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Planet Crashers - 3DS Download Review

Game Info
Planet Crashers

3DS Download | Ignition Entertainment / Renegade Kid | 1-2 Players (local multiplayer/online versus) | Out Now | $9.99 / £9.00
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27th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

I don't know about you, but the invitation to take up residence in some far corner of outer space is one that I would respond to in an instant. Thankfully, that's exactly what Planet Crashers holds out to aspiring travellers; the idea of a universe where RPG elements and customization come together to create a fighting-style structure. Of course, despite my initial rush to action, it would be the course of wisdom to at least brush up on the culture of the destination you're seeking to start a new life in. In terms familiar to us less fortunate Earth dwellers, travel brochures can be useful for that very purpose. However, they can, at times, exaggerate the elegance of a hotspot and isolate attractions that are only attractive in theory. Had I known ahead of time what sort of a trip I'd be in for, I would have decided against making the trip in the first place. Planet Crashers is, honestly speaking, a place you do not want to be trapped in. Its effectiveness both as a concept and a final product is choked to an unsettling degree by problems so bothersome that I was thrilled when it was all over.

    Before doing anything, you must first set out to define who you are under the game's character creator. Using a small sampling of props and facial features, you can name and dress up your character for play. As you step into his or her shoes, you will learn about a plot hatched against the inhabitants of the game world. With not much to go on besides what little you're told by a nerdy jester, you pick up your feet and proceed to complete tasks so you can depart from your starting point and venture off to other planets. Right from the get-go, the design is one that gives a measure of free rein over where to go, but doing so in a direction-less way that will bring about confusion as to where to get started. As you get your feet wet by making your way to the first dungeon, you will be on your way towards going along with the game flow as it leads you on through the completion of quests.

    The nature of these quests, principally made available from the Quest Board, involve making deliveries, fighting troublemakers, recovering lost trinkets, and that sort of deal. Each dungeon has a map spread out on the Touch Screen with icons to indicate the location of quest-specific and standard items. The navigation of each dungeon is always pretty basic with open areas of each floor being susceptible to the presence of enemies, while narrow passages that regularly appear in-between offer breathing space as enemy-free zones. The dungeon crawling is really basic and there are neither obstacles nor surprises to be had aside from the usual supply of enemies. Making contact with an enemy will trigger a turn-based battle sequence where you will see the core RPG element take form. Four different selections can be made from the battle menu: Skills, Items, Swap, and Escape. At the start, you'll only have the Strike ability, but by completing tasks for NPC's populating the different planets, you can not only earn new moves but also gain access to new weapons as well. Items in this game grant temporary status effects or the restoration of health and can be found either for free inside the dungeons you explore, or at shops for a reasonable fee. As for the last two options, Swap has you spending a turn to switch which weapon and four abilities are available for use in the current battle, while Escape will allow you to flee at a cost that will vary depending on what is in your possession at the time.

Getting back to the battle system itself, though, it can be said that it bears the same qualities as the dungeon-crawling in that it has a casual air to it. Your character has three main attributes that will affect the degree to which they are successful in battle: Strength, Defense, and Speed. Once you build up enough experience points for a level-up, provisions will be made for you to improve one or two of these attributes, gradually making you a stronger opponent. With all skills, you have the ability to time presses of the A Button as your character is delivering blows to deal even more damage. However, a small number of them have slight variations on the same attack to keep you on your toes a bit with respect to the changing timing windows. But otherwise, that's about all the depth there is to be had with the system.

    Attacks will often inflict the same damage almost regardless of who you're facing, with the only real point of differentiation being the weapon choice; and even then, some attacks do the exact same damage as when a weapon isn't in use. One other thing worth pointing out is that a timer has been enforced presumably to keep things moving in the case of an online battle -- something the game does allow support for. However, there is absolutely no reason why this should be forced upon players within the single-player environment. The timer even keeps going when you put your system in Sleep Mode, so I didn't quite understand their reasons for doing this at all. 

