Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Captain Planet and the Planeteers (NES)

Rating: 1 out of 5
Pros: There's a good message behind Captain Planet
Cons: Poor game mechanics that are not fun to trial-and-error your way through

Captain Planet and the Planeteers was published by Mindscape for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992. It was based on the animated television series of the same name, in which a group of kids fights to protect the planet from pollution. The group consists of five kids from around the world who are each given a magic ring by the spirit of the Earth, and each ring controls a different element. Earth, fire, wind, water or heart. Usually late in the episodes when the kids are outmatched, they put their rings together to summon Captain Planet himself to come to the rescue. He is fast, strong, and can also fly/hover - but pollution is his kryptonite.
The main goal of the game is to stop the evil polluters, poachers, etc and save the planet. The message is good, and it's nice to see a game that at least makes an attempt to stand for something and have some ideals. Unfortunately, the game was executed poorly and wasn't really worth playing.
Keeping in sync with the show, each of the game's five levels is split into two distinct parts that play out differently. In the first half you control the kids (although they are inside a jet, helicopter or submarine), while in the second half of each stage you control Captain Planet as he fights to the end to confront the boss of each level. Each portion of the level plays out a little differently, but they share some annoying common elements. For one thing, nearly every enemy will kill you in one hit. For another, there are a lot of narrow little passages that you must somehow try to maneuver through and touching a wall will also kill you in one hit. This game is hard.
So the first portion of each level starts you out in a jet, helicopter or submarine and plays like a side scrolling shooter. All the vehicles function the same, only the sprite and the setting change. There are obstacles to avoid, enemies flying at you and on the ground underneath you (and/or surface above you), and you have your five elemental powers as weapons at your disposal to complete the level. Each of the five elemental powers performs a different function; lobbing rocks, shooting fireballs or wavy water projectiles, or creating a shield out of wind. The heart power is more of a gimmick, allowing you to communicate with animals for a couple short, specialized parts in a level. They all detract from the power meter at the top of the screen, and when it's gone you can't really do anything else but die. You can get power-ups along the way that refill a portion of it however.
You play the second portion of each level as Captain Planet. It still uses a side view and you still die in one hit, but instead of a scrolling shooter you get to move to the left, right, up and down as you squeeze your way in between obstacles, punch enemies and try to find your way to the end to confront a boss. You can still use elemental powers, but there's not a whole lot to them. If you use wind, you turn into a blob of wind and can pass through gates and such - and water works almost exactly the same way. Fire lets you turn into a blob of fire, but at least you can run through some enemies in this form and destroy them. The heart power is again a gimmick, and I've only found one place to use it in the Captain Planet portion of the game. Most of the time you'll be trying to punch enemies to death while they shoot and kill you. Good times.
If it weren't for the unlimited continues this game offers, I'd never have been able to complete it. Also, the continues let you start over from whichever half of the stage you were on (the kids half or the Captain Planet half), so at least you don't have to replay the entire stage. The difficulty is a bit over-the-top, especially considering that it's a game based on a cartoon and would have mostly been played by younger kids. I mean in one snowy map there are the usual narrow passages you can hardly fit through as it is, in addition to the enemies you must watch out for... but then every time you do squeeze through somewhere, a big glob of ice falls from the platform above and kills you. There's a lot of things that aren't consistent or intuitive, and some weapons don't work against some enemies. Trial and error is annoying when it means dying constantly and having to restart the area so much.
The graphics aren't terrible, everything is fairly colorful and detailed enough to tell what's what. They're nothing all that spectacular though, and considering how late in the Nintendo's life cycle this game was released I would have expected a lot better. The sound is even worse, with lots of terrible generic blips and beeps that wouldn't have been received well if the game were made 10 years earlier than it was. The theme song from the cartoon and Captain Planet's "The Power Is Yours!" tag line are nowhere to be found either. The background music wasn't very good either and didn't have a lot of variety, but was thankfully forgettable. Muting the television and playing something else was about the only way you could play through more than one level at a time - that is, if you could stand to play that much in the first place.
There's no reason at all to pick this game up. The mechanics make it hard to play through, there's not much in the way of story, and it's just not very fun at all.

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