Review - Kristan continues his quest to play every platform game this year
Despite Sony's recent cracking line up of games, when Treasure Planet arrived in the office some months back, the second we saw the Disney license our cynicism got the better of us. It's not that we don't like Disney (who could?), it's just our experiences of the associated videogames have left us with nothing but the bad taste of license exploitation in our mouths (with the exception of the Square collaboration Kingdom Hearts, of course).
So a couple of months on, and the madness of Christmas out of the way, we decided that with the release date looming we should check it out. Then we saw the Bizarre Creations logo appear once we popped the disk in, and suddenly our attention was grabbed - after all, this is the same studio that brought us the delights of Project Gotham Racing. If only we'd have known this crucial fact from the start.
It's for kids
But even so - this is interactive merchandise, right? Surely Disney's meddling would ensure it could only appeal to five year olds who don't know any better? In fact, Sony's own promotional literature admits it is "aimed at the junior PlayStation 2 audience." Ulp.
The description hardly sounded promising: "A combination of platform exploration adventure and space flying game", or in other words another cutesy game where you collect coins and jump around a lot, biffing dimbo baddies around the chops occasionally, and fly about collecting coins.
Well, near enough. The game puts you in control of identikit Disney hero Jim Hawkins, a sort of Guybrush Threepwood without the charm or repartee, with his mimic pet Morph tagging along for the ride. As you'd expect, you get to meet characters featured in the movie, such as John Silver, Dr Doppler and B.E.N the robot, as well as traverse five "areas" of the galaxy: Montressor, the spaceport, Crescentia, the Legacy spaceship and eventually Treasure Planet itself.
Collect, jump, kill
Each area is broken down into three or more levels, with a number of familiar platform adventure objectives. The basics are the staple of any game in this overstocked genre - collect all the Drubloons (coins) and Green Energies, complete the energy ring race challenges and other more level specific tasks - and all the while tackling or avoiding the marauding smugglers, space police or whatever else that deems it necessary to get in your way. Every task you complete activates another navigational beacon, and this in turn helps unlock more levels. To begin with only one level is available, but as you complete tasks, it becomes apparent that there are a minimum amount of beacons you have to activate before you can visit other worlds.
In a level structure reminiscent of Ratchet & Clank the game allows you to progress without having to finish every single task - but sometimes being thorough is the only way. And thoroughness is essential if you're to stand a chance of getting anywhere in Treasure Planet. Breaking every barrel and scouring every nook is the way forward, and dying untold number of deaths is to be expected - but fortunately much of your progress is saved automatically in a Jak & Daxter style.
We say "much", but frustratingly while the game always keeps a track of how many Drubloons you've accumulated, it wipes the slate clean of Green Energy orbs, and when you've found nine out of the ten available, to find yourself having to go through the same tediously basic task over and over again is a positively old school approach, and frankly a daft design decision for a kid's game.
Elsewhere, the game has a few tricks up its sleeve, giving an assortment of temporary power ups, such as Cyborg Arms (to break otherwise impermeable objects), Jetpack (to get to those hard to reach areas), and the Helping Hand (to move switches or levers). It helps to break up the platform familiarity to an extent, but the means of dispatching your foes are embarrassingly basic - punch or a spin kick, or a combo of X (jump) and square for a diving attack.
As we said earlier, it's a "platform exploration adventure/space flying game", and it's the latter element that gave us the most fun, combining elements of Tony Hawk with futuristic racing, giving Jim a sort of mini Hover Yacht with which to cruise around with on several of the levels. The same collect 'em up element remains, but instead you're tasked with grinding rails, performing jumps with R1 and folding the sail down (to duck under low objects) with L1. The game almost becomes compelling during the energy ring races - in fact one of the levels had us hooked on that one task for over an hour, but the trick based challenges won't hold your attention for more than a few minutes.
Graphically it's hardly in the same league as the PS2's trio of platform classics (Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and as of this week, Sly Raccoon), but for a Disney title it's the best we've seen by a mile. The character art isn't bad at all, and the animation is full of Disney touches that finally make it look relatively faithful - albeit in a Pixar rendered style. One day a developer will be able to create a Disney game that actually looks like a Disney movie - rather than a video game with characters that look a bit like the real thing.
Sadly, the same amount of attention to detail hasn't been lavished on the surroundings and scenery. While they are by no means a disgrace, the lack of attention to detail in the distance is obvious when you've been playing a Sly Raccoon or R&C. When Jim falls into the abyss (which is regularly thanks to some less than forgiving camera angles and jump mechanics) he plunges into a blank blue space, giving it a feel of being somehow unfinished.
A naughty camera
Talking of camera angles - having just played the superbly polished Sly Raccoon, Treasure Planet is a jarring return to normality, with the game requiring you to manually dictate the viewpoint with the right stick - leading to endless situations where you're fiddling with the angle so you can stand a chance of not dying when you take that next (theoretically fairly easy) jump. As a game it's pretty straightforward in most respects, but being killed through a lame camera mechanic should be a punishable offence these days.
Treasure Planet sets out to be a kid's game, and at its core it succeeds. It's peppered with movie clips, has cute environments and well realised characters and easy to understand objectives, and even a soundtrack that deserves some credit. But overall, we can't help but feel that the difficulty level of certain sections could have been made a little more forgiving - and in many cases this is down to a dreadful camera design rather than anything genuinely challenging. As a Disney game it's the best one we've played (which isn't saying much), but ultimately in the context of other games in the genre, it's a long way down the pecking order - especially when you consider than all the recent Sony published platformers are perfect for kids already.