A Robot with a Lot of Heart
WALL-E just hit theaters, and along with it a slew of movie tie-in games (of course) are hitting store shelves as well. Contrary to the norm, however, it might surprise some DS owners to know the handheld version has gameplay, personality, and a presentation all worth checking out.
Similar to last year’s much overlooked and under-rated gem, Pet Alien, WALL-E DS is an adventure-puzzle game. The core gameplay consists of navigating WALL-E through a slew of tiny levels and using various objects to help activate mechanisms, which in turn open pathways for him to progress. It’s a simple premise, but the puzzles are clever and, for the most part, a lot of fun. You move WALL-E with the control pad, pick up objects with the A-button, and can then throw objects in one of three ways using the other face buttons (or by tapping the associated touch screen button). The camera can be controlled (moving 360 degrees on a single plane around WALL-E) with the shoulder buttons. The camera control is surprisingly competent and lends a lot to making this version feel more like a console game. That said, since many of the game’s obstacles are time sensitive, moving the camera around can, at times, be too slow or clumsy when you need to get WALL-E to his next destination quickly. The areas he’ll be traversing have cliffs or ledges throughout, and with no help from the slow camera, slow movement of WALL-E, and somewhat sensitive collision detection, WALL-E will all too often find himself falling into pits, which may be a regular source of contention for most players to be sure.
These are somewhat minor issues, however, since for the most part, both the controls and camera system are serviceable, which is a huge plus because most of the game’s puzzles – though they aren’t very puzzling – are quite cleverly constructed and fun to play through. You’ll often have to look around a good bit to find switches that are obscured, or slowly work things out in various patterns until the correct order of progression becomes clear.
A typical level will consist of finding explosive cubes and then using them to both defeat enemies (dirt devils, robots, and such) and trigger switches located along pre-determined areas. Sometimes the process is as easy as merely having WALL-E roll over a switch in the middle of a room and then roll on out. Other times, however, the game will call for a bit of good-old-fashioned ingenuity. But, the puzzles never get too difficult, and information markers do a bit of handholding most of the way through. There’s also a hint of stealth action in some of the game’s later levels, and it adds some excitement to what is an otherwise laidback experience.
The game’s main drawback, though, is the repetitious nature of the levels. They mostly look the same, use the same objects and mechanisms, and after just a short bit of play, it may feel like you’re doing mostly the same things over and over again. There are some racing levels thrown in the mix, which are fun and help to break up the rest of the gameplay, but the pacing of when these levels show up is a little off; you’ll do one race, not do any for quite a few levels, then do three in a row. No matter, if you can get past the game’s somewhat barren-look and feel, as well as the frugal variety of gameplay elements, the levels are still fun and designed with quite a bit of care and intelligence.
On the production front, the game is a quaint and fairly polished product. The 3D graphics are very attractive, and the DS’ lack of texture filtering is cleverly hidden under the game’s cel-shaded design. WALL-E looks really cool and animates smoothly, though some levels, which have a lot going on in them, cause him to slow down a bit more than usual. The draw distance is also smartly done, using a sort of dust-cloud veil to mark edges of each of the game’s early desert levels. The developers seem to have really worked the DS limitations to their advantage in making WALL-E DS look as good as it possibly could on the system. That said, there isn’t a whole lot of variety with respect to the appearance of each level, and the game can feel like a very lonely experience partly because of this.
All the game’s action takes place on the DS’ top screen with the bottom screen housing useful game info including a map of the current level you’re playing through, basic control instructions, and WALL-E’s life bar. As you make your way through levels, you’ll come across coins, and by collecting them, you’ll unlock various extras, which can then be accessed after completion of the single-player game. Trinkets such as screenshots, movies, and bonus levels are extra incentive to collect all the coins along the way.
The soundtrack is sparse but also put to good use. The very first collection of levels has no music, whatsoever, but the whining swirls of wind lend to the solitary feel the rest of the game conveys. However, eventually some music does kick in, and it’s very thematic, adding an emotional connection to the game’s movie counterpart.
There are some cute and well-crafted cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game’s many levels, and they add a lot of personality to the already quirky vibe of the game. There’s no discernable story that players will take away from these little breaks in the gameplay, but all the same, they’re definitely a welcome side dish of additional entertainment. As a combined package, it feels like a good effort went into this particular movie tie-in, though perhaps a bit more time in development could have helped iron out some of the game’s rough edges.
Overall, WALL-E DS is a solid package with many admirable qualities. The production values are impressive on the DS, the puzzle adventuring is fun and clever, and the game has quite a unique vibe. But, there isn’t much variation at all in either the look of the game or the gameplay itself, and the repetition weighs down the experience substantially. WALL-E DS also isn’t a particularly long game, though you can do a bit of the racing with its local multiplayer. But, the game is fun in short spurts and should make a fun DS companion to fans of the movie.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
Impressive visuals, not just for a movie tie-in – they just plain look good. But, the lack of variety is disappointing. 3.9 Control
The controls are simple but make sense and work well for the most part. But, there’s no touch screen gameplay worth mentioning, and moving WALL-E can be a clumsy undertaking when the clock is ticking. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is sparse, but the sound effects work well in the context of the game’s theme. 3.4
WALL-E is a solid offering with an endearing playable character, but the gameplay is pretty repetitive and the experience is over in just a few short hours.
3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.