When you start Planet 51, you are greeted to a tutorial where your Mum teaches you (Lem) to drive. She steers while you dodge the car with the touch screen. Doing so is extremely uncontrollable and you'll likely crash 51 times until the tutorial finishes. The really odd thing...this badly-controlled tutorial has nothing to do with the actualgame's controls, and (luckily) only re-appears in one future mission.
So, instead of a badly-controlled version of those LCD racing gamesMcDonalds put in their Happy Meals, you get a "free-roaming" mission-based game. While control has been restored to the D-Pad and buttons, they still aren't much more responsive. A and B are used to accelerate and break, while X is a fairly pointless jump button and Y is used as a context-sensitive button, which you'll often need to use while still accelerating - using A and Y together is extremely uncomfortable and the best solution is to play the game with two fingers on the face buttons.
Once you haven't gotten used to the bad steering and uncomfortable buttons, it's time for the missions. These involve driving slowly from Point A to Point B, a slow race, a slow demolition derby and a terrible version of Paperboy. These are introduced by just a few stills and one or two sentences, which are used to "further" the "plot". Unlike the Wii version it all takes place in vehicles so you'll barely notice your character. To "aid" you around the game world it a Crazy Taxi arrow, although it's more "crazy" than "taxi" and it's wild nature and hatred for shortcuts will be the main cause of mission failures throughout the game. The developers seemed to think that a map on the bottom screen would be too confusing, so they left it mostly blank.
What this game basically consists of is the joy of driving from point to point (often with a fairly strict time limit) in uninteresting vehicles. Apart from 4 or 6 short missions that utilise the other slightly different forms of gameplay the only variation is when the game decides that it'll be fun to give you a mission in a car with broken steering, even though it was bad enough in the first place. There's also a police system, and if you alert them (by crashing into them or are seen crashing into other cars a few times) then they'll chase you and shoot you with a ray. You can try to avoid them, but as the only option throughout most of the game is "drive slowly forward" it's best to ignore them - they do barely any damage anyway.
There are no side quests other than purchasing stickers and comic book panels, but this isn't even done in the main game - to access them you'll have to quit to the main menu. Which gives you no reason to explore the map as there is only one mission open up at any time, therefore negating any need for the open-world setting in the first place. Not that it's really that open-world in the first place. The game takes place in three areas which aren't connected and have no reason to go back to once you've reach the next one. The first two are essentially circular roads with a couple of side-roads. The last one is a desert track. The amount of design work that went into the maps is about the same as designing three courses for a tie-in kart game.
The graphics, while 3D, are devoid of life and are badly put together. In some areas you can clearly see small black holes in the ground where the model of the road and roadside don't meet which will cause eye strain after a short amount of time; and some obstacles that have more than enough space for a car will have an invisible wall blocking passage. The music is also dull and repetitive and no thought have gone into the sound effects. Which should have been easy to do, considering it's based on the kid's film and they should have loads of sounds from the film at their disposal.
To all parents who may be reading this: stay well away from this game. There is nothing here that kids will like, and it will likely cause frustration due to the strict time limits, bad controls and wild navigation arrow. It's not often that you can say this, but this game would likely be much more fun if they had made a bad Mario Kart clone instead.
Reviewed by Dean Jones at N-Europe.com