Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2008
Movie games are a sort of double-edged sword. Having a title based on a hit movie, whether it be Star Wars or Cars, almost always ensures sales. Unfortunately, these same ensured sales mean that some developers get a bit lazy about the titles. It's not difficult to ignore a poor title based on, say, "Jumper," but when kids are looking for something based on an honestly good movie, it's a real disappointment when the quality of the game doesn't come close to that of the movie.
Thankfully, Heavy Iron Studios has formed a fairly solid relationship with Pixar, to the benefit of both. Heavy Iron is responsible for basically every recent Pixar game title, from The Incredibles to Ratatouille, and while they haven't always succeeded, there is a certain effort inherent in their titles that makes less successful attempts easier to stomach. WALL-E, the latest Pixar film, is due to hit later this month, which is right on track with the video game tie-in. Luckily, it looks like Heavy Iron is setting up for a game that won't disappoint kids who are looking for WALL-E action after the movie has ended.
The backstory for WALL-E is both oddly adorable and shockingly grim. The film is set in the distant future, when Earth is literally a junkyard. Every inch of the planet is covered by discarded televisions, fast food wrappers, and all kinds of trash, and humanity has moved off the planet until the giant corporation of Buy N Large can clean it up. This was to be done with a series of tiny cleaning robots, but the cleanup failed, and by the time the story begins, only the titular WALL-E — one of the tens of thousands of cleaning robots — remains. The story picks up when EVE, a futuristic robot sent to monitor the cleanup, comes to Earth. WALL-E is instantly smitten with his new space-age sweetheart and, of course, things develop from there, sending WALL-E and EVE on a quest to figure out exactly why the humans let things get to this level.
WALL-E is best described as an unbelievably adorable fusion of R2-D2 and Johnny Five from "Short Circuit." If you've seen any of the number of trailers for the upcoming movie, you've got a fairly good idea of how cute this little robot is, and if not, just be forewarned that Pixar has created a character so marketable and adorable that he'll make SpongeBob Squarepants look positively obscure.
In-game, WALL-E is fairly limited in his abilities. His designed purpose is fairly simple: find trash, compact trash into a cube, and dispose of trash. He's the only robot left to do this, and finding his way among the trash heaps requires a bit of non-standard programming. WALL-E can use various devices scattered around the stage to achieve his goals; he can rotate platforms, repair solar power devices, and even use fire extinguishers or other tools. He can also jump and convert himself into "box" form, which allows him to advance over gaps or slide through holes he normally couldn't access. His most useful ability is picking up trash and converting it into cubes, which means the plucky little robot can hold up to three pieces of cubed trash at once. The trash can then be tossed at objects in the environment: doors can be opened, machines can be activated, and certain obstacles can even be destroyed.
The real fun, and the biggest challenge in WALL-E's segments of the game, comes when he discovers different kinds of trash. Although most of the junk on Earth is fairly average, occasionally he'll come across trash that has special properties. By compacting this debris into a cube, WALL-E can solve otherwise impossible puzzles. For example, one area may require him to force a heavy dumpster to fall down a hill. By collecting heavy trash, the tiny mechanical hero can throw it into a nearby target and force the dumpster out of his path. Oh the other hand, cubes charged with electrical energy can be used to charge up powerless machines, which open up new areas. There is one disadvantage to the junk WALL-E carries: It's not very stable. If he tries to jump or falls in a particular way while holding the cubes, they'll also fall, so finding the correct way to solve puzzles without losing all of your cubes is an important challenge.
WALL-E isn't the only robot on Earth for very long. At the end of the first level, his love interest, the super-advanced robot EVE, arrives on Earth. She's the exact opposite of WALL-E in every way. Instead of WALL-E's patchwork and outdated look, EVE resembles an iPod and is sleek, white and small. She's quite futuristic as well, and her levels play quite differently from the titular hero's, due to her more advanced design. She flies instead of rolling across the ground, and so her stages involve zipping to and fro, trying to avoid crashing the feminine robot into a wall. Beyond that, EVE is also equipped with a laser blaster, which she can use to shoot rocks and obstacles. As a result, her levels have significantly more action-oriented gameplay than WALL-E's. Instead of solving puzzles, she'll blast her way through obstacles or have heart-pounding races through asteroid fields and rock-filled caves. Eve's segments play like a better version of the Iron Man video game, and they provide an interesting contrast to the WALL-E levels.
There are periods when WALL-E and EVE team up, and you can use both robots in a number of ways to complete your objectives. EVE can blast obstacles out of WALL-E's way, which allows him to use his trash-gathering abilities to activate a door. Or perhaps EVE can carry WALL-E over a pit to get access to heavy trash so that he can hold down a switch. The combinations are almost endless, and while it isn't overly challenging to figure out exactly how you solve these puzzles, it's a lot of fun to see the interaction between the two characters. It helps that WALL-E is the most adorable robot to roll off an assembly line, so his interactions with the enigmatic EVE will just melt you heart, even in the gameplay segments.
While the primary gameplay in WALL-E is the single-player campaign built around the movie's story line, the developers have realized that doesn't give the title too much replay value. Thankfully, there are a few things being done to ensure that WALL-E is worth your money more so than the usual movie games. First and foremost, there are a number of collectibles scattered throughout the stages. Some collectibles take the form of Pixar props, such as the toys from Toy Story. Once you've found these Pixar goodies, you'll receive another prize in the form of film clips or concept art. While concept art isn't exactly a new unlockable for movie games, the concept of doing so by finding tons of old Pixar favorites is sure to make it something that appeals to younger kids as well as older gamers.
Beyond the collectibles, WALL-E is one of those rare movie-based titles that has a multiplayer mode. There are four available modes available for two to four players. Robot Tag Simulator has up to four gamers taking control of WALL-E equipped with EVE's laser, and they must try to defeat one another and collect enough scraps to be declared the winner. EVE Aerial Arena puts two players in control of EVE units that try to fly through as many rings as possible before time runs out. Keep the Cube, the last of the competitive multiplayer modes, has up to four WALL-E units trying to steal a cube of trash from one another, and whichever robot holds it the longest is the winner. Finally, Co-Op: Stop the Clock has two WALL-Es teaming up to keep a clock running for as long as possible by throwing cubes at targets.
Movie tie-in or no, WALL-E has all the elements of a good game. It isn't going to blow anyone's mind or revolutionize the genre, but it's nice to see a developer who doesn't crank out a sub-par game just because it's promised success. WALL-E is looking to be an excellent title for younger ones and their parents to play together, and assuming that Pixar's streak of high-quality entertainment isn't broken, it will be something parents will most certainly want to keep an eye on after their kids get back from seeing "WALL-E" in theaters.
More articles about WALL-E