve going through gates around the course and reaching an even higher point total.
To collect these points, you'll be using the surfer's reason for existing: the wave. Through each of the courses, a large wave runs parallel to you, of which you'll be able to use to ride off, through, or up and down (to gain some speed). As you jump off the wave, into the air, you can press buttons to pull of some very simple tricks that net you points when you land safely. The tricks you can pull off are fairly basic and require little more than pressing a button, and lack any real challenge in pulling them off. Any difficulty whatsoever really comes from the courses themselves.
There are a series of locations based around Pen Gu island, as well as a series of courses in the Antarctic that serve as training levels. Each course is a simple straight path that you continuously move forward through, full of various obstacles, ramps, rails, and the typical hazards one would expect to find. There are a couple things you'll want to collect like items that will multiply your score gain for a short while, and almost every level involves an objective that requires you to go through a certain number of gates (arches, really) that are scattered throughout the level. The levels are decent, but some severe technical issues come up and affect gameplay.
It's hard to classify exactly the various technical issues in the game. To begin with, there are collision detection problems, as sometimes you will crash into a rock as you should, whereas other times you'll merely bounce off, unharmed. Sometimes, after a rough wipe out, you will start again inside another object. This, of course, makes you wipe out again. At one point my surfer repeatedly bounced against a wall without moving. There are just a lot of odd errors that come up in the game, errors that would make it frustrating if there was actually any challenge present.
This game is short. Really short. Easy, too. It's possible to get through every course, completing most of the objectives in the process, in a couple of hours. Completing objectives nets you some unlockable content, like clips and images from the movie as well as game content like extra boards and characters, but it's a simple (and quick) affair to just go back and complete everything. The inclusion of a simple multiplayer mode does little to extend the game's life.
I'd usually refer to the plot of the game and how it relates to the gameplay, but in an odd twist to the typical movie-to-game conversion, the makers of the game have all but abandoned the plot of the movie entirely. Except for the tenuous idea of a surfing competition, the only references you'll get are the small cutscenes, starring Sal the Sea Lion, that occur before every level. These cutscenes are largely irrelevant to the game as a whole, but, to their credit, are pretty funny and capture the humour of the movie well.
Surfing games haven't exactly saturated the market, so Surf's Up is actually something interesting to play. Still, its simplicity and lack of depth means a very shallow gaming experience. Various gameplay errors make it feel like a rushed job, and despite the ability to unlock bits of content, there's not much more than half a dozen hours of gameplay to get through. With all of the game's faults, it's obvious that only real fans of the film will buy such a title. When it comes to a quick rental, Surf's Up qualifies.