Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2008
I think there are three main categories approaching a review of Heavy Iron's THQ-published WALL-E licensed movie tie-in game: You're buying the title for kids to play, yours or someone else's; you're buying the title to play with your children; or you're a Pixar maven, and you're buying the title for yourself, as much for collectibility as gameplay. Were I picking up WALL-E at my local game or electronics store, I'd nicely fit in any or all of those groups, but your experience of WALL-E as a game, just as with the movie, will vary depending on where I can pigeonhole you.
Notably, when I gathered the gaggle of our kids, ages three to 13, popped the disc in my (I meant to write, "our," really I did) PlayStation 3 and fired up the game, the first thing I did was mutter, "Oh, my stars; they didn't screw this up." My four-year-old son has been awaiting this movie for months — eons in preschooler time — since he saw the first teaser trailer. He got one of the inconsistently available WALL-E interactive robot toys perhaps a month back, a couple of days after perhaps three of them magically appeared on a back shelf of our local toy superstore. He got to the play this game a week before we were to see the movie; I certainly didn't want his bubble burst by the usual movie tie-in schlock rife with bugs, horrid graphics and execrable camera perspectives and control.
The availability of WALL-E toys is an odd duck in children's movie licensed promotions. The usual model is to get out the toys, clothes and various other themed items a couple of weeks prior to the film's release and put out the games for every imaginable platform the day of or week of the film's theatrical debut, later than the other licensed products since they often reveal at least some of the movie's plot. This schedule is arranged so, because as soon as the movie has been out a month or six weeks, even if it's a huge box-office success, the demand for licensed items nominally plummets. But there are WALL-E toys, in particular the full-featured $250 robot, that will not even see release until mid-September, a mere month before the estimated home video release of the movie and an obvious bid to turn the merchandise into a franchise for the 2008 holiday season (and perhaps beyond), à la the sustained popularity of "Star Wars" toys. For this reason, I think that the video game's quality was of paramount importance, as the whole experience should last well into next year, and even the console games are hoped to sell for full price as holiday presents.
So, while the reasonable quality of the licensed PlayStation 3 game may seem miraculous, there's undoubtedly something more like sound, meticulously implemented marketing strategy behind it. But whether blind luck or keen huckstering, the result for the WALL-E fan and gamer is the same: It's very good for a licensed title. The game should disappoint neither child nor adult Pixar fan who isn't, or shouldn't be, expecting something quite at the Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction high-water mark.
I do recommend seeing the movie before playing the game, or limiting yourself to the multiplayer, party-style games. Although the game is not the movie, it's thematically the same, and if you don't want to know more than you'd glean from a movie review, play the platforming single-player campaign after you go to the theater — excepting, of course, younger children, who are notorious for watching the same movies over and over again ad nauseam. At the movies, they won't care they've done and seen much of this before in the game.
The WALL-E experience in its PS3 incarnation consists of only two parts: the child-accessible single-player platformer, and simple, split-screen multiplayer games for the whole family, or a whole bunch of like-minded neighborhood kids. To start, the strictly offline multiplayer games: Aerial Arena, Stop the Clocks, Robot Tag and a mode that involves keeping control of a cube longer than your rivals, sort of loosely similar in spirit to a basketball team's offensive possession practice drills. Stop the Clocks is co-op rather than competitive; two players team up to shut off timed devices hidden around the mode's levels. In Robot Tag and Aerial Arena, if this were a game strictly for teens and adults, the objective would be to rack up kills to win the rounds on various maps. Since it's kid-friendly, the objective is more like "temporarily disabling" than "killing," although, as these are robots, and under most circumstances damage to robots can be repaired, perhaps "disabling" is a more suitable term than "killing" any way you cut it.
The multiplayer games are fun enough for two or more adults or older teens to play for a while; they're a blast to play with your younger children, who just about go nuts for them. The good news, too, is the multiplayer games aren't unlockable bonuses; they're just parts of the game accessible from the main menu right from the start. Anyone with young children will appreciate this design decision, as very young children don't have to comprehend all the goals of the single-player mission or have the dexterity to complete a slew of them to get at the included multiplayer games.
Frankly, the single-player campaign, in which you play as the titular WALL-E and, occasionally, as the advanced EVE-model reconnaissance robot, is about as much fun for adults as most other decent platformers available for PS3, and even back to PS2. It's a good, fun game mode. No, it does not look like the movie. The only thing I've ever seen graphically look even close to the "WALL-E" film are screenshots and teasers for sequels to AAA franchises that aren't due out for a year or more — and may turn out to be culled from pre-rendered scenes, anyway. The CGI work in the "WALL-E" movie, especially the Earth scenes in the first half of the movie, which lend themselves more to photorealism than the scenes taking place aboard the Axiom spacecraft, is truly beyond belief. It's a new level in computer-animated movies, certainly, and something like that is not going to make it over to a PS3 game.
However, to Heavy Iron's credit, the developers hardly skimp or dole out short shrift in the graphics department. Again, particularly in the Earth scenes, the game's graphics won't be an utter disappointment in comparison to the movie. Further, the character animations and audio work, as well as a soundtrack pulled from the movie and put to the same use of creating a melancholy, lonely effect around earthbound WALL-E, range from perfectly suitable to outstanding and captivating. Control is great, even for young children; my four-year-old did not become frustrated once, which is unusual for console games, even those targeted square at the super-junior set.
The principal theme of the single-player platform gameplay is that of the beginning and end of the movie, but as the film clocks in around 100 minutes and the game plays out somewhere over six hours, depending on how much of a completist you care to be. WALL-E and EVE can team up to tackle a fair amount of extra content, completing missions on other planets and the like. There are also bonus missions awarded by properly completing the main missions. A word on co-op play: WALL-E is promoted as having co-op play, and it does; but it's not co-op in the style of the Lego Star Wars titles — WALL-E co-op with another human player is limited to the aforementioned Stop the Clocks mini-game and some bonus missions.
In place of unlockable mini-games — which are, as mentioned, already unlocked — there is quite a bit of additional unlockable content, accessed by pick-ups, to reward meticulous players, including new sound effects straight from the movie, which you can trigger while playing the single-player game, the usual storyboards and behind-the-scenes sort of things, and extra character costumes accessible in the multiplayer mini-game modes.
Children in the target age range for the "WALL-E" movie will undoubtedly love this game, from the youngest in that demographic to the oldest. But the game is also quite enjoyable and good for adults, especially fans of "WALL-E" or Pixar movies in general. If you can't abide platforming games, you won't much like the core of WALL-E, but this would be true for you of most all good or great games in the platform genre. Otherwise, Heavy Iron delivers a game well worth owning and, at the risk of being trite in mentioning it, actually does justice to the original license when what seems a strong critical bias against movie tie-in games certainly isn't unearned. WALL-E is better than EA's quite good, yet more fan-centric, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tie-in title, and that's saying something.
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