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E.T. Interplanetary Mission
Score: 50%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: NewKidCo
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
With two E.T. games on shelves right now, NewKidCo should expect comparisons. Since this release, subtitled Interplanetary Mission, appears on PlayStation, my expectation was that it would be at least as good if not better than the Game Boy Color release. Apparently, developers make all the difference. Where the GBC release was a solid Puzzle game with some interesting challenges for young gamers, Interplanetary Mission has little to offer.

Playing E.T. in a 3D world would be an exciting prospect but for the weak graphics that fill every minute of this game. It's not even that any one moment is so awful, but just that the game doesn't progress anywhere visually. Each level seems like the last one with a new 'skin' mapped onto the same floorplan. If you can make it through the first set of missions, E.T. does explore areas with snow, city landscapes and desert. But coloring a maze brown and calling it a desert doesn't do much for me. The sound is equally bland, bordering on annoying. E.T. has about 2 or 3 stock exclamations that he uses constantly. Cute for times 1 and 2, but maddening after time 25 or 57! Plus, the enemies and environmental sounds are also on a permanent loop, which doesn't help. In part or whole, Interplanetary Mission underwhelms with its presentation.

Interplanetary Mission takes place after E.T. escapes from Earth, so it really has nothing to do with the movie. Using his special powers (?) E.T. is drafted to save the Universe by journeying through different worlds and gathering plant specimens. He first heals the plants he finds and then collects them, but we're never told why the plants are sick or why he has to collect them. Really, the gameplay here is a combination of Action and Puzzle, but very light on the Puzzle side. Levels are set up in maze form, and doors or gates often need to be unlocked to permit access to areas. Enemies are scattered through each level, a mix of animals and government agents. Somehow, these agents must be vestiges of the movie, but it's hard to identify the robed, magic-using, mage characters that attack E.T. as government agents. Apart from his healing power, which is only effective on the plants, E.T. has the ability to use Telekinesis (that's the ability to move and levitate objects with the mind) and a Heart Stun. The Telekinesis is not an offensive weapon, and is used just to gain access to out-of-reach plants or power-ups and solve some 'weighted switch' puzzles. The Heart Stun is very unlike the E.T. we know and love, since it basically works as a blaster to freeze some enemies and turn others into mushroom power-ups. E.T. uses the little mushroom powerups to regain health. I wasn't especially fond of the Heart Stun, since the whole idea of E.T. fighting enemies is silly at best and offensive at worst, given the peaceful nature of the little alien. E.T. luckily has the power to Run Away, which he uses quite often when beset by more powerful enemies.

I'm sure all this gameplay looked fine on paper, but it's terribly unbalanced and highly repetitive. One example is the health meter, which E.T. replenishes one mushroom at a time by gathering up to 99. When he comes across an enemy and gets in a tangle, he loses health by about 1/3 each time. Brushing up against a larger enemy more than once or twice causes E.T. to lose a life, and after you've lost 40 or 50 mushrooms it takes forever to gather them back. There are some nice ideas for puzzles, but all of them are beaten to death by repetition and lose ground to the running and stunning E.T. seems to do a lot of in every level. Moving through the levels is often hindered by some bad control issues, and falling off bridges or getting stuck behind walls or on corners makes things even less fun.

This is the kind of game where you reach the end of the level and think something must be wrong since you can't discern that you've accomplished anything and don't really have any sense of completion. The objective of gathering plants is all this game has going for it, and apart from some fast, deadly enemies and half-hearted puzzles, nothing feels challenging and certainly not rewarding. Kids will spend more time trying to understand what they should be doing than actually enjoying the puzzles, and most puzzles feel half-baked anyway. The most challenging aspect of Interplanetary Mission is running away from enemies, and quirks in the game's engine make this a complete and total drag. So much for E.T. the action hero...

Game Mechanics:
All of Interplanetary Mission is played on a slanted 3D perspective, similar to some of the RPG interfaces like Xenogears, except you can't rotate the screen around E.T. One of the reasons rotation like this always helps is in being able to see more around you. Some attempt was made to let sound effects clue us in to the fact that enemies were lurking near, but it doesn't make up for the feeling that you're always hemmed in visually. Even the ability to view a map or see an expanded view of the playing area would have helped. Everything is just way too uniform. AI ranges from strange to laughable, and one particularly funny part is watching enemies chase after you and then just bump into walls between you and them until you move. The loops these bad guys are on are pitifully small, and they don't exhibit one shred of actual intelligence. Which is not to say they can't lay you low. When E.T. is attacked and has to run away, everything in the environments seems to work against him. Many times, you'll get stuck behind a wall, out of view and unable to find a doorway entrance, even though you can see the door. Obstacles cause you to fall behind but don't seem to slow attackers, and once the chase is on, there's usually a 70 percent chance or better that E.T. is going down. The Heart Stun doesn't do more than slow the bigger enemies, and aiming it at all is an imprecise task. Control should be smooth as silk with the easy interface designed for the game. Control on the D-Pad and special moves mapped to top buttons is all we have, and the R2 button to run. Analog and vibration are built in, but analog doesn't appear to hold any real advantage.

PS2: The Fast/Smooth settings don't do much to improve the look of the game, and load times are still average, but some of the grainy textures are cleaned up in the environments E.T. explores.

Interplanetary Mission is below average on many levels, and especially with the thoughtful design of NewKidCo's GBC release under this license, I'm surprised at this subpar title. The whole spirit of the license is subverted by things like the Heart Stun and the action oriented gameplay, but even putting that aside, the game doesn't make a lick of sense. Without a backstory, the developers could at least have offered some interesting gameplay, but this is a one-trick pony. Level after level of sameness is not enjoyable, and don't try telling me it's just because Interplanetary Mission is aimed at a younger audience. The idea of playing E.T. in a videogame has appeal, and watching the character could be amusing for the first 5 minutes, but most parents will want to run the other way when they read that a critical aspect of gameplay has E.T. 'neutralizing dangerous animals and threatening government agents.' Take a pass on this one.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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