Planet Crashers is a story-driven RPG developed by Renegade Kid on the 3DS Nintendo eShop. Calling Planet Crashers a story-driven RPG definitely evokes expectations of a huge, complex world to explore with many interesting characters to meet along the way. No doubt this is a popular genre on Nintendo’s portable consoles, including the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance. So does Planet Crashers bring anything new to a tried-and-true category, or just follow suit? Let’s find out.
One of the most immediately-noticeable features of Planet Crashers is its whimsical, quirky art style and sense of humor. Though simple, the game is filled with a lot of interesting sights, not the first of which is your avatar in-game. Upon entering the game’s main menu, the first selectable option is to customize your hero, and the list of options here is exhaustive: you can name your hero, choose their gender, skin color, hair, eyes, mouth, and clothes. Several options in each category are unlocked right off the bat, but others are also locked and must be earned in-game. Many of the facial features available make your hero look like a devious troublemaker, but several options exist otherwise, and can be mixed and matched. Still, in a game with a story placing your character as the “best hope to save the galaxy”, one would expect a few more heroic-looking options.
At any rate, upon finishing your customizations, you can “Start Quest” (start or resume a saved game), enter Local or Internet Play, or Delete your saved Data. The single- and multi-player components have a lot of dependence on each other, but let’s get into the single-player game first, as that’s going to be where you spend a lot of your time playing Planet Crashers.
Upon starting a new game, you’ll be filled in on the story: a mysterious force is threatening the galaxy, and as a young graduate of the Planet Crashers Academy, it’s up to you to find out more about this imminent danger and to stop it. The game starts you in your character’s home on the planet Lushy Greeny, and although there are a lot of items decorating it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to interact with them. Stepping outside reveals the rest of the planet, complete with scenary, characters, dungeons, and shops to interact with. The central element that pushes the gameplay along is the game’s quest system. Most of your quests will come from the Job Board outside your house, but some characters will also grant you quests, like the person standing outside your home. Quests often ask you to rescue a person in a dungeon, bring an item to someone, or retrieve an item from a dungeon, among others. The way the game executes this system is a bit flawed, however, and might throw some players off. Upon entering my first dungeon (simply named Green Dungeon), I looked for a wallet which was supposed to be on the first floor, yet was nowhere to be seen, either on my map or in my viewport. As it turns out, you need to check your Quest Log outside of a dungeon and select a quest to accept before entering. It’s a bit odd that the developer didn’t just have the game accept a quest for you automatically if you neglect to, but it’s a lesson I learned quickly. Another inconvenient aspect of the quest system is the fact that you can only perform one quest at a time, and upon completing it, will instantly be teleported back home, making it impossible to complete other quests on that floor. All in all, it makes the game feel much more like a grind than an engaging experience. The worst part, however, is the fact that you can’t save your game manually – the game will only save upon completing a quest, and if you shut the game off before that, your game will revert to your last save the next time you start up, which forces you to play when you might not want to.
Aside from questing, you’ll see other character bustling towards you in dungeons, waiting to fight with you. Upon colliding with an enemy, you’ll enter a battle screen with your opponent. Planet Crashers’ battle system is a fairly-simple turn-based format. You and your opponent will take turns slugging it out until one of you is knocked out. Characters have four stats that determine their performance in battle: Attack, Defense, Speed, and HP. HP increases automatically upon leveling up, but Attack, Defense, and Speed are chosen by the player. You can also equip your character with weapons to increase your attack power, and some of them are downright silly, like a giant pencil or a petrified banana. Planet Crashers takes a cue from games like Pokemon in that your character can collect a set of skills and assign up to four of them at a time to use in battle. At first, “Strike” will be the only skill you have, but you can learn others as you progress, such as “Concussive Strike”, which deals more damage than its entry-level counterpart. Planet Crashers also borrows from the Super Mario RPG line of games by allowing you to deal more damage by pressing the “A” button at the right time during your attack animation. A small image will pop up to let you know when to hit it, and this can happen more than once per attack. It may not be a new idea, but it’s a great inclusion to help Planet Crashers’ combat from becoming boring. You can also use items, swap out skills, or retreat on your turn, and sometimes the right strategic move can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Though the game’s combat system is solid, it suffers from a few issues. What I’m left wondering is, if the game lets you press “A” to increase your damage during attacks, why not borrow SMRPG’s system entirely and improve defense during an opponent’s attack by pressing “A” at the right time? Attacking is fun, but being on the defense and watching your character get pummeled isn’t quite as much. This is more of a minor gripe compared to a much bigger issue about Planet Crashers’ combat - it’s completely avoidable. When moving around in a dungeon, it’s possible to outmaneuