I’ve been a big fan of computer generated animation since it started to appear in movies in the 1980’s. When films such as Toy Story, Shrek and Monsters Inc hit the big screen I was instantly grabbed and whisked away into my idea of heaven. After such successes from Pixar and DreamWorks at the box office it’s quite understandable that other movie studios jumped on the bandwagon and started producing CGI movies of their own. As expected, these new movies were quite poor and rather formulaic. After trying their best to copy what made Pixar’s movies great, these other studios had to make their films cheaper, quicker and at the same tick all of the boxes that some rich executive thought every animated film has to have.
So after being burned several times by watching bad CG movies I made a vow to never watch any computer animated movies from anyone other than DreamWorks and Pixar. Unsurprisingly this has resulted in ‘Planet 51’ from Ilion Animation Studios and TriStar, passing me by. As it turns out Planet 51 is a Spanish made CG film which has now been turned into a video game by Pyro Studios and Sega.
So what is Planet 51 about? You take control of Lem; a geeky teenage Alien boy interested in Astronomy. To begin with you’re faced with a number of menial duties such as mowing your neighbours back lawn and taking your mother’s car to the garage. To make things worse the local bully is picking on Lem a bit and of course the girl he fancies from school isn’t really interested in such a no hoper. All of that is about to change when Chuck, a human, lands on Lem’s home planet (Planet 51) and causes and almighty ruckus. People think Chuck is dangerous and contagious and label him as some sort of Zombie. Luckily because Lem is the only smart person in town he realises he needs to protect Chuck from the military and allows Chuck to hide in his bedroom whilst they plan how to repair his ship, then get him back home (Earth). To do this you will take control of Lem, Chuck and a little WALL-E style robot called Rover in what I can only describe as; Grand Theft Auto IV for kids! GTA4 kids? Am I crazy? No.
Planet 51 for Xbox 360 is an open world adventure focussed primarily on driving missions. These can be as simple as racing Grease Lightning style against that bully I mentioned earlier but can get more complicated when you need to deliver packages, catch stray dogs and take photos of a comet. There are many more mission styles than that but they all revolve around you grabbing a car (or other vehicles like Bikes, Truck, Motorcycles) and getting to and from the mission as quickly as possible by following a map in the bottom corner of your screen. Now granted the GTA similarities end after you realise you can’t just kill someone with a gun to steal their car but apart from that (and the 1950’s Americana-esque setting) Planet 51 is pretty much a Grand Theft Auto 4 clone filled with Aliens and UFO shaped vehicles.
Is it any good? Well yes and no. The story of Planet 51 the video game, even if it is ‘just for kids’ is very generic. Driving around the town and surrounding areas in a whole host of wacky vehicles is fun, the problem is that most of the missions are quite dull with not enough variation and are either too easy or too hard. The extra difficulty usually arises when moments of poor game design show through in the more complex missions rather than a mission actually being insanely difficult on purpose.
Oddly enough the bonus side missions that just involve you driving around finding pieces of a comic book with your car are much more fun. This is because they are hidden and you’ll need to explore everywhere and use a variety of different vehicles to find them. The vehicles generally handle the same but some are faster than others, all have a special boost button that gives you extra speed for a few seconds. Like me you’ll probably find a favourite car that looks cool and is fast enough to use for most of the missions.
Whilst the graphics look lovely, the frame rate jumps from being smooth to stuttering at seemingly random times. The cut scenes look the business but suffer from some of the worst lip syncing, script writing and voice acting I’ve encountered in many years. I will gladly point out that all cut scenes can be skipped with the B button, phew!
Sadly whilst Planet 51 The Game shows moments of potential and brings the open world mission era of gameplay to kids I can’t help but feel that this is still a rush job intended to promote the movie. The ability to unlock clips from the film could be considered a bonus but are more likely there to get the kids to pester their parents to take them to the cinema or buy the DVD when it comes out. Don’t get me wrong Planet 51 is quite playable and does have moments that are fun but these are quite outweighed by the blandness of what appears to be just another game designed to appeal to kids for 60 days when they and their friends are chatting about the movie in the school playground and forgotten soon afterwards when the next blockbuster arrives.
Planet 51 The Game scores 6 out of 10 and it will likely keep the younger kids entertained for a while. Just don’t hold your breath thinking they will not want another game to play in the coming weeks.
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