Flashback to the future.
It doesn’t happen terribly often, but I just love it when the handheld version of a multi-platform video game manages to somehow upstage its larger-console siblings. (A different developer can help. ~Ed.) Sometimes it happens when what is essentially the handheld port of an existing game gets some spiffy new features, as was the case with the PSP title Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. Other times, the handheld version in question simply follows a different gameplay approach altogether.
[image1]Case In Point: THQ’s WALL-E for the DS. It eschews the cinematically peppered action-platformer spin of its PS3/360/PS2 big brothers for a very straightforward environmental-puzzle approach. It’s not going to rock anyone’s gaming world, but it’s well-designed, low-key, consistently clever little puzzler.
Following the story flow of the movie, WALL-E puts players in the can-do tank treads of the titular robotic hero, using what is pretty much his only real forte—compacted cubes of discarded detritus—to solve environmental puzzles to proceed to the next area. WALL-E can roll about the labyrinthine environs, pick up said cubes, throw them short or long distances, deliberately bash them into the ground… and that’s pretty much it.
His simple range of possible actions, however, goes a long way. For example, WALL-E can roll into some disused construction site, compact some trash into a cube, throw the cube across an impassible crevice to activate a switch that powers an industrial-strength piston powerful enough to slam poor little WALL-E up a ramp and onto the opposite side of the aforementioned crevice. In addition to regular cubes of compacted junk, he can also manipulate magnetic and explosive trash-cubes that have unique applications.
[image2]Other environmental devices and hazards include fast-moving conveyor belts, inclined planes for use in conjunction with magnets and explosives, and power switches that may be out of conventional reach or situated in less-than plain sight. The DS’s left and right shoulder buttons control the camera, so it’s always easy to get a good rotational look at your situation.
The puzzles are by no means mind-breakers, but they’re often strung together in staged combinations, obliging WALL-E to schlep or throw the proper cube types to more distant areas or to use them in indirect ways. One oversized piston, for example, is situated to knock whatever’s in front of it across a gap, but there’s no suitable landing-zone for WALL-E on the other side—it’s just a wall-sized switch, with no safe place to land after it’s activated. And if WALL-E manages to fall off the edge of the pit, his progress through the puzzle at hand is reset to the point where our hero rolled into the current area. In this example, it’s possible to place a cube in front of the piston, as impromptu ‘ammunition’ to activate the switch.
There are also portions of the game where you’ll get to fly around as the sleek EVE. They’re brief welcome breaks from the bits with WALL-E, who, let’s face it, is designed from the drawing board to move around like a garbage box on tank treads. It’s not his fault.
[image3]The game has a simple, flat-shaded visual style (anybody remember Flashback or Heart of Darkness?). Despite its simplicity, Wall-E has pleasantly fluid animations both in the occasional cut-scenes and throughout gameplay in general. The music is nothing to write home about, but the ambient electromechanical environmental noises, the whirring of WALL-E’s treads, and ‘voices’ of the characters are crisply rendered. You can even collect hidden tokens that yield pics from the game and the movie – a nice touch.
All in all, it’s a simple but elegant little package, just low-key and clever enough for regular gamers, with puzzle challenges that aren’t out of the ‘bot-claw grasp of younger fans of the movie.