Admittedly, I often pay little to no attention to the slew of children’s CGI films that are constantly being released. However, in the case of Planet 51, I actually thought the concept of the story was somewhat interesting. In case you haven’t heard about it, the movie has a plot somewhat similar to that of the classic E.T., where an alien lands on a distant planet and needs help from the local inhabitants in order to get home. There is, however, a twist on this convention in Planet 51, as the stranded alien is a human astronaut and the locals are, in fact, what we’d think of as aliens. But whereas the video game version of E.T. was terrible enough to help cause the crash of the video game industry in 1983, Planet 51 fares slightly better with its video game adaptation.
The recipe for most video games based on children’s animated movies is usually as follows. Take the movie’s main characters, important story elements, and video clips and wrap them up in a 3D action platforming bow. Thankfully, Planet 51 has at least tried something a tad more original as far as movie games go. Instead of the obligatory action platformer, Planet 51 plays out in a very vehicle-centric adventure.
Seemingly taking its inspiration from games like The Simspons Hit & Run and Grand Theft Auto, Planet 51 puts players into an open-world where vehicles are at the forefront of the game’s action. Players are able to walk around freely on foot but because of the speed at which they move and the size of the world, it is almost impossible to get around in this fashion. As this game takes place on an alien world, you also won’t be driving automobiles as we know them. Instead, throughout the course of the game you’ll make use of all manner of hover-based vehicles ranging from hovering bicycles to levitating convertibles.
While this initially seems like a neat idea, you quickly come to the realization that the vehicles would be better off if they came with wheels. This is because they mostly handle extremely poorly due to the fact that they don’t make contact with the ground. Taking corners at any kind of decent speed is next to impossible as you float wide almost constantly. The game also allows you to use the right analog stick to strafe, which is bizarre in and of itself, in order to try to compensate for the floaty vehicle handling. The result is a clumsy and inaccurate driving system that makes completing missions that require precision driving needlessly frustrating and difficult; especially considering that this game is aimed at younger players.
At least it’s not until later on in the game that the sloppy vehicle handling really starts to hinder the experience. You’ll initially start off controlling Lem, a young alien boy who has the things on his mind that a typical child of that age would such as school, girls, and bullies. Unfortunately, the game gets off to a painfully slow and boring start, having you performing mundane tasks such as mowing a neighbor’s lawn in order to cover for your would-be girlfriend. Early on, your vehicle selection is also extremely limited as well, having only a few bicycles and a lawnmower through much of the beginning. Bicycles are ridiculously slow, which makes getting from mission to mission a chore since they aren’t typically located in close proximity to one another.
You’ll eventually earn better vehicles with higher top speeds by continuing to complete objectives. These objectives are scattered all around the alien world, with a radar in the corner of the screen pointing the way to your next mission. Sadly, while this radar can be useful at times, it can also present even more problems when trying to follow it. During loading screens the game will typically give tips, one of which being “you’ll never get lost as long as you follow the radar.” Unfortunately, this isn’t entirely true, as the radar will often point you directly into buildings and mountains that can’t be driven on or through. This usually occurs because your intended destination lies on the other side of these obstacles. It is eventually possible to compensate for the flawed radar once you get accustomed to the layout of the alien world but it shouldn’t be necessary and isn’t exactly user-friendly.
As you continue through the game’s many missions, the human (alien) astronaut Chuck and his sidekick robot Rover land on the planet. You’ll also be able to control these two characters during some missions. These two characters’ missions help to provide some much needed variety to Lem’s plethora of lawn mowing, racing, delivering, fetching, demolition derby, and drive to a specific destination type endeavors.
Some examples are Chuck running from trash can to trash can through town using them as cover to avoid police and running through an alley chasing Rover, needing to perform quick-time button presses to successfully make your way through obstacles. Rover’s levels on the other hand mainly consist of using his scanner to find special rocks and then collecting them or following a spotlight through hordes of enemies in order to remain hidden (which really doesn’t make any sense).
Another major concern with Planet 51 is its difficulty. Early in the game missions are almost obnoxiously easy to complete, with putting the controller down and walking away being about the only way to fail. Besides the game becoming increasingly more difficult due to the faster speed of your available vehicles, as the game progresses you’ll also find random difficulty spikes that may prove too much for younger gamers to handle. One minute you’ll be completing a race with no problems and the next you’ll be tasked with following an enemy closely, which either takes clairvoyance or multiple plays through for level memorization, and then absolutely perfect execution in order to achieve success. There are a good handful of missions in this game that I believe will cause many younger gamers to put down Planet 51 and never come back to it.
So, while Planet 51 isn’t nearly as bad as E.T. for the Atari 2600 was, it still has many issues that’ll keep it from being a fan favorite. Whether it’s the floaty and complicated vehicle handling, the confused radar, the repetitive nature of the missions, or the random and surprising difficulty spikes, Planet 51 gives players (especially younger ones) a multitude of good reasons to stay away. This is unfortunate considering that at least the game wasn’t just another movie-based action platformer, but in the end the bad manages to outweigh the good.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.2 Graphics
The game adequately resembles the film, minus some stiff character animation, but the lip synching is way off. 2.1 Control
The hover vehicles handle poorly for the most part, and trying to use the right analog stick to compensate for the floatyness is clumsy at best. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music, sound effects, and voice work are all decent although somewhat limited. 2.4 Play Value
There are quite a few missions to be had as well as items to seek out and collect, but the missions are quite repetitive, there are unexpected difficulty spikes, and the hover vehicles that you’ll use for almost every mission don’t handle very well. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.