Hitting theaters just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday, Planet 51 also comes to Wii with a little help from SEGA (Sonic, MadWorld). Will movie-goers get a welcome treat they can enjoy at home, or are they in for an invasion of alien fail?
The story of Planet 51 on Wii is based entirely on the recently released animated flick about an astronaut named Chuck who lands on an inhabited planet very much like our own. To the indigenous folk, however, Chuck’s an alien menace, and with a little help from his newfound friend, Lem, he’s got to get back to his ship and get away safely.
You could almost call this latest video game adaptation Grand Theft Planet 51. It’s an open-world game with missions that progress the story in almost exactly the same way as your typical GTA game, but you know what? It’s fun. The majority of missions are a blast to play through, and a unique approach to controls on Wii make the formula feel completely fresh. It should also be noted up front that the game is rife with problems, and though we enjoyed our time with Planet 51, all is not well in the suburbs of this alien adventure.
You begin the story playing as Lem, and you’ll start out by running through the basics of gameplay. To our surprise, the game only requires use of the Wii Remote… turned sideways, and right from the start you can tell the designers are trying something very different with this game. On-foot movement of your character is controlled with the D-pad; Lem can jump with the 2 button, sprint by repeatedly pressing the 1 button, and interact with people and objects with a tap on the A button. The camera is controlled by tilting the Wii Remote left and right. When making your way around the town, it’s a system that’s clunky but works. During on-foot missions, however, the camera causes all sorts of problems that lead to intense frustration.
Thankfully, the bulk of missions focus on the use of vehicles, and this is where the game really takes flight. Controlling vehicles in Planet 51 is very much the same as in Mario Kart Wii or Excitebots, and though the motion controls can be unwieldy at times, most missions do a great job of playing to the strengths of the mechanic.
You’ll steer by tilting the Wii Remote left and right, accelerate and brake with the face buttons, and boost by pushing down on the D-pad. You can also strafe using directional presses on the D-pad, but it can add an unnecessary amount of complexity to an otherwise functional approach to driving. Lastly, jerking upward with the remote allows you to jump over obstacles and avoid enemy fire.
The mission variety is almost a cut and paste from the GTA series, but the settings for each mission match the story and intended audience really well. You’ve got your typical racing missions, escort missions, delivery, etc., but there are also a handful of unique missions that make the game stand out in an almost glorious way.
In homage to one of Atari’s finer moments in gaming, Planet 51 offers a selection of Paperboy missions that put the Wii Remote to exceedingly good use. Lem will have to ride his bike through a series of checkpoints, gesturing with the Wii Remote in order to toss newspapers to subscribers. The controls for aiming a newspaper are fairly clumsy, but the entire paper-delivery process is still entirely gleeful. You’re timed on your route, and if you land a paper in the designated sweet spot, you’ll add 10 seconds to your timer; toss the paper through a neighbor’s window, and you’ll be docked five seconds.
One of the other highlights of the game is the dogcatcher mission. Your job is simply to drive the dogcatcher’s truck in whichever direction he indicates, and when a dog is in sight, you wait for it to come into catching range before tossing your net. It’s another fairly simple premise, but the mix of motion-controlled driving and dog catching are completely satisfying.
Where the controls fall apart is during missions where you’re either on foot or playing as Chuck’s robot companion, Rover. The character controls are, just like in the PS2 GTA games, loosey-goosey, and the camera simply can’t keep up with many of the actions you’ll be asked to pull off. It is, therefore, a godsend that the game allows you to skip past missions you’ve failed at least twice. Missions are generally bite-sized, and unlike GTA, they’re played out in one set order.
Though the game does do a bit of recycling and juggling around in terms of its mission structure, there’s still a surprising amount of fun variety on offer here. There’s no economy system in the game, but meaningful unlockables are ample incentive to see the game through to the end, as well as repeat completed missions. Photo albums, comic-book construction, and videos offer plenty of trinkets to tinker with once the main game has been completed, and it’s great to see this tried-and-true formula presented in a bold, new way younger gamers can now enjoy.
Unfortunately, the in-game visuals are very weak, and though graphics aren’t usually one of our strongest considerations in a game, they do ding the gameplay significantly in Planet 51. Everything from character models to the background textures and effects have a low-grade-PS2 quality to them, and constant pop-in and shimmer make the game look downright ugly at times. The real problem, though, has to do with hiccups in the framerate that occur far too often during missions. The world of Planet 51 isn’t that interesting to roam around in, though it is surprisingly expansive. The art style is bland, and though the game’s perfectly functional on a visual level, the developers do absolutely nothing to take advantage of the Wii’s power.
The music does a much better job of supporting the gameplay, and themes are really well matched with their respective missions. Moody audio backdrops during Rover missions make a nice contrast to the sultry funk you’ll hear during delivery missions. The dialogue is fully voiced, though the mouths of the characters often animate out of sync with the audio performances. Sound effects get the job done but do little to add any type of arcade-like excitement to gameplay.
The bottom line with Planet 51 on Wii is we had fun. The game has all sorts of problems, not least of all its low-rent production values and crazy on-foot camera system. Had the developers locked the camera behind your character’s back, á la Resident Evil 4/5, we’d certainly have much less to complain about. That being said, the good ultimately outweighs the bad here, and young fans of the movie are getting an innovative take on a great gameplay formula they’d otherwise be too young to experience. If you can forgive some wonky mechanics and come to the game expecting nothing but light-hearted fun, you’ll get your money’s worth out of Planet 51.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
A really poor visual showing on Wii that negatively affects gameplay. 3.5 Control
The controls are completely “alien” at times, yet they’re also the source of great joy throughout the game. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great selection of tunes that enhance gameplay, and though you won’t hear The Rock, the voice acting is very well delivered. Sound effects are unremarkable. 3.7
There’s a lot to do and redo in Planet 51 on Wii, and it’s a package parents can consider with confidence. The game has undeniable problems – issues that render some missions virtually unplayable – but it still manages to be great fun somehow.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.