Platform: 3DS eShop
Developer: Renegade Kid
Publisher: UTV Ignition
The 3DS is still crying out for a killer dungeon crawler after Heroes Of Ruin fell at the last hurdle... and we genuinely thought that Planet Crashers 3D could be the answer to our prayers. Hailing from veteran handheld developer Renegade Kid (the studio behind Moon and Mutant Mudds), this charming proposition promised to marry universal appeal with lengthy and addictive questing, all wrapped up in jaunty pan-galactic voyage and a colourful art style worthy of Animal Crossing. Better yet, UTV Ignition announced that Planet Crashers 3D was going to release on the 3DS eShop rather than as a full-priced boxed title. I must admit to being rather excited about the whole endeavour ahead of last week's launch.
But perhaps the last-minute shift from high street retail to eShop should have rung alarm bells instead. Depressingly, an exciting planet-hopping premise ends up being wasted on one of the most bare-bones, mechanically flawed and downright ill-conceived RPGs you'll play this year. Each world's charming crust disguises a rotten core of unfulfilling grind and untold misery, riddled by hopelessly-implemented systems that never even aspire to reach the dizzying heights of mediocrity.
I always hate having to write hyperbolic sentences like that, especially when Planet Crashers 3D should have worked.
All the ingredients were there. As a young space adventurer tasked with a breezy mission to save the universe, players cosmetically customise their adorable avatar with skins and clothing, then leap into a collection of colourful worlds; merrily gambolling over their pint-sized crusts and gawping as the entire planet's horizon slips into the distance behind them. Throughout the nine hour adventure, we'd revel in completing quests from inhabitants, growing stronger and wielding some hilarious armaments such as bananas and oversized pencils. Graphically, Planet Crashers' three dimensional graphics are a cut above most of the eShop's offerings, while its lighthearted tone should have appealed to younger gamers and adults alike. Should, should, should.
Unfortunately, these cheerful planets with all their adorable colourful shenanigans are just window dressing, relegated to a support role despite being put front and centre in the title. They're simple and confusingly laid-out hub spaces in which no actual gameplay takes place, existing only to play host to a small selection of cookie-cutter dungeons, a notice board and some incredibly monotonous locals. Upon accepting a quest (always collecting an item, finding a specific person or fighting someone) in an awkward two-stage process, you'll descend into the prerequisite dungeon, which trades off personality and charm for a crushingly sparse collection of empty corridors punctuated by overlarge rooms in which you'll likely encounter one or two constantly-repeated insipid enemies. It's difficult to fully express just how jarring these horrendous environments prove to be in terms of ugly art design, boxy geometry and vast emptiness, especially when compared to those lovely, ultimately pointless planet hubs.
Once you complete the incredibly short objective, you'll be instantly - inexplicably - returned back to the start upon which point the whole dismal process repeats for ten straight hours. There's no hint of creativity or spark, no randomisation and no meaningful variety beyond a few scenery elements, just a total dearth of imagination and an emphasis on repetition for repetition's sake. It's a similar setup to the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, right down to the way you accept single quests and enemies only move when you do, only infinitely worse. As, sadly, I must now explain.
Should you come into contact with one of the few uninteresting enemies (most seem to be an ugly random collection of different customisation options), you'll enter a traditional turn-based combat arena. Instead of a relying on preset attacks, you're free to equip up to four combat skills that you'll acquire throughout the campaign, all of which have tremendously exciting names. However, you're not told how much damage they deal, even in relative terms, thus making the choice completely moot. Which is fine, because most of them seem to be completely identical. Once you've selected a move, both characters perform some incredibly overlong animations - with an optional QTE allowing you to boost your attack. This system worked well in games like Super Mario RPG, but here, they essentially pad out each battle to an obnoxious length.
