Release Date: June 24, 2008
WALL-E for the DS is necessarily a different beast from its home console brethren. It doesn't have the power to keep up with the big boys and let you roam in a fully articulated 3-D world, nor does it have the frame rate to pit WALL-E or EVE against a legion of security droids. The developers kept this in mind and went in an entirely different direction with the handheld version of the game, simplifying the graphics and gameplay without sacrificing great gobs of quality. However, it doesn't truly escape the trap of most licensed games, which is shoddy and unchecked overall quality.
WALL-E boils down to a puzzle game on the DS, with the player controlling the titular robot for most of the 14 levels. You also spend a few levels controlling WALL-E's shiny and expressive friend EVE for fast-paced flying segments that are no longer than three minutes.
The game's art style is boiled down to a bare-bones but colorful adaptation of the photorealistic movie. This was a good move by the developers because it allowed for some cute cut scenes summarizing the vital plot without taxing the DS or having to use the DS' grainy video codec to watch scenes from the movie. The sound effects for these scenes are ripped directly from the movie and are practically perfect. Honestly, the cute cut scenes were some of the highlights of the game, letting you relive some of the key moments from the "WALL-E" movie without having to go out to the theater and watch it again.
The style also tries to carry over to the main gameplay, with more moderate success. WALL-E's platforming/puzzle segments are set in a fully 3-D environment, though you never navigate through all three of those dimensions. As such, the characters and backgrounds lose their charming "moving cardboard cut-out" look and simply look like faded polygons. It looks about as good as you'd expect from the DS, though.
The main game, despite looking a bit flat at times, is actually quite a fun time. The premise and controls are simple: The player navigates WALL-E on the top screen while the basic top-down map and HUD display on the bottom. The lower screen also offers the ability to control WALL-E's block-throwing commands via touch-screen, but this is completely unnecessary and fairly awkward to implement.
The little robot is tasked with finding his way from the entrance of a map to the exit, usually by running over or throwing garbage cubes at switches to open up paths and doors along the way. This is repeated a few times until you reach a save point at the end of a map, and then it begins again and again until you reach the end of the level. There are usually no more than 10 to 15 maps per level, and the maps never get immensely difficult.
The basic equation is spiced up a bit with the inclusion of four different types of garbage blocks for WALL-E to use in his epic quests to get from point A to point B. You start out on Earth with access to regular, exploding and magnetic trash cubes. The exploding cubes don't hurt you, but are capable of launching you — and enemies — across a room. They can be used to knock an incoming whirlwind (the game's first "enemy") into a pit or launch yourself up a ramp and across a gap in the floor.
Oddly enough, the magnetic blocks accomplish the same tasks but in reverse. Rather than launching you in the opposite direction of the cube, it pulls you toward it at high speeds after it explodes. I'm not quite sure why magnets in the distant future explode upon impact, but it works from a gameplay perspective.
The only other type of block you'll have to work with are EMP blocks, which explode in a pretty wide radius and temporarily disable any robot nearby, including WALL-E. Don't worry; even if you get caught up in your own blast, WALL-E stays out of commission for a much shorter time than the other robots that appear in the starship levels.
By strategically using these bits of garbage left at different points on the maps, you can safely make your way across almost anything. Sometimes, it feels like the game wants you to disable all of the robots or cyclones on a level, but there's absolutely no incentive or reward for doing so. All you need to do is find the switches to open up the path in front of you so you can reach the exit. The robots that shoot at you are generally very slow and can be motored past with ease, and any other enemies can only nudge you. Most can be easily tricked or exploded out of the way if they annoy you while you're trying to figure out how best to hit that switch just past those whirring fans.
Even up to the end of the game, you'll never face too great a challenge; it's quite kid-friendly, and when necessary, you're given gentle reminders of WALL-E's abilities. The difficulty level ramps up a little at points but then quickly eases back to what's appropriate for its intended younger audience. It feels good to accomplish things in the game, and just about anyone can do that in WALL-E.
The sections where you control EVE aren't quite as streamlined and fun as the rest of the title. EVE flies straight ahead and has two controls: faster and slower. Making her slow down brings her to a near stop and lets you navigate very tight areas, while speeding up lets you zoom ahead at a faster pace. The player uses the directional pad to direct her position on the screen, and you're challenged to reach the end of the stage without hitting more than nine obstacles. You're also given a time limit, but as long as you keep clipping along, you're pretty certain to make it.
It's spiced up only a little by the opportunity to collect all of the coins in the level, but all this does is unlock a screenshot from the movie, and during the more hectic levels, it becomes more of a chore than anything else.
The multiplayer segment is simply a one-on-one race down any of these levels. You have to unlock them by playing the main game, as the levels are lifted straight out of the story line, but this isn't really an issue because, they're not any fun. Not even the youngest kids would be entertained by these races more than once or twice, and by the time they've finished the main game, they'll likely never want to see the levels again.
By completing the main story mode, however, you'll have access to a few more challenging puzzle levels in the bonus section. These provide little more than an extension to the extremely short game, and it makes you wonder why they couldn't have included these slightly more difficult puzzles in the core experience.
The in-game sound is about as negligible as its graphics. Whereas the cut scenes are a joy to listen to, the rest of the game serves up a bunch of whirring and clacking noises over a bizarrely classical tune. It is relaxing, but hardly ever fits with the main puzzle-solving section.
The racing segments are even stranger and don't seem to get any music at all. You're left listening to EVE's engines thrust her through the air (and you have to wince at the clanks when you hit things in your way).
Overall, WALL-E for the DS knows its market and admirably meets expectations. Its art style is absolutely adorable, and the gameplay is simple but manageable. It's an easy enough recommendation for kids who can't get enough of the "WALL-E" movie, or even for adults who thought that the film was great and are looking for a little puzzle-solving on the side. The price tag may make you think twice, though, as there's just not that much in this pint-sized package to keep you happy for too long.
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