Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2008
M-O is annoyingly awesome. It takes a lot of persistence to make a character badass, especially someone who's a midget compared to a cast that already consists of foot-tall robots, but somehow, the little scrubber robot pulls it off. It's a little confusing as to why this is the thing I most recall about the "WALL-E" movie, although as a whole, the film was incredible and once again shows Pixar's mastery of animation. Now, "WALL-E" wasn't precisely an action film, so how do you make a video game out of it? THQ's solution is to take the movie's plot and modify it — often in highly odd ways that produce a result that is strange for the movie, even as it manages to be similar in so many critical ways.
The basic premise of WALL-E remains much the same: The main character is still the little trash-compacting robot that has been at his work for over 700 years. He finds EVE, the destructive feminine robot who seeks evidence of plant life on Earth. He likes EVE, and WALL-E follows along when she is taken to the starship Axiom. Things explode from there — in some cases quite literally, unlike the movie. (To be fair, it was entertainingly cool to have WALL-E take EVE's arm from a maintenance robot and figure out how to use its blaster almost immediately.) The resulting gameplay is much longer than the movie, although it ends up using most of the plot.
As in so many licensed titles, gameplay in WALL-E is several distinct basic genres put together. When you're playing as WALL-E, it's a platforming and puzzle game, with only trash cubes he can collect from Buy-N-Large vending machines as defense against any of the varied enemies; he can also change into a cube as a defense mechanism. There are a few control oddities, such as the ability to have a third-person over-the-shoulder camera mode and a first-person mode that both seem superfluous, but the basics are all pretty much the same as what you'll find in every other licensed platformer.
EVE gets a little more creative. She can fly, so her levels are in pretty thorough 3-D from a gameplay standpoint, with lots of nooks and crannies to search through. Some rail shooter areas mix free-flying, yet surprisingly, her levels tend to be quieter than WALL-E's. Outside of the rail areas, there are few things to shoot and lots of things to move around, making exploration much of the joy of the level. Unfortunately, her levels tend to be too small to be fully appreciated for their beauty, and once you clear any rail shooter segment once, you cannot repeat it even if you want to, without repeating the entire stage. You'd better not miss any bonus items the first time!
EVE and WALL-E also get to team up every so often, which allows WALL-E to get a lift from EVE for limited periods of time, and also offers him cover fire as he solves otherwise similar block-oriented puzzles. (Just keep in mind, EVE has essentially no AI — the player effectively and intuitively controls her at the same time, since she follows WALL-E and shoots in the direction he's facing).
A more significant variation comes when WALL-E finally starts packing heat. Technically, he's packing EVE's arm, but at this point, the game becomes a full-on third-person shooter. This is where the odd camera controls from the platforming sequences pop up again.
Out of the four modes of play, only EVE's mode is anything other than "same as WALL-E solo mode and a few more buttons." The result is that the control schemes, while intuitive enough, are at times ludicrously suboptimal for the tasks set before you. It quickly becomes an exercise in eternally holding a shoulder button, which should never be part of a game's design. Enemies come from every direction, and they have an affinity for suddenly showing up behind you.
The graphics in WALL-E X360 also kind of suffer. It's very clear that Heavy Iron Studios made them with downsampling in mind, so that they could be easily ported to the PS2, PSP and Wii versions. (I'm not so sure about the Nintendo DS, since that usually mandates entirely different development anyway.) The resulting graphics superficially remind of the movie, but with the inevitable and exceptional loss of detail, gritty environments become a little too clean to feel like the film. The sound, on the other hand, mixes tracks from the film into a solid soundtrack, and uses just the right balance of voice clips from the movie to avoid repetition. Unintelligible bleeps and bloops that happen to be clips from the source are just a lot less annoying than ones that an English-speaking human can easily understand.
WALL-E's greatest strength is in taking this relatively limited presentation and playing through it for laughs. The enemies you face after you reach the Axiom are the same security robots from the film, and if you have to kill a specific one to advance, it will have a giant green key on its face. The ads on the walls and played in the air around you somehow are even more ludicrously consumerist than those in the movie. WALL-E's bumbling tendencies are played up during levels and in cut scenes (the scene where he first picks up EVE's arm takes a classic joke and manages to bring a new level of effectiveness to it). Just like the movie, WALL-E is naturally and effectively hilarious to most any viewer.
The multiplayer modes are also surprisingly robust; you get all three of them right off, and can unlock levels in them by clearing through the main game. The generic deathmatch sensibilities of Robot Tag and Aerial Arena are not innovative enough to take the reins away from Team Fortress 2, but are very fun and kid-friendly. More interesting in my point of view, though, was the co-operative Stop The Clock mode, where players work together to find, well, clocks around modified versions of the game's standard levels — surprisingly rather challenging and requiring a fair semblance of teamwork to complete. The resulting multiplayer will extend the game excellently in the eyes of your average target players.
It's hard to say that the video game of WALL-E is disappointing; as August March noted in his review of the PlayStation 3 version of this game, the relatively high quality of the game is a major piece of Disney's marketing strategy to keep up demand through the Christmas season. However, while I wouldn't recommend it to anyone except kids (or their parents), in part because of the rather subpar control scheme, at least the older brother who has to watch or play along isn't going to be completely annoyed at the game's quality level. He may even find it fairly likeable on its own merits. A revolution in gaming WALL-E is not, but as a game that I wouldn't object to selling to a kid in the slightest? Oh, absolutely!
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