Nope, I'm not gonna do it. I'm not going to pad this review with useless paragraphs talking about how licensed games are now accepted as being crap and have to actively work to become good. You (hopefully) know it by now, I certainly know it as one of the go-to movie tie-in reviewers here at IGN and nothing more needs to be said. What does need mentioning, though, is that Planet 51: The Game comes to us from Spanish developers Pyro Studios, creators of the excellent Commandos realtime strategy games around the turn of the centry.
I bring this up only because Pyro is clearly composed of some folks with talent; the 50s style retro-futuristic look of Planet 51 is pulled off well on all three of its platforms, the characters are modeled nicely and size of the world is rather impressive. Yes, there are the usual technical hitches I've sort of come to expect from a licensed game, and I'll get to them in a bit, but the general feel of the game from the moment you start right up to the point where you'll put down the controller and walk away is one of surprising inoffensiveness.
Indeed, that may end up being the biggest problem with Planet 51: The Game: it does nothing to inspire one's senses one way or the other. It's not overly difficult (though it can be challenging), it's not visually unappealing (though the framerate can be an issue at times), it's littered with stuff to do (but none of them are especially gripping). This is probably the most milquetoast licensed adventure I've played in a while, neither reaching too far nor failing in any of its attempt to present an interactive version of the world seen in the CG flick. It simply… is.
And, unfortunately, it is all rather boring. The variety in stuff you'll do -- from mowing lawns to hunting down the requisite collectibles (comic pages, for those curious) to racing snooty hotheads to destruction derbies to delivering papers – is all decent. The problem is that none of them are fun to do. The first time you fight with the game's clumsy controls to scoot around a yard or race around obstacles, you might be mildly entertained, but by the fifth time you've undertaken those tasks, an overwhelming feeling of apathy rolls in.
The integration of cutscenes from the movie only serves to highlight things more. Planet 51 isn't exactly a Pixarian effort, but it's certainly got the little bits of charm in animation and voice work that we've come to expect from a CG flick, while the game simply puts along with jabbering jaws that don't match up to the voices and random gesticulations to keep them from being robots that stand and yammer at you. There's no charm, no sense of personality to anything, and it becomes increasingly tiresome the further along you go.
Pyro deserves props for trying to link interactive bits between the stuff seen in the big screen clips, though. So often licensed games are presented as prequels or side stories or the dreaded (and thankfully mostly-dead) kart racer and offer clips only as unlockables. Here, they're woven directly into the events of the game's story, though the result probably more jarring than the dev studio originally hoped. There's simply no flow to anything, and the ham-fisted "go here, do this" objectives with minimal exposition or hackneyed ways of introducing antagonists just fall completely flat. It's Grand Theft Excitement: The Game, and somewhere along the line the decision to try to do an open world game took priority over making the world itself in any way thrilling or interesting.
No matter what you're doing in the world, though, you'll still have to contend with the game's… creative brand of physics, which can leave collisions oddly over-sensitive (usually when you need to get somewhere quickly, of course) and rather lax pacing. Controlling the bike you get early on is sort of a crystallization of everything that's frustrating about the game -- you're given a turbo boost it but doesn't really do too much; you can strafe and steer, but both are weighty, cumbersome actions that require too much correction to make them easy. Though it gets a little better once you get a car rather early on (and from then on you can borrow anyone else's car on the road), there's never really a sense of complete control.
This is especially exacerbated on the Wii, where the control configuration had me scratching my head. The Nunchuck isn't used. At all. Instead, camera rotation is left to tilting the Wiimote held sideways, and the d-pad controls forward/back and strafing movement. Yes, it's weird, and at times absolutely infuriating if you need to swing the camera or make fine adjustments while steering a vehicle, since it uses the tilt too. The HD consoles don't really get out of this entirely, as the camera movement by default is pretty sluggish, but it's definitely the most clunky on the Wii, and for a game that's already a little heavy on the momentum to begin with, that can end up being needlessly frustrating for new players.
If the game is inoffensive in its presentation of the Planet 51 world, it's at least grating in how inconsistent it is. On the PS3 and Wii, the game performs well below 30 frames a second at times and is rarely solid; tearing and stuttering are commonplace on the PS3, and there are moments of severe pop-in or wonky textures in the Wii iteration. Not even the 360 version, which at least sports the most solid framerate, isn't excused from the odd bit of pop in or visual glitchiness in the SpeedTree-powered alien arbor.
Regardless of platform, though, expect to be staring at the simple graphic of an eye looking around a whole hell of a lot; the game loads constantly between missions, when moving into and out of buildings, when re-trying challenges and when transitioning into mini-games. It only makes things seem that much more cumbersome, and sucks you out of the whole supposed open-world feel of things rather quickly.
The game's over-reliance on re-using the same voice clips all the time doesn't help the aural presentation either. Some of them are so weakly delivered that you can almost hear the "just give me my paycheck" subtext in the lines. The flapping mouth syndrome I mentioned earlier only makes the voice work seem that much lazier. It doesn't really matter, though, because the dialogue and cutscenes themselves are rather hilariously trite to begin with.
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