Planet 51 is based on the animated film of the same name. It’s produced by Pyro Studios, the team behind the Commandos series, and published by none other than Sega, so it should be pretty good. The problem is of course that most film to game translations are cheap and badly designed. Does Planet 51 join them?
Planet 51 is a world populated by little green aliens that live in a society similar to 1950s Earth. The main character Lem is a teenage alien who has recently got a job working at the local planetarium museum, all the while going through the usual problems teenagers face, namely trying to impress the girl across the road. The opening of the game has very little in the way of narrative and almost expects the player to have watched the film, jumping you straight in. It starts with a quick tutorial of the controls: holding the Wii Remote sideways and tapping will sprint, while jumps. The camera is controlled by the tilt of the Wii Remote and as you can imagine this could either work really well or fail miserably: it’s the latter. The camera is very slow to rotate with the tilt mechanism and at times you simply can’t see, which is naturally quite a big problem.
You’ll quickly learn that the game is heavily focused on driving around a city, completing tasks set by characters from the film. It’s all very GTA: Child Edition, but also very reminiscent of The Simpsons Hit and Run and the Driver series. It shares similar aspects with these games, with car dispensers being dotted around where you pick your chosen vehicle, driving through checkpoints and whatnot while having to put up with the law cracking down on you by ramming into your car.
After you’ve completed a few missions using Lem’s bike you finally acquire a car for him, which cuts out the slower pedalling to one place and back in exchange for faster transport. What’s amusing at this early stage in the game is that it says the drivers around the city have now agreed to let Lem ‘use’ their cars, obviously trying to portray a positive message to kids that he isn’t just going around stealing cars. However, the cops still say “open fire”, electrocute the car and smash into you once you’ve acted irresponsibly with the ‘borrowed’ vehicle.
To control the car you once again tilt the Wii Remote left and right and accelerate with , unlike the camera tilting it actually works surprisingly well, and it won’t be long before you’re burning it around like a real boy racer. Most importantly, it feels fun. A quick tap of the button will exit the car, which can be awkward at times to press but it’s a minor gripe. The big problem here though is that the game’s missions are all too similar, and can be summed up as: drive here, pick up object or person, drive back, repeat until completion. To shake it up a little bit Pyro Studios also included missions which see you evading the police, catching dogs and scouting around with Rover the Robot.
Rover’s missions are controlled by using the Wii Remote’s D-Pad to move and to scan for out of space rocks. He doesn’t appear in that many missions and when he does you won’t be particularly excited. In addition to this there are occasional on-foot minigames which test your balance by carrying books and dishes to marked locations. These are controlled by tilting the Wii Remote once again, but it really doesn’t work well simply because the controls are so unresponsive. Should you struggle with them enough to fail a mission three times the game will give you the option to complete it automatically, something you may quickly accept to avoid further frustration, although quite why you'd buy a game only to have it play itself is another matter entirely.
The game visually is nothing special, the stand-out feature being the reasonably detailed character models, and the feeling of going around a colourful bustling alien city is well created. Sadly, the textures are horrible at times and the framerate really suffers when you’re speeding through the city: at one point it even crashed for about twenty seconds before resuming as normal. The cutscenes are also odd in the way that they feel sped-up: a character will speak, then there's an unnatural cut to the next character speaking while seeming to struggle and stutter all the while. It gives the impression that the Wii simply can’t handle cutscenes and is really being pushed to the limit, yet with a quality produced game it can accomplish much better than this..
Planet 51 has quite a few unlockables to obtain, ranging from secret vehicles to hidden comics scattered around the city and even its own set of achievements, which will happily extend the four to six hours that the standard game takes to complete. There’s also a multiplayer, allowing two players to race against each other with the optional extra of bots around set locations of the city, or bash into each other in the mode named ‘Car Crusher’. It’s all very functional but nothing more.
You’re probably thinking the game has nothing to boast about, but it isn’t as bad as some of the lower-scoring games on the Wii. It has elements where you think ‘that works’ or "that was actually quite fun’, but the fact is it simply doesn’t keep a consistent level of quality.
Planet 51 is a game that doesn’t provide anything to shout about. It’s a short, clunky, and uninspired affair, although it works in places and isn’t such a terrible game that it deserves to be chucked into the rubbish on the day of purchase. Despite this the game isn’t special, and is serviceable in its premise. Young children who loved the film will have some fun with it, but for anyone else you won’t need to race out and pick up a copy.