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Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: THQ


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PSP Review - 'WALL-E'

by Tom Baker on Oct. 6, 2008 @ 12:01 a.m. PDT

Players will take control of WALL-E and EVE through a fast-paced adventure based on the upcoming Disney/Pixar film. The game will allow fans to relive some of the movie’s most thrilling moments as they explore 10 worlds filled with non-stop action and adventure, along with head-to-head multiplayer challenges.

Genre: Platformer
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Heavy Iron Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2008

WALL-E on the PSP feels very much like the typical movie game tie-in, in that the actual story has been laid out and then chopped into pieces to determine which parts could be converted into a game. While this approach has left many games facedown in a puddle of their own failure, WALL-E has genuine charm, and even though there are some glaring faults in the gameplay, it's extremely playable.

The Axiom Corporation developed robots for the cleanup operation of Earth, which in recent years has overflowed with garbage. When the people of Earth decide to not live in their waste anymore and flee into space, the WALL-E robots are left behind, and thanks to a sandstorm, only one WALL-E robot remained behind to continue the cleanup operation. The game joins WALL-E after his 700 years in isolation, when a ship finally returns to check up on the planet.

The story is faithfully rendered, but it feels as if the gameplay elements are there to link the cinematics, rather than having any real value of their own. The whole point of this title seems to be to tell you the story and show you the film, in which case you could have gone to the movie theater and gotten a very similar experience for one-tenth of the price. It's not that staying true to the model of a movie tie-in is bad, but it makes the game feel rigid and less interested in the player and more interested in cramming more people into movie theaters. WALL-E for the PSP feels like a fan service, with the gameplay coming in a distant second to fitting the whole experience into a canonical context.

The gameplay isn't bad, but it feels ancillary to the game, which nearly always warrants a black mark in my book. As WALL-E, you will be asked to make your way through various puzzles mainly involving triggering switches, collecting items to open doors and jumps performed by half pipes, all of which are standard platforming fare but are presented very nicely and will keep you coming back for more. There are collectable bonuses throughout the levels, which seem to do nothing other than earn you a few extra points that you can use to unlock cheats or concept art. They are, however, accompanied by short clips of WALL-E discovering the use of these random objects of interest, which can be very funny and sweet enough to melt even the hardest of hearts, though they are clearly aimed at the younger gamer or those who have seen the film.

There's more to WALL-E than just platforming sequences, with races and timed mini-games to unlock certain doors, some of these can then be played as mini-games or in head-to-head modes. Ironically enough, these additions of the game, seemingly added to flesh out the rather Spartan single-player adventure, actually utilize the control system and the gameplay elements better than the main game.

The controls feel appallingly loose, with the analogue nub sliding every which way sometimes makes it near impossible to stay on the narrow walkways that seem to make up nearly all of the levels. WALL-E moves as if he's on ice, and the inability to move the camera in three dimensions makes the fiddly movement system that much worse. As WALL-E, you are equipped with a laser and a few other abilities, such as crouching and a weak jump that requires a ramp to be effective. This is a very simple but intuitive inventory of abilities, obviously aimed at younger gamers but showing the developers' attention at keeping the gameplay simple and clear. So often in games like this, the player is laden with enough munitions and abilities to wage a small war and make the protagonist character an unstoppable super-being. WALL-E, on the other hand, has been expertly characterized with an exceptional personality but average physical attributes. Any fans of the film will surely see themselves falling for WALL-E in this game as well.

The title can also be surprisingly fast-paced, not only in the racing segments but also in the platforming portions as you zip through tunnels, shoot boxes to lower cranes, and make split-second jumps that can feel remarkably fluid. The inability to move the camera in three dimensions can actually be a plus in keeping up the pace, instead of constantly asking the player to stop and look around every few seconds.

The multiplayer aspect mirrors the single-player segment in simplicity, and even though the racing and mini-games are fun for going head-to-head, this is a game best enjoyed in single-player, with the multiplayer aspect not forming an essential or relevant portion of the story or gameplay.

Graphically, WALL-E has put forward a solid effort; the levels are well-designed and accurately reflect areas of the movie, such as the barren wasteland of Earth or the high-tech spaceships of the Axiom Corporation. There are swirls of dust from the ground, and the paths are clear enough so that bad or blocky graphics are not going to obscure your objectives. There are a few clipping issues with invisible corners, but aside from these minor irritations, the levels come across as well-rendered and taken straight from the silver screen.

The character models are where WALL-E really shines. The little animations that are visible even in-game, such as a forlorn shrug of his shoulders or the mischievous expression on Eve's "face," make the characters far more empathetic and identifiable. This accomplishes the main purpose of the movie-game tie in, and that is the preservation of the movie's aesthetic. There is some slowdown when you are posed with multiple movement traps or a dust tornado, though surprisingly very little during the race stages, when there appears to be more going on at one time.

The sounds are all true to the movie, with WALL-E's voice providing comic relief and emotion to the various scenarios in which he finds himself. The music is a little repetitive, but it recreates the movie well, and there is a jukebox feature where you can play tracks that you unlock throughout the game. This masks the repetition of the main theme and makes the whole experience seem less generic and repetitive, a must considering the gameplay dynamic changes very little over the entire span of the game.

WALL-E for the PSP was never going to reach for the stars, but it presents an interesting addition to the movie, especially for younger gamers. There is some gameplay variety to an extent, the puzzles never really reach beyond preschool level, and the whole experience is simple but flows well. It's an above-average title, but a lack of innovation and overall style leaves this floating at the top of the immeasurable heap of dire movie tie-in games. The characters are endearing, but the gameplay flaws make WALL-E approachable only if you've seen and enjoyed the film.

Score: 7.0/10

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