Here we are in early June, and the first batch of summer blockbuster films are already upon us. Yet of the remaining blockbusters of the 2008 summer season, few have the same level of anticipation as WALL*E, the next animated film from Disney and Pixar. Like most Pixar films, WALL*E is bound to hit an emotional chord with adults and kids alike, even though it uses no real dialogue or words (it relies mostly on beeps and synthesized “ooohs” and “ahhhs” instead). Yet for the requisite video game tie-in, Disney and THQ are aiming rather clearly for one audience alone: the under-10 crowd. And with WALL*E The Video Game, they stand a good chance of hitting their mark.
As you’d expect from a movie tie-in, WALL*E The Video Game takes key scenes from the film and lets players wander around the corresponding environment to feel as though they are part of the film themselves. In the case of WALL*E, then, players explore everything from the desert-like landing pad and Earth-bound junkyard to a cavernous spaceship landing bay and the vastness of space itself.
These environments each lend themselves to different objectives, which has let the development team at THQ incorporate a bunch of different gameplay mechanics, from standard trigger-activating mazes and platforming fare with WALL*E to X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter-like shootouts with asteroids when playing as EVE (WALL*E’s love interest in the film). This diversity keeps the game relatively fresh throughout its nine levels, although several areas we played in our recent hands-on time with the Xbox 360 version felt a bit “forced,” almost as though they made better passive movie environments than interactive game ones.
For instance, in one level, WALL*E must pick up a variety of differently colored metal “hay bales” to achieve certain objectives like weighing down triggers with heavy blocks and repelling enemies with magnetized blocks. Mixing the blocks and their capabilities like this introduces a smidgen of strategy into the game, although not so much that the under-10 crowd will feel lost. On the other hand, one level in which players fly through space as EVE on an “escort mission” can lead to distinct feelings of being lost, even for older gamers. In the first scenario, the level and mechanics make total sense as a game, and they do a good job of fleshing out the in-movie world. But in the second scenario, the gameplay mechanics may work well enough, but they feel at times like the gameplay was jerry-rigged to fit a game rather than being a natural evolution of the movie’s scene.
It’s important to note, though, that it’s impossible for us to preview this sort of thing from the target audience’s perspective, because, well, we’re not 10 or younger. For that crowd, the seemingly forced gameplay may not be an issue at all.
In fact, it’s a safe bet that the multiplayer modes, which exist in the PS3 and Wii versions as well, will end up seeing more play time than any single-player element ever will. On the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of WALL*E, the multiplayer modes hinge largely on the four-player split-screen deathmatch modes. On the Wii, the multiplayer modes are decidedly more docile, including EVE Laser Training (a la House of the Dead), which makes great use of the Wii Remote.
On the Xbox 360, WALL*E The Video Game looks quite good, particularly considering THQ’s target demo is the sub-teen audience. Part of the reason is that Pixar let THQ use the actual movie geometry to create the normal maps that cover the in-game characters, although the real-time physics for WALL*E and his junk-metal blocks certainly add to the graphical “polish factor.”
Now, whether the entire package will add up to be a Pixar-worthy hit remains to be seen, but with the movie releasing in a few short weeks and THQ wrapping development on the game, we won’t have to wait long to learn the result. It’s safe to say WALL*E The Video Game isn’t going to hit the same breadth of consumers as WALL*E the movie, but THQ isn’t trying to achieve that, as they’re aiming for the younger spectrum of WALL*E fans. And from what we’ve played so far, the company’s has done an admirable job of capturing the essence of the film for just that crowd.