Have you ever wanted to be an alien? An alien who delivers newspapers on his hovering bike and eventually turns into a mission slave for fellow green beings? Then Planet 51 is the game for you, sir, and if you hadn’t guessed by now it's not set on Earth, but on a land filled with adorable green men and women. Developed by the folks at Pyro Studios and published by SEGA you'd expect it to be a fairly decent film to game conversion, so is Planet 51 Wii something to orbit your gaming setup, or a game destined for the budget bin black holes?
Planet 51 is set in a vintage 1950s; taking a fairly regular Earthly design and blending it with a twist of extra-terrestrial. You fill the feet of fairly clumsy protagonist Lem, a teenager who loves his comic books, space-aged cars and watching alien intercourse. Well alright, the last part is a bit of a lie, but regardless, he is fascinated with the cartoons and is doing the rounds at his local planetarium.
Immediately you're shoved onto a quirky looking bike and zip about trying to save a poor soul from a bully and distribute newspapers to the locals. In theory this opening sequence does sound enjoyable, but where the game immediately fails is its control setup. Naturally where vehicle movement is involved on the Wii, it's expected to use the Remote to drive about, or perhaps the analogue stick on the Nunchuck. Here it’s the former - you accelerate and break as you would think, tilting the Remote to change direction. Where it stops working is the game's abysmal camera. To get a better picture, simply tilt the Remote... ah. Turning Lem also affects your viewpoint; it rotates slower than Bowser walks, so you’ll often find the lag unbearable and often unplayable.
Eventually Lem's mum uses illicit funding to give her fresh faced son a new car to play with. Fortunately this does fix some of the mechanics but still makes simple gameplay concepts far trickier than they would need to be. If you can meander through these downfalls, there ends up being a whole host of location-based missions to drive up to and attempt, and whilst being fairly standard tasks, they are reasonably enjoyable to play through. It’s a start, but that's where a majority of the game ends up, with missions eventually repeating themselves in some form or other. There are some glimmers of hope, with several on-foot challenges, but with controls being highly unresponsive it does take a fair bit of heart to pull through. Aside from the main missions, there is a shopping bag full of unlockable extras to earn, but not much else to shout about.
Your world is fairly open, littered with streets, NPCs to barge into and several buildings to ogle at - for a mission driven game that you might assume is fairly linear, it's impressively vast. It may be a small speck in the leagues of Grand Theft Auto et al, but there is quite a bit to explore on the surface of Planet 51. Visually it's not astounding, nor is it terrible either. By the looks of things Pyro's main focus may have been Planet 51's presentation. There game world is fairly expansive, with fine detailing in places; an overall well-designed environment to play about in. Whilst looking the part, the game's engine can shutter when there's too much on screen, or in the two player split-screen scenario; even in some cut scenes it would stutter like a rotting VHS video tape. Clearly it being set in the 1950s, the residents of Planet 51 have not discovered DVD technology yet.
Flawed. The gameplay ideas are fairly generic but can be enjoyable at times, but are generally let down by abysmal controls and the ridiculous idea of assigning direction movement with camera. Some missions work well, but again the lack of refinement in control makes Planet 51 almost unplayable.
Not terrible graphically; some nicely designed environments, an overall large and detailed world. Let down by shuttering animation, poor voice syncing and general lag where there should not be.
General, cutesy and cartoony score, fairly standard however nothing too bad. There really isn’t a huge need for sound, so does the job reasonably well.
Very quick to grow repetitive. Gameplay concepts can work at points but very shallow to give a solid gameplay experience. Multiplayer only produces an additionally frustrated person, so not advised.
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The game does have some potential to host a well rounded sandbox experience but fails through what seems like an experimental, first-stab-at-it approach with little in the way of refining and testing. Poor control setup and a lack of replayability doesn’t bode well for the residents of Planet 51 Wii.
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I have much higher hopes for the DS version, which I believe James is covering. It's developed by the racing gurus at Firebrand Games, using the same Octane engine they've implemented for the Race Driver, Need for Speed, TrackMania and Ferrari Challenge DS games that have all been rated 8/10-9/10!
Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
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