Rather plane to see.
Disney's Planes' video game is about what you expect it to be, which is to say that it's what you probably imagine a video game tie-in to a film that is a spin-off of a popular Pixar franchise developed by a different movie studio, just in time for kids to meet the film's release.
On the face of it, Disney's Planes for the Wii U is exactly like what you would expect from a movie tie-in game. Planes the movie was originally produced by Disney as a direct-to-video tie-in to Pixar's Cars franchise by DisneyToon Studios, an internal Disney studio that has produced mostly direct-to-video sequels and theatrical film spin-offs of TV shows. The film did so well in focus testing that it was upgraded to a theatrical release a couple years into its development. Most likely, a game was fast-tracked into production at that time by Disney Interactive.
Disney's Planes must have been a difficult IP to create a game for; the film includes flashback footage for one character based on World War II combat footage that may be one of the grimmest examples of violence in a Disney film ever, but it also targets a very young demographic. A fighter game wasn't feasible, we were told by devs at a preview event, which meant the game might have fallen back on the film's racing theme.
However, it didn't. Instead the game that was produced is a weird mishmash of the kind of story that "expands the characters" with incongruous missions that consist of half-baked racing levels that continue the theme of the film, an area exploration mode, and a balloon-popping mode. None of these modes feel quite developed enough to sustain much interest. It does what it intends to—amuse children who have enjoyed the film—but it soon loses its appeal.
One thing that Planes has in its favor is its effortless motion controls for both the Wii-mote and Wii U gamepad. The controls are simple and intuitive, and the gameplay is breezy and easy to pick up. Similarly, drop-in local co-op on the Wii U has an enjoyable casual feel to it. Pick up a Wii-Mote and start playing and the GamePad player's view immediately moves to the GamePad screen, allowing both players easy control of their respective plains. It's cooperative play as well, with the second player dropping in to assist the first.
Unfortunately, this doesn't make up for the bland content of the game, which is very easy even on the hardest setting. The story mode puts you in control of one of eight planes (in races it's ten) that are undergoing training by the Rusty's coach and hero, war veteran Skipper. Skipper gives you missions like blasting tornados and ferrying cows from one location to the other, that, while cute and serve to teach you the controls of the game, don't have much replay value. A bit better are the races, especially with the drop-in multiplayer, but in the single player they fail to add much challenge and are mostly good for picking different characters to hear sound bites from favorites, like El Chupacabra, the luchadore mask-wearing Mexican racer who spends much of the film trying to catch the eye of a sleek French plane, Rochelle.
Visually, Planes doesn't use the full capability of the Wii U and looks like an uprezzed version of the a Wii game. This isn't particularly that bad, considering the smooth, iconic look of the animation, but it's not exactly a point in its favor.
The game will appeal to small children, its target audience, and may provide an enjoyable multiplayer experience with parents who want to help their kids achieve the game's goals. However, for a game that had the potential to be a fun racer (consider the flying sections of Sega's karting game, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed), it's bland and feels like it was thrown together to meet the release date.