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Jason Picker
22 Dec, 2009

Planet 51 Review

PS3 Review | It's a game, Jim, but not as we know it.
Planet 51: The Game is, as you might have guessed by the title, the official video game based on the animated film of the same name. As we all know by now, licensed games based on mainstream films are often rushed, derivative and tend to look like they were made by the pimply computer geek down the road instead of a proper studio. Animated games are usually the biggest culprits, offering players a special kind of glitchy hell as if the developers really hate children and decided not to waste their precious time making a functional game for an undiscerning audience. However, Planet 51 The Game is actually not bad. It’s colourful, offers a good variety of things to do, and while it has a few glitches and is pretty dull for older players, there is nothing that makes it unplayable. So its target audience – children under the age of 10 – probably won't hate you if they find this title wrapped up under the Christmas tree.

The first thing to note is that none of the movie’s voice actors contribute to the game. Instead, we get what can only be described as some of the poorest voice work you’ll hear this side of a kung-fu movie, which fits in nicely to the fact that none of the words spoken by the voice actors in any way match the lip movement of the on-screen characters. The story, as it is, revolves around a couple of alien teenagers, Lem and his dim-witted friend Skiff who help astronaut Chuck Baker to return to his ship which has been impounded by the alien military in Base 9 (an obvious reference to Area 51 in the US). It’s basically a simplified version of the film told in disjointed and poorly acted cutscenes, but it’s interesting enough for young players.

Only 38 seconds until we get to play another mildly entertaining mission ripped straight from GTA.

Only 38 seconds until we get to play another mildly entertaining mission ripped straight from GTA.
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The game takes some major cues from open world titles such as Grand Theft Auto - minus the adult material - by giving players a series of missions to complete in three largish areas that are unlocked as you progress. Players are often free to explore and can take part in side-quests, or they can simply take part in the main missions and advance the story. The world itself is bright and colourful, with the characters animated in a passably stiff way. The various areas feature shortcuts and jumps (again taken straight from the GTA mould) and there is the prerequisite collectable item which in this instance is comic book. While the areas are big enough, you’ll be hard pressed to find much to interact with outside of the missions. The cars and pedestrians that litter the worlds are rather generic and each area features only has a couple of different designs for the houses, traffic and citizens. It’s like being in a Road Runner cartoon where the same animated frame is used every few seconds.

The missions in Planet 51: The Game are largely vehicle-based and take place by driving the planet’s hovercraft-style cars, pick-up trucks and bikes. At the start of the game, you’ll have a pretty lame bike with a boost that does almost nothing to increase your speed, while having the cornering accuracy of a semi-trailer full of cement. However, after you unlock some better vehicles, you can start to enjoy a better sense of speed and maneuverability, which has the side-effect of causing more frame rate drops and pop-ins. While the vehicles always feel a bit floaty and inaccurate to control, they don’t generally affect your ability to complete missions. Speaking of missions, there is a pretty varied list of things to do in Planet 51. This includes all the open world favourites such as racing against various enemies or against the clock, delivery missions where you have to take an item somewhere else in a certain amount of time or without damaging/losing it, and 'follow that car' missions where you need to be close to a certain vehicle until it reaches its destination. The only time things get even a little innovative is during the destruction derbies. These missions take place in closed off arenas and task you with ramming other vehicles to destroy them. But even this gets a bit dull after the third time.

The future as seen by someone in 1980; hovercars included.

The future as seen by someone in 1980; hovercars included.
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While the majority of the mission types are ripped directly from every open world game ever made, they are simplified down to bite-sized chunks that cater for the limited attention spans of the target audience. The game even features a simplified 'wanted' metre where police will chase you with increasing intensity depending on your rating. Most of the missions directly involve Lem, but some of the others involve using Chuck and Rover (the latter is a rock collecting robot with more than a few similarities to Wall-E). Chuck’s missions generally revolve around getting away from an area quickly or following Rover while having to pass quick-time events to slide under fences and traverse other obstacles to gain extra time and reach the destination.

Because most of the kiddies playing this title will not be gaming veterans, these simplified missions will offer a pretty decent challenge. However, it must be said that some of the missions have a much steeper difficulty level than others. For example, some of the racing mission where you either have to beat an enemy to a certain spot or chase a group of vehicles across narrow areas are pretty difficult even for adults because no matter how well you race, the game keeps your enemies close, which is not helped by the floaty controls and numerous obstacles that sometimes makes precision racing impossible. This is also true of the missions with Rover where you have to move and jump up onto various objects to avoid being detected. Many of these missions require young player to have a level of gaming precision they may not have yet developed. Mums and dads buying this game for young children should be prepared for some cries for to “come and finish this level for me”.

An odd inclusion for such a family-friendly title is the missions where you must are tasked by alien adults to drive a car over the speed limit so it won’t overheat. Notwithstanding the fact that it makes no sense, it is also a bit strange that Lem is so willing to break the law in these missions, yet the rest of the game is a bit of a goody two-shoes. It doesn’t detract from the game but we thought it was an odd inclusion for such family-friendly fare. Because of the disjointed nature of the missions, none of Planet 51 feels particularly compelling to play - it certainly isn't keeping you on the edge of your seat. For example, mowing someone’s lawn, parking cars and delivering newspapers might make for varied gameplay, but it’s a thinly veiled attempt to add filler to a limited story. But then again, this is a game aimed at the under 10s so it's hard to be too harsh about a kid's game that might be trying to teach some subtle lessons about doing chores and the value of hard work.

Finally, a game that lets you mow the lawn. Such freedom!

Finally, a game that lets you mow the lawn. Such freedom!
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The single-player story is roughly a five to six hour experience for decent gamers, however, younger players keen to explore the three areas, collect all the comics and complete all the side missions will find that it's a much lengthier experience. There is also a limited split-screen 'multiplayer' mode where you can race against a friend, take part in the destruction derby, or take part in 'Hot Bombs'. Hot Bombs is pretty much the same as destruction derby except that one player has a ticking bomb and must hit another player to pass the bomb on before it explodes. While the split-screen multiplayer offers some options to change the play up a bit, such as adding in police and traffic to races and computer-controlled enemies to the destruction derbies, it’s hard to ignore the fact that there are only three game types which take place on a pretty small number of courses (the races have seven courses and the destruction derbies just three).

Planet 51: The Game is a passable game for young children. While it has its fair share of glitches, there has at least been some effort put into the game to make it a varied and interesting enough experience. It's hardly going to blow your mind, but anyone under the age of 10 who enjoyed the movie should find this a relatively enjoyable experience.
The Score
Children under 10 who dig the movie will get some decent entertainment out of what is essential GTA for kids. However, the uneven difficulty, technical issues and uninspired story keep this game from being anything other than passable entertainment.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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1 Comment
4 years ago
very well done, thank you
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  15/11/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  SEGA Australia
Genre:
  Racing
Year Made:
  2009

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