"Then you encounter the second main area, Wilburís house. Itís a spacious structure with a garden, a library and even an underground rail system. As you perform mundane chores, you might think youíre just being introduced to the level hub. An hour later, youíll realize that Wilburís house is actually a stage made up of nothing but fetch quests."
Meet the Robinsons, according to early reports, is a good movie full of action and personality. Itís exactly the sort of license that practically demands a game, and thatís precisely what Disney Interactive Studios has provided. With authentic assets, artwork and voice samples available, what could possibly go wrong?
The game follows the exploits of Wilbur Robinson, a time-hopping free spirit who lives somewhere in the distant future. Though heís not supposed to, he sometimes borrows his dadís time machine and visits the past. Heís a rebel like that. As the game opens, Wilbur is inside an ancient Egyptian tomb snapping a picture of himself and a buried pharaoh. When he turns to leave, he accidentally triggers a trap. Thatís when you step in and guide him to safety.
Reaching safety means running along various ledges and hopping small chasms as the environment crumbles. There is no Ďjumpí button in the game. When Wilbur reaches a place the developers have designated as a leaping off point, he hops. Frustratingly, you canít always tell when heíll make like a kangaroo and when heíll just walk off the edge and dangle from it until you tell him to climb back up to solid ground. That setup prevents cheap deaths in bottomless pits, but itís a poor substitute for intuitive level design. Sometimes, youíll come across situations where youíre blocked from proceeding by a short rail that reaches Wilburís knees. Elsewhere, he can soar over massive gaps like someone stuck a rocket up his butt.
Such inconsistencies hardly matter in the introductory stage. Wilbur navigates a few simple gaps and then runs toward the screen while a massive statue falls and almost crushes him. He escapes shortly thereafter and chats with his robot pal before they return to the future. The cut scenes in Meet the Robinsons are enjoyable and the gameís one highlight, but theyíre too short. Itís disappointing when they end and you have to start playing again.
After the promising opener, that might not bother you much at first. Then you encounter the second main area, Wilburís house. Itís a spacious structure with a garden, a library and even an underground rail system. As you perform mundane chores, you might think youíre just being introduced to the level hub. An hour later, youíll realize that Wilburís house is actually a stage made up of nothing but fetch quests. As soon as you track someone down or locate an item, youíre rewarded by the opportunity to find another. Your patience is tested, not your skill.
If that tedium doesnít set your teeth to grinding, the play control soon will. Suppose Wilbur is running through a generic underground laboratory and basement (which he does once you finally finish farting around upstairs). As he works, you must constantly switch between the weapons assigned to the d-pad. Wilbur might need to scan an item one minute, then disassemble it the next before quickly switching to an electric shock beam to destroy a hostile robot. Some enemies even require a combination of two skills. The problem is that the Wii Remote just wasnít built for this kind of quick switching. My hands arenít very large, so I was constantly battling to swap skills on the fly. Since the Wii Remote controls the camera, too, sometimes that meant Iíd lose the enemy I was aiming at in the process.
That brings us to the gameís camera system, which youíll be battling for the gameís duration. When youíre running through gently curving hallways, thereís no reason to complain. When youíre battling numerous enemies on a platform, though, things get hairy. The developers included a lock-on skill so that you can focus on a single adversary, but it typically chooses the least critical object and is all but useless. The second or third time it targets a bit of shrubbery when a robotic ant is marching toward you and much closer, youíll see what I mean. Not only that, but you also strafe when locked in that mode. Sometimes youíll destroy the object or enemy in question but continue strafing, which means you canít see your remaining hazards. Even once you break free, the camera is slow to turn when you need to make quick adjustments. That gets old quickly.
Such issues arise even in the case of simple exploration At the point where youíre struggling with controls and the camera for about the millionth time while trying to push a crate into position, or to climb over a stack of crates, or to scan a crate to see if thereís anything special inside, or to break a rope that holds a crate aloft so that it can drop and destroy a beehive, youíll realize two things: the camera and controls are downright exasperating, and Meet the Robinson contains far too many crates. Itís almost like the developers got together and said ďHey, letís make this as generic as possible!Ē
Perhaps sensing the direction the gameís design was going, the developers added variety with a mini-game called chargeball. It takes place on one screen, with you on the bottom and your adversary at the top. Picture air hockey with barriers thrown into the mix. Ultimately, the person to fire a shot into his opponentís active goal wins, but you only win if all of your rivalís barriers are gone. Meanwhile, power-ups occasionally appear and bumpers repel your shots. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to get used to how the game works, and half that long to tire of it.
Of course, youíre going to have to get used to a lot of unpleasant things if you want to work your way through Meet the Robinsons. Unimaginative level design, poor controls and fetch quests arenít fun in other games, but you keep playing them because thereís the promise of something good in between. Here, thatís not true. From beginning to end, Meet the Robinsons reaches for the stars but never leaves the ground. Try the movie instead.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 29, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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