    Stepping into the game world and attempting to immerse yourself in the experience, Planet Crashers shows itself to be somewhat rough around the edges in the department of presentation. In terms of how the planets are decorated, everything is pretty ordinary-looking, with craters, buildings, and the occasional booth being standard sights. But there's an overall bland feel that characterizes everything. It gets a bit better as you progress to other planets, as you'll spot such things as candy canes, lava, and mist being used to give each dungeon and the outer environments a bit of life. But instead of doing just that, it only serves as a reminder of the game's lack of a unique personality. On a related point, the music is the kind that you'd expect from a game that already shows itself to be very generic in other capacities. What you might not expect is how quickly it becomes an annoyance. It got to a point where I had to put on music of my own just to get through it all, even as new songs were introduced in later levels I visited. Other points of consideration relating to the subject of presentation include lame dialogue, somewhat light customization aspects, and 3D usage that adds virtually nothing the experience. 

At this point in the review, I have gone through the core make-up of the game and have already brought forth a few concerns relating to how the game is set up. However, there is still yet more to consider; namely, what it is that Planet Crashers does so wrong. To begin with, let's get back to the quest system as that is, after all, what Planet Crashers is all about. Just to reiterate: you can add mission objectives to your Quest Log either by heading to the Quest Board or by speaking with some of the NPC's found on the planets you visit. Now, when you complete a task, one of two things will happen: either you'll be instantly teleported back to the place or person you got it from, or you'll be told to head all the way back up to the surface by means of backtracking -- and yes, that applies even when you're three floors deep into a dungeon. As if that wasn't annoying enough, there will be times where the quest you're asked to complete isn't on the same planet as the one where the quest-giver is. So then it becomes a matter of doing even more backtracking to find the one person you may not even remember because of having multiple quests in your log at one time. It doesn't help, too, that some of the NPC's look the same, which in itself is a reflection of the limited customization present in the game.

    This entire ordeal is at times comparable to a wild goose chase, and it would've been so much less headache if the developers just made it so that you would automatically warp back at the completion of every quest, not just some. Just as silly is what happens after this point. Every time you complete a quest, you are sent straight home to rest, as if you were a child who could be exposed to the sunlight only for a fraction of the day. Even if you get a Game Over in a dungeon and have the quest item on you as you're sent back home, if you then go to the board to confirm the completion of the quest, you'll still be forced to head home. I can understand why you'd want to have a rest if you emerged from a dungeon with barely any health left, but for the game to coddle you this way is just stupid. The biggest point of irony is that in all other aspects, the game barely lifts a finger in trying to help you along in a sensible way. To get a better idea of what I'm getting at, I'd like to address the game's experience point system in more detail. Since the game does rely on this to grant you access to other planets and offer certain quests, there is some existing pressure for everything to be in working order. Unfortunately, Planet Crashers uses a manner of pacing that for a number of reasons isn't at all good, and this is made even worse because of the overall structure. How so? Consider the following true scenarios.

At the very beginning of the experience, already being in a confused state over where to go first, you decide to take up a quest in one of the first available dungeons. You're thinking to yourself that the skills you're given at the start will help you get through the initial batch of weaker enemies. Little do you know that the opponents are quite ruthless, even with you being on Level 1. As luck would have it, you come up against an enemy with a little over 100 HP who can do roughly 40 Points in damage without breaking a sweat. You, on the other hand, can barely reach that number, so of course the odds are against you. This leads to a situation where you are first relying heavily on items just to make it through, again, the introductory set of tasks. Unfortunately, items you count on to up your defenses seem to produce no help whatsoever, so healing items behave as your lifeline for much of the early part of the game.

    Eventually, you manage to defeat the guy and are excited about the rewards you'll earn, only to find that you're given a mere 10 experience points. The realization that you have to work at an anxious pace just to get to the next level when you're already at a disadvantage is not only unfortunate, it's also very discouraging. After dealing with a series of frustrating circumstances over not being able to hold your own, you slowly but surely get to Level 4 when you can then defeat the same opponent in a single blow. And yet, you're strangely given the same amount of experience points. What gives? Wouldn't it have made sense to distribute more experience points to players just starting out? Later on, as you continue to climb the ranks, you observe how some quests award a paltry two points of experience. You could earn more from defeating the weakest enemy on the food chain! I think you get the idea.

