Do you know that feeling when the side dish is better than the main course? Treasure Planet is exactly that. In my pursuit to find the best movie game, Treasure Planet by Project Gotham Racing developer Bizarre Creations, is both a surprise and a nuisance. The game’s main strength is found upon the solar surfer, a radical skateboard-like vehicle that can run at high speeds. You’ll find some bliss within its Tony Hawk-inspired design and fast-paced time trials. However, Treasure Planet‘s main issues lie within its janky 3D platforming and its atrociously poor audio design. The film may be excellent, but the game is certainly not the best.
the developers should walk the plank
Treasure Planet is a mesh of two concepts jumbled into one game: the solar surfer segments and the platforming levels. You’ll move along the story of the game by finishing tasks in each level, finding enough beacons to proceed. There are the general collect-a-thon elements you’d expect from the 3D platforming genre. There are doubloons scattered across the wide-open landscape with green orbs to find. Most can be collected easily within reach.
The make-or-break aspect of a platformer is the controls and unfortunately, Treasure Planet fails to deliver. It feels like Jak & Daxter’s drunk sibling. It stumbles around its sci-fi landscapes with unresponsive jumps and awful combat. The dash attack from Jak is replaced by a pathetically short jab, and the spin attack is an unimpactful roundhouse kick. As moving around the environment is like slipping on ice, battles are incredibly awkward and as the kick overextends, you’ll find yourself falling off the stage more often than not. You do have a hammer at your disposal as well, but it’s ineffective as it lacks power and radius.
the game’s saving grace
As a ’90s and ’00s kid, I thought Treasure Planet‘s solar surfer was one of the coolest things to ever grace the cinema. Basically, it’s a wakeboard with sails that are powered by an engine. The movie depicted the film’s hero Jim Hawkins soaring in the sky and performing cool tricks in the air. With the PS2 adaptation, you’re quite limited as to what you can do, but it succeeded in every way possible.
It takes the best parts of Tony Hawk Pro Skater with plenty of explorative stage challenges and mixes that with some high-octane racing. It’s a thrill to go up a ramp at high speeds and leaping into the air, and taking down the sails to duck under obstacles. Trying to figure out where to go and jumping at the right moments is exhilarating and takes me all the way back to when I played the likes of Disney Skate Adventure and the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series.
Some of the tasks that the game gives you are time trials, collecting items, and pulling off tricks to get a big enough score. You can also grind on rails to set ships free or reach a high enough place to make a bomb fall below you. They each felt fun to complete and finally added some enjoyment to the title.
The maneuverability of the solar surfer is far better than the platforming as you can easily control its direction mid-jump and down the slopes. While limited, you can even do some neat-looking tricks and you can grind on rails.
The solar surfer levels are so great that it makes me wonder if the platforming levels were added in to make a fuller package as this is obviously where the developer’s passions lied.
here come the issues
The platforming is truly the major sticking point as it takes up the majority of the playthrough. The art design of each level stays true to the original film and look great for the time, but the game design lets it down. The lack of landmarks makes the stages feel like a maze as you try to go to the place you need to go. What doesn’t help is the game’s lack of brightness and meshing of similar colors together for crucial parts of the level.
The platforming segments don’t match up with the stiffness of the jumping, leading to many eventual deaths and frustrations with the checkpoints. For example, there is a mission that has you avoiding traffic and there are moving platforms that you have to jump on. As the jumps feel unresponsive, you can’t figure out the exact lag time between Jim and the moving vehicle you have to hop on. Due to the many deaths that Jim will encounter, you’ll find yourself at the beginning of the level once more after dying, After that, you’re left wondering how to get back to where you were.
The stealth segments are also incredibly frustrating. The radius of sight from those you are hiding from is way too large as you sneak arduously slow behind their backs. Your pursuers also bug out at random points and patrol the same area of the level, removing that sense of immersion. What doesn’t help is the incessant beeping that the robotic patrol officers make.
As mentioned before, the combat system is lackluster and basically ends up being a hit me, hit you kind of situation. There are no special moves to speak of and unlike the gameTreasure Planet is inspired by, Jak & Daxter, the lack of motion makes the dull combat a grind.
Treasure Planet also has a few gameplay items thrown into the mix like the helping hand (which pulls down levers and operates other machinery) and cyborg arms (which picks up heavy items like bombs and has a spinning attack), but none of them add a layer of engaging depth to the experience.
Adding to the tedium is the absolute worst video game music I’ve heard in a long time. The instrumentals are harsh and the generic pirate themes get irritating as it loops the same melody over and over and over again. It’s a shame that the game didn’t use the incredible score by James Newton Howard, which highlights the excitement of a planetary adventure. It was sorely missing in this adaptation by Bizarre Creations.
In addition to the music, the graphics are a mixed bag. Facial models look awkwardly unfinished and the textures lack detail. The buildings and the skylines, however, do a great job at pulling you into the worlds of Montressor and Crescenta (also known as the space port). It’s also neat to see the portals from the film utilized as they open and close to your presence.
a huge shame
While I have many negative things to say about the level design, it’s amazing to play a game based on one of my favorite movies. Being able to explore Jim’s home, jump onto the solar surfer, get on top of the Benbow Inn, and seeing a semblance of the gorgeous visuals from the movie is wonderful. Being able to explore your favorite environments is why movie adaptations were so appealing back in the day, and why they should come back on newer generation technology; look at how incredible the Toy Story world looks in Kingdom Hearts 3, for example. Unfortunately, this game is a symbol of its time as development was likely rushed to hit the release window of the theatrical release.
As Long John Silver would say, Treasure Planet has the makings of greatness within it but stumbles at almost every single aspect. The solar surfer segments are a thrill to play, but the platforming levels bog it down to a crawl. It feels like the werehog sections in Sonic Unleashed or the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, in which the game forces its fans to play less than ideal sections to sparse out the content.
The PS2 adaptation of Treasure Planet is not worth the trouble and a copy of the game should not be marked X on your map. It’s not the best movie game out there, so the search continues!
the rankings so far:
- Shrek Super Slam
- Treasure Planet (PS2)