“Captain Planet he’s the hero. Gonna take pollution down to zero.” – With an opener like that in the theme song, we all knew how great the TV show was [Editor’s Note: Did you know it was written by Phil ‘The Boon’ Collins?].
Following the “hit” show, we got Captain Planet and the Planeteers for the Sega Mega Drive, a videogame aimed at all the young children falling into the demographic for the show. Were those kids lucky, or doomed from the beginning?
Captain Planet and the Planeteers is a Sega Mega Drive game by developer Novalogic. Released during Captain Planet’s TV prime, Novalogic gives it a fair go and we can clearly see that. The graphics aren’t bad for their time; all the characters are not only memorable, but also pleasantly resemble their TV counterparts. The levels look different enough from each other to not get boring.
An example of one nice touch made to the game is how the level select changes from day to night as the time you spend playing goes by. It adds tension to the experience, as the game is over if you don’t beat it in an hour. Having the change is a great way of engaging the player into the game and reminding them that the clock is ticking.
Speaking of the game’s design, Captain Planet borrows from Mega Man and features a level select option, where you can choose what enemy/levels to do. This is a nice touch as it makes the game much more flexible, especially because it allows the people who can’t beat the levels to have a go at playing all of them. However, keep your expectations low – this is no masterpiece in game design; unlike Mega Man, there’s no strategy in what levels you should play first, no special items or weapons to gain from any of them; the order in which you play levels is completely dependent on personal taste. This feels like a missed opportunity for something that could have made the game a much better-designed experience.
I love the 3 difficulty settings in Captain Planet. Unlike other games in the 16-bit era, Captain Planet does not require extreme precision and timing to beat; it provides a reasonable challenge to all the kids, while remaining perfectly approachable.
Novalogic tries experimenting with a couple gameplay ideas and that can be easily felt in the level design. The Sewer level tests your platforming by placing the valves you are supposed to shut in tricky spots, forcing you have to do some jumping to reach them. Sadly, the platforming is no Mario-beater and gets monotonous after a while; but nevertheless, gameplay is refreshing enough from traversing the tunnels of death that is the rest of the level – so I commend Novalogic for providing us a well-placed breather. The addition of escalating water in the level builds amazing tension. It’s a brilliant addition, done well; one which compliments both the maze/trap like structure of the level and the need of locating the pressure valves.
Another area where Novalogic tried a new gameplay element is in a level set within a computer. It has no strategy; you’re just supposed to run and jump, with not only drones shooting you, but also with all the platforms being zapped by lasers, leaving nowhere for you to hide. Novalogic clearly tried introducing an element of blind speed and quick reaction, but it doesn’t entirely pay off. Playing it on Normal or Hard difficulty provides some of the most frustrating experiences I have had in my gaming lifetime. The lasers always hit you, the mechanical drones are so big that they always zap or touch you, and the amount of life you get depletes quicker than you can say “Pollution”.
It’s a failed experiment, and whilst I respect trying something new, I do not respect giving players a migraine.
Other than these things, there are a plethora of missed opportunities elsewhere. There are 4 elements in the 4 playable Planeteers hands (sorry Maku, but Heart sucks), and the game forgets to use those elements in any meaningful way. With Earth, Fire, Wind and Water at their disposal, there was scope for something fairly inventive – but Novalogic decided to use them all as basic projectile attacks; the color palette is the only differentiating aspect. Potential for something greater was present, but remained unused, similar to how potential was present in the way different levels could have been played out. That said though, keeping the length of the game in mind you shouldn’t get bored of the attacks before the game is over.
The rest of the game is more unsatisfying platforming, very crappy music with (criminally) no theme song, some boss fights requiring your child-like imagination to gain any fun out of them, and then, last but not least, the final level – where you play as Captain Planet himself. After all, playing as Cap is what all of us wanted when we got this, right?
Unfortunately, controlling Captain Planet is like trying to drive a double decker bus. Also, similar to a double decker bus, Captain Planet is massive and doesn’t scale well with other things, making him an easy target for all the projectiles being thrown your way. This is frustrating. Also, controlling him is not easy: trying to shoot in alternative directions takes more practice than it should. Eventually, you will enjoy controlling Captain Planet as it’s something new, and having a complete new gameplay experience as the last level is a nice touch – but it still feels like a wasted opportunity.
Playing as Captain Planet in the last level proves again how developer Novalogic liked to incorporate many different elements into their games. This isn’t a bad quality in a developer at all, but since Novalogic tried throwing different elements into Captain Planet, they forgot to fine-tune any of them, leaving the result feeling subpar when compared to rivals. This, whilst making the game monotonous, does make it feel a lot like the low budget TV show – which, I guess, means that it’s at least faithful to the cartoon series.
Sometimes, things can be so bad that they can be good. We see it in B-horror movies, in hilariously bad music – and now there are some videogames that are trying to pull it off. I’m not certain if Captain Planet and the Planateers quite managed to pull it off; the game is quite bad in some places and while it contains hints of great ideas, it leaves the game in such an ‘okay’ state that there is no excitement when thinking about giving it a play.
The biggest compliment I can give to Captain Planet and the Planeteers is that it manages to convey the same charm of the show. The problem is that it contains so many flaws that looking at it on your shelf, you’ll never really want to play.
The end result is that Captain Planet and the Planeteers is a hard game to recommend. It has some nostalgic value, but if you don’t have any fond memories relating to the license, you may just dislike the game. If Captain Planet was ever a part of your life, then maybe give this one a go – you might find it interesting. Otherwise, give it a miss.