It's been a long, dark night, but games based on films and other licensed properties are definitely getting better. Only a few years ago it was unthinkable that any project even remotely associated with a "hot" comic book or motion picture would be more than feeble drek. Lucky us. However, developers seem to be realizing that putting out the effort to make a good title is a lot more sensible than rushing a piece of tie-in garbage out the door. There have been a few recent licensed games that surpassed expectations, but even the bad ones don't seem to be as rancid as they once were. A great example of a new-age attempt at making the leap from big screen to small, Treasure Planet certainly has its flaws but remains a pretty decent offering.
For those (like me) who haven't seen the film, the basic premise is that Jim Hawkins, the game's hero, unlocks an interstellar map to a hidden world stuffed with treasure. He sets off posthaste with a gang of pirates in order to snatch it up, win the heart of his girl, and save the dayor something. Treasure Planet does a pretty miserable job of incorporating story elements, because spliced-in footage from the film alone doesn't cut it. As a result of the slapdash "narrative," there's never a connection to any of the characters and I was never exactly clear on what was going on. I'm guessing that this area got skipped over with the developers banking on fans of the film buying the game, but that's no reason to exclude newcomers. Plot aside, Treasure Planet is basically split into two styles of gameplay: platforming and racing.
In the platform segments, Jim reminded me greatly of Jak, from Naughty Dog's superb Jak & Daxter. The way Jim carries himself and performs his physical attacks has got to be more than a coincidence. I guess if you're going to be inspired, it's good to be inspired by a top-notch game. However, Naughty Dog clearly knows a lot more about videogame animation. Jim moves a bit too fast, and his movements never manage to look quite right. Things are sped up a fraction of a second too fast, and lack the natural fluidity and grace of the competition.
Moving past appearances, Jim has the standard set of platform hero moves including jumping, double jumping, ledge grabbing, punching and kicking attacks, and a few temporary special moves available by powering up his alien sidekick Morphy (another element found in Jak & Daxter, although Morphy is actually more useful than Jak's little furball). All in all, things handle well and there aren't any big surprises or disappointments here.
Structurally, the action underachieves with a lack of creativity and imagination. In each level, there are five objectives. You'll always have to collect ten green energy spheres and a varying number of gold coins, with the three remaining goals being specific to each area.
Some of the tasks are fresh and reasonably entertaining (such as using a cannon to blast a giant dragon out of the skies or sneaking past robot guards), but it would be putting it mildly to say that I wasn't very hot on the collecting. Not only is it about as tired and worn out as you can possibly get (especially in this genre!) it was an obvious crutch for the developers to save them from coming up with five unique objectives per stage. I completely lost interest in the platforming levels about halfway through the game, and avoided collecting anything unless it was absolutely necessary.
However, instead of being a total loss, Treasure Planet's racing segments are surprisingly well done and a joy to play. In fact, the controls, pacing and level designs are so tight that this could easily be a game all on its own—and should have been, given the slightly-below-average quality of the disc's other half.
The racing levels place Jim on a rocket-powered Solar Surfer (basically a surfboard with a sail attached to it.) While riding, Jim can raise the sail for increased speed or lower it to smash through obstacles. Slipping it through beams of light gives a turbo boost, and it's also possible to perform a small number of skateboard-style air tricks after launching from a lip or ramp.
Everything about the racing just feels "right," with all the t's crossed and the i's dotted. The odd-looking vehicle skims around at a breakneck pace, easily fast enough to satisfy my inner speed demon. The courses are a perfect mix of complexity and finesse. Some objectives are straight-up races, and others have you leaping across monstrous gaps or grinding sinuous rails. Factor in obstacles to avoid, managing the sail, pulling tricks, and catching mad air after blazing through a boost, and everything totally clicks. The graphics in these areas are more appealing than the platforming sections, too.
For example, in my favorite part of the game Jim surfs his way through an asteroid belt suspended in deep space. A fiery nebula whorl is visible in the background, and the entire spectacle is lit with glowing, molten colors and a strikingly surreal style. That one level alone almost made up for the rest of the game, and it's really too bad the whole game wasn't more like it. Remove the desiccated run-and-jump tedium, and you'd have one hell of a futuristic racer.
I can't vouch for the game's faithfulness to the film's characters or concept, but regardless of that fact, Treasure Planet is a pretty decent outing. The big names in platforming have nothing to fear from Jim Hawkins, but it's really no worse than a number of other mid-level games. Add in the extremely enjoyable Solar Surfing challenges, and the disc gets nudged into a higher bracket. Players looking for something that breaks new ground in action-adventure or platforming should steer clear, but if you do end up with a copy of the game, don't be upset—you could definitely do worse.