    What all this illustrates is that Planet Crashers has no clue what balanced gameplay means. In fact, the situation is so inhibiting that once you unlock your first new destination, you still have to stick around on the first planet for the sole purpose of grinding, just so you can put yourself on an adequate level with the enemies seen elsewhere. The pace at the very start is such an unfriendly turn-off to beginners that it might deter you from making progress entirely, and unfortunately, I can't say the situation improves as you get further into it. You don't have to go to a whole other planet to find this out for yourself, though. While still on the very first world, you'll quickly discover how much more frustrating things can get. It's bad enough that enemies can cream you right from the get-go, but when you finally get a system going and start to break free from the bad nature of the early pacing, defeats become even more crushing when you have a lot to lose. When you're defeated in battle, you not only lose half of the Gold Pieces you've acquired, but also a considerable chunk of one or more items you've gathered. It's not even like it's junk that gets taken away from you; it's valuable stuff! And when you're already struggling to hold on to your inventory and trying to make the best of an unwelcome situation, losing over 1,000 Gold Pieces and nine large potions is such a downer.

Adding even more evidence towards the game's lack of comprehension on what balance means, you will find that once you start to get some of the more powerful weapons, the pace and tone of the game will almost entirely go to the other extreme. Now enemies become too easy as they can be defeated in one, maybe two moves. There is one skill in particular that can do close to 1,000 Points in damage if you get all the button presses right, so by this point, there is no challenge to be derived from defeating enemies that once pulverized you not too long ago. All of these situations stemming from the way battles are structured are really problematic, and it is something that can show up on the player's face. At no point are you smiling through all of this; either you're frowning in upset over being unable to make reasonable amounts of progress, or you're just indifferent because everything feels so mundane. There is absolutely no middle ground, and that is a key reason why Planet Crashers fails to satisfy in its execution of gameplay.

    To add insult to injury, the truly underwhelming extension of the contained concept develops into a situation where you feel like there's barely a concept at all. Honestly, by the two-hour mark, I had a strong suspicion that the remainder of the experience would just amount to a rehashing of the same acceptance of quests, with problems in tow. I should have quit while I was ahead instead of spending the just under nine hours it took to beat the entire game. When I think of what I had envisioned Planet Crashers to be and what it was presented as prior to me coming into this, the contrasting truth of this game's actual existence becomes all the more painful. It's almost like Planet Crashers is off in its own little world, self-absorbed with an unwillingness to change. The entire setup of a created universe through which interactions are made manifest principally through the completion of quests is, truthfully, nothing more than an illusion. The game's totally unimaginative design borders on being old-fashioned in the way that it relies on lazy techniques to extend what really is a poorly-structured experience. You find out fairly quickly that Planet Crashers develops into a severely monotonous grind where the repetition never eases up. It is by means of this that the team has amped up what is purely a thin structure that borders on redundancy and most definitely reaches bothersome manners of repetition through lousy build-up and balancing of elements.

    As I said before, the game includes an online mode (along with an option for local battles) where a simple lobby system is used for turn-based battles. Aside from several repeating connection issues that prevented me from getting anything to happen, I was indeed able to get a few rounds going with some random opponents. However, I did catch on to the fact that there's no separation of stronger opponents versus weaker ones, so in a way that is comparable to how the solo experience is, whoever has the upper hand can take an easy win. And then, if it's a matter of two strong opponents facing each other, since you can take items with you into battle, there's nothing stopping you from maxing out your item supplies and stretching battles longer than they need to be. So in reality, the online mode doesn't generate a great deal of replay value for the game, and considering all that has been said on the game's design, this really isn't an environment you want to be around any longer than is necessary.

    Frankly, Planet Crashers is really done in by some serious issues relating to its design. The direction is poor, the gameplay is uninteresting and extremely repetitive, there's barely any sense of balance, and there are further discrepancies to be had with the game's structure. It's a really tacky space to be spending your time in as it is before you even factor in that it is also wrought with boredom and a lack of purposeful progression. $10 can go a long way towards games that are much better designed and will provide genuine enjoyment. Don't waste your money here.  

12/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 4/10 - Basic and unimaginative systems, serious balance and pace issues, faulty and inconsistent design choices, poor structure and direction
Presentation 5/10 - Very ordinary and bland, lacks a strong personality and comes across as very generic, repetitive and annoying music, pointless 3D
Enjoyment 1/5 - Either frustrating or really boring, no middle ground, becomes such a turn-off due to the structural flaws and the repetition
Extra Content 2/5 - Content is there for an eight-to-ten hour experience, online and local multiplayer options present, a waste of $10

Equivalent to a score of 40% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Planet Crashers
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