This uninspiring combat proves to be the strongest gameplay mechanic, since Planet Crashers' RPG systems are poorly explained, shallow and counter-intuitive. All gaining levels does, in functional terms, is increase HP capacity and upgrade a three-pronged approach to character statistics: strength, speed and defence. It's a streamlined setup, but much like the battle skills, at no point can you actually discover how the stats practically factor into damage output, turn order or resistance. They're just arbitrary numbers; there because RPGs are supposed to have numbers. Even more bizarrely, you'll never know how many experience points are needed to gain a level, thus making their presence in the front end of the game a complete mystery.
New weapons and those mysterious/useless skills are doled out by quest NPCs rather than gaining levels or going shopping, meaning that it's all too easy to miss them since quest-givers all start to look the same after a few minutes. Amazingly, this is a dungeon crawler without loot, featuring only a tiny assortment of entirely unnecessary consumables that temporarily increase one of those enigmatic numbers for a single fight, therefore rendering the brusque economy system completely impotent. And removing a key additive draw in the process.
Whereas most dungeon crawlers at least attempt to hide the high concept of reaching the level cap with a hint of storyline or motive, Planet Crashers literally makes grinding the sole objective of the game. Indeed, the first character you meet shamelessly explains it to you in the most unapologetic way possible. Your purpose is to reach level 30. That is all. Go. Gaining EXP is thus the be-all and end-all of the Planet Crashers experience, and yet progression ends up being laborious, poorly-paced and massively unbalanced. Winning battles yields an unbelievably tiny number of experience points (as far as I can work out, you'll need well over a thousand to gain a single level, and most encounters give you between 5-20). Since quests are the only practical way of gaining experience, and you can only complete one at a time before being forced to backtrack, levelling is both time-consuming and dependent on grind. You'll quickly realise that attacking enemies amounts to pointless busywork and can be easily avoided - thus nerfing yet another core gameplay element.
At the beginning of the game, you'll suffer against massively overpowered foes who can dish out ruinous damage with a single hit, turning most fights into a simple battle of attrition while you guzzle down exceptionally cheap health potions. Once you do manage to gain a few levels and a decent weapon, though, the balance suddenly shifts in the opposite direction, making the experience humiliatingly easy and bereft of challenge.
Renegade Kid should be congratulated for the capable graphics, colourful hub worlds and cosmetic customisation, which will initially appeal to younger gamers. You could even argue that I'm too far outside the target audience to make a valid judgement call. But dismayingly, Planet Crashers 3D will be even less enjoyable for a younger audience, especially if they're not au fait with RPG systems. A lack of depth is also accompanied by a total lack of tutorials, signposting or anything resembling teaching-through-playing, while the bland dungeons won't hold their attention for long even if they do work out how to use the combat system etc. More to the point, most kids are actually incredibly proficient with videogames and will find that Planet Crashers 3D completely underestimates their quality expectations.
We may never know why Renegade Kid were unable to deliver on their vision (I suspect publisher deadlines or a realisation that their concept was too ambitious to complete), and reading back, I appreciate that this review resembles a bit of a hatchet job. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Planet Crashers 3D is neither broken nor frayed around the edges. It's just based on a hopeless foundation and a poorly executed concept; it works, but it's just... rotten.
- Attractive hub levels, decent graphics and 3D effect
- Fun cosmetic customisation
- It 'works'
- Backtracking and grind is the sole point of the game
- No charm, personality or ambition beyond the hub levels
- Repetitive, horribly-designed, empty, dismal dungeons are a chore to wade through
- Hopelessly unbalanced progression and XP delivery
- Slow, badly-paced, no tutorials
- Poorly-explained RPG systems lack meaningful depth
The Short Version: No amount of visual polish and colourful hub artwork can disguise Planet Crashers 3D's rotten core of unmitigated backtracking, unbalanced progression, hopeless mechanics and awful dungeon environments. Even as a time sink, it simply isn't fit for task - it's neither fun nor engaging for any audience of any age.
With luck, Planet Crashers will only be a small blip on Renegade Kid's record, and one that's quickly forgotten.