Well, by now you'd have already seen our review for Planet 51 on the Wii, so it's time to see how the dual-screen version of the new extra-terrestrial flick fares. Did Sega manage to blast this out of the stratosphere of gaming delight or did its cargo jettison somewhere in the atmosphere of the mundane?
Just like the Wii version, Planet 51 revolves loosely around the premise of the film: Lem, the adolescent 'alien', gets his job at the planetarium, has some troubles with the stereotypical posh-little-rich-boy alien, tries to impress a girl and stows away Earth Space Pilot, Chuck, after his crash landing on Planet 51. The narration of the game is told via storyboards, with a strong assumption that the player has already seen the film, leaving you at a disadvantage if you haven't. Mind you, the story has so little bearing on the whole experience that not having seen the film doesn't affect you very much in your continual quest from A to B. Without wanting to spoil anything, Planet 51 also has to be a contender for the most abrupt ending sequence to a game ever seen!
The setting of Planet 51 is the same 1950s-esque suburban paradise in which Lem lives. On the DS it doesn't look as vivid as the Wii counterpart and the odd pop-up will confuse you from time to time, but for the whole it is fairly solid, with decent (if repetitive) audio – nothing to phone home about though. The planet itself is actually a fairly large sandbox, but as the DS doesn't have the horsepower to display it all at once, it has been conveniently divided into Acts 1, 2 and 3. Each zone becomes accessible as you progress through the story and the relevant acts, with the zones for Acts 1 and 2 remaining open after you 'complete' them (Act 3 will take you a whole 20 minutes and the area doesn't remain accessible after completion), giving you a fair bit to drive about in.
We say drive because, for the entirety of the game, the player will never leave the comfort of their vehicle. Starting off with a scooter at first, Lem slowly and steadily wins and unlocks various other hovercraft as he progresses through the story. (It must be said, though, that the inclusion of a "4x4" hovercraft was an interesting one – the feasibility of such a craft caused much debate at Nintendo Life towers!) The control for these vehicles are rather straightforward: Left and Right on the D-Pad dictates your direction, pressing Down gives you a speed boost, A accelerates, B brakes, X Jumps, Y interacts in a context-sensitive fashion (talk to people, attack and so on) and the shoulder buttons let you strafe right of left. You can use the stylus on some occasions – the paper round missions where you tap the screen to throw a paper and the times when you ride shotgun – but the button controls are prevalent through most this game. Unfortunately, the R.O.V.E.R missions that were on the Wii have not been translated to the DS, although we must say it's not really to the detriment of the title.
Dictating your progression through the story are missions; lots and lots of missions. They'll come in a few varieties: race through checkpoints to the finish, reach a destination in an allotted time, leisurely drive though town to drop items off, escape the military, ride shotgun while dodging/jumping, become a delivery boy and occasionally even get involved in the odd destruction derby! These are played through the previously mentioned three regions, with Acts 1 and 2 containing the vast majority of the content (a good couple hours on each, at least) and Act 3 being the endgame – lasting about 20 minutes. You get a bit of variety with the vehicles, so if at any point you fancy changing your
wheels hover jets, you can locate one of the mobile garages and switch out for whatever floats your boat (or hovers your craft, to be more apt!). The missions themselves can be a bit repetitive at times, with a bit too much driving from A to B, but there's nothing bad or glitchy about any of them and for the most part they are is quite fun. True, things might be a little on the easy side, but we expected this for a game designed for a younger audience.
Packing out the content of the game are the optional missions, which are just like the mandatory missions, but reward the player with money rather than story progression. These missions can be replayed several times, with rewards given each time a score is bested. You can also earn cash through driving like a lunatic: jumping cars, causing near-miss situations and destroying fire hydrants will earn you money (and teach children a, er, valuable lesson at the same time...). It must be pointed out, however, that if you do crash into other cars three times within a short period the police will chase you in an attempt to destroy your car with a bizarre sound wave weapon, so be careful of the po-lice, kids! Mind you, they're not very efficient at it, so very few times will they actually pose a major disturbance (looks like crime pays, after all!) You can use this hard-earned cash to purchase new vehicles or, outside the main game, buy stickers for your albums or purchase comic book strips. On the DS, the sticker album is a decent feature, as you're able to share them between machines in a trading mode, but they are all quite small and some of them you won't really be able to make much sense of. The comic book strips are a bit uninteresting, really; again, they're just too small.
Incidentally, if you do find yourself a friend to trade with, you can also challenge them to a race or Destruction Derby match. With single cart support for Destruction Derby you can actually have some good fun – we had quite a hoot here at Nintendo Life Towers – as you get to drive around and bash into people in one of the game's three arenas, with up to four human players and optional bots if you want to add to the chaos. If you've a friend with another copy of the game, you can use the multicart race feature, which lets you partake in a few of the game's races too. These modes certainly won't add a great deal of longevity to Planet 51, but they're still a welcome addition that will provide fun for a while.
Ironically enough, Planet 51 keeps things quite grounded: there's been no attempt to push the boat out here, but what we have here is a children's game with slightly higher production values and a bit more variety than expected. The story's practically non-existent and you'll be going from A to be B a lot, but it looks good, plays without error, has an entertaining multiplayer mode and contains enough variation to stop it being overwhelmingly average. Certainly not an essential purchase, but it may be worthwhile for those who enjoyed the film or are looking for a toned-down version of Driver or China Town Wars.