Captain Planet. Sounds familiar? Then you're either an avid early-morning cartoon fan, or you're the proud owner of an A500 Cartoon Classics Pack. If you're the former, then you'll probably feel quite enthusiastic when we tell you that our eco-aware chum and his trusty Planeteers are now the stars of an action-packed, pollution-busting game. If you're one of the latter, and are already acquainted with the pixilated incarnation of our lycra-wearing super-hero, then you're forgiven a slight cringe when you realise that a (slightly) different version of the game is now being sold to innocent Amiga owners at a fairly hefty price...
A PLANET IN THE MAKING
Yes, the version of Captain Planet that came bundled with the Cartoon Classics pack was really rather poor - pathetic even. The pretty(ish) graphics were often disturbingly blocky, the animation was appalling and the gameplay frustrating - it was, without doubt, the duffer of the pack. It is with some trepidation, then, that we approach the full price, stand alone version. But Mindscape are no fools. Hence the new and improved Captain swaggers into the fray with promises of improvements, enhancements and a general gameplay overhaul. So let's put the past aside and assess this game as if we'd never seen or heard of it before...
Captain Planet has five buddies (the Planeteers) who have heroically taken it upon themselves to save the Earth from ecological disaster. Each Planeteer has a special power based on the elements - Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, or Heart (not quite sure about that one). There are six levels of action, five of which where you play one of the suitably 'tooled-up' Planeteers on an individual mission, then level six which places you in control of the good Captain himself.
The gameplay is essentially a platform shoot-'em-up affair, with each level offering custom gameplay elements inserted to spice up the action. For example, level one not only finishes with a spaceship shoot-'em-up sequence after kicking off as a Turrican-style platform blaster, it also encompasses elements of Mario Bros along the way as Wheeler (the Planeteer) headbutts blocks to earn points.
Level two is strangely reminiscent of Rainbow Islands as Gi throws (slowly melting) ice platforms in front of her to aid her passage. You get the idea?
Unfortunately it doesn't work. Despite some nice effects, the basic framework of the game doesn't hold up. The limitations placed upon the central character's movement veto any attempts to introduce new, exciting elements. You want illustrations? (You sure?) There are plenty of them. For instance, press up on your joystick and your character leaps. That's it. End of story. The next time you have any influence upon your pixelated pal is when he comes to rest, often a good second or two later. You can't determine his (or her) length of leap - it's standard. You can't control your character in the air. And you can't fire whilst in the air.
Amazing. What are Mindscape playing at? Surely this is all basic, standard stuff - as much an essential element within the platform and ladders genre as power-ups are in the shoot-'em-up? Sorry to harp on, but there's really no excuse for what comes across as little more than laziness on the part of the programmers.
Fundamental flaw number two: when you die, your character is reincarnated (lives permitting) at a seemingly random spot close-ish to where you died. OK, but there's no brief period of invincibility, no moment's respite from the monster that previously dealt you such a fatal blow. Hence, before you have a chance to make good your escape, more often than not you die again. Then again. Wallop, wallop, wallop - before you know it, it's all lives lost and game over. Just like that.
There's really no excuse for what comes across as little more than laziness
Reasons not to buy this game, part three: some of the scenery is seemingly just an illusion - you can't really stand on it at all. Hmmm. Call me old fashioned, but I'd be prepared to argue against anyone who claimed that this provides an extra, exciting feature to the game. I like my backgrounds nice and solid, thank you very much, and anything that looks like it should be standable upon, you should be able to stand on.
And there's more. Take this: walk through a gap, and then immediately try and walk back through it the other way. In a number of pieces it simply can't be done. Why? It's beyond me...
So the game is largely unplayable, your character is more often than not uncontrollable and the whole affair is monumentally frustrating. Can anything be salvaged?
PLAYING AROUND WITH ECOLOGY
Well, to some extent, yes. The backgrounds are very pretty. I'm sure the screen-shots look lovely - don't be fooled, they are at best merely cosmetic, but they do look good. The inventive game-plot just manages to hold your attention long enough for the game to develop an addictive hook, too. Despite my frustration with it, I found myself coming back to it a number of times, as the ideas underneath are actually quite neat. Each level is almost a whole game in itself, with a logical(ish) plot dictating the action.
Some of the 'special' sequences (the way your ice bridges slowly melt, say) are quite good. And an ecological theme has to win an extra five per cent from any reviewer (spiky-haired Scotsmen excepted).
Still, it's not enough to make this a good product, or even an average one. It's poor. At the end of the day you just can't help thinking about what Captain Planet could have been - I'd love nothing more than to give an environmentally sound game a rousing round of applause - but this is too ludicrously executed to make it.