Disney Planes ReviewJason Venter
This is the part of my review where I confess that I never watched "Disney Planes," the movie on which this game is based. It came and went and I only just barely noticed it even existed. However, the same cannot be said of the game. It arrived in stores and the packaging immediately caught my eye. "Someday," I said to myself, "I will play that one." And then I did.
Disney Planes the game appears to be a pseudo-sequel to the events depicted in the movie, which I know because I read through what I assume is an excellent plot summary on Wikipedia. Numerous characters from the film are playable, including Dusty Crophopper (the film's main protagonist), Skipper Riley, Ishani, El Chupacabra, and others. Players control the various planes on a series of missions that highlight the enmity between Dusty and his theatrical nemesis, Ripslinger.
I'm not sure how much of the voice talent from the film's impressive roster provides lines here in the game, but as I played, I thought I heard John Cleese. The developers at Behaviour Interactive either got a lot of big names to pitch in, or they found some skilled sound-alikes. Each plane is imbued with a distinct ethnic personality that comes through in their few spoken lines, which I'm sure will come across to some as stereotypical and perhaps even mildly offensive. Kids will probably love it, though, and they're certain to appreciate the vibrant visuals that decorate each expansive locale. I wouldn't call the game brain food or anything like that, but it's a generally pleasant retreat from the stresses of the real world.
Most of us have at some point dreamed of flying, I think, and Disney Planes is remarkably good at capturing the sense of freedom that makes that mode of transportation so very appealing. From one mission to the next, you'll swoop and soar, speeding through narrow canyons and passing underneath bridges and through tunnels. Each plane is remarkably responsive, capable of performing barrel rolls and aerial dives. At times, they feel almost too nimble, but you can adjust the sensitivity from the pause menuâ€¦ or just get used to it like I did.
Environments are loaded with attractions, besides just the basic architecture. You can often crash through piles of barrels, or rip through banners and kites for extra points. Missions, though sadly quite repetitive, often find you taxying "pitties" from one location to another, or grabbing a power-up that allows you to eliminate obstacles that are causing problems. Excluding missions that expect you to compete in a race, the challenges here offer only the occasional time restriction, which leaves you to explore the available areas as you see fit.
Perhaps because it is developed especially for a young audience, Disney Planes offers relatively little that will challenge anyone. An attempt at most missions is virtually guaranteed to meet with eventual success, which gradually unlocks additional stages. However, there are four possible ranks--each accompanied by a medal--and earning top honors can actually prove quite the challenge until you get used to bashing through destructible elements in a given region to load up on easy points. This is a good way to ensure that players of all ages can remain engaged, whether they appreciate difficulty or not.
Besides the Story mode, there are a few other attractions: Free Flight, Air Rallies, and Balloon Pop. Each of these events takes advantage of the same arenas that you will explore while completing the main game, and they play out about as you might expect based on the names. However, you'll have to unlock venues within them by finding success in the main mode. I couldn't be sure if the number of Platinum and Gold medals determines what you access when, or if it is all based on your level (called "Wing Rank"), but my guess is the latter.
Worth noting also is the game's approach to multi-player. You can fly either alone or with a friend. The first player uses the gamepad, which is how I controlled the planes. A second player can use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, with the d-pad performing the aerial maneuvers that are otherwise accomplished with the gamepad's right analog stick. This is a very nice touch, and should appeal to parents who want to play games with their kids, or who want their two young ones to do something together for a change.
Finishing the Story mode took me around four or five hours of relaxed play, and I got better as I went. The initially touchy controls do become rather comfortable (plus you can adjust them, like I said), and the mission objectives are easy to understand, even though they are a bit too repetitive for their own good. The extra modes are a good way to keep going if you want more of the same, which I suspect young kids or digital flight enthusiasts may, but I was ready to move onto other things by the time the credits rolled.
Ultimately, what you find here isn't a stellar title, but it still does a better than average job of capturing the joy of flight in video game form. The bright visuals and lack of obvious pop-in mean the expansive environments are a joy to explore, even if the objectives players must complete to suggest are a tad on the tedious side. Extra modes and options for local multi-player round out the package nicely, earning it an easy recommendation if you can find it for a good price and you have young ones at home who are looking for something a little different. It never quite soars, but Disney Planes is certainly worth a look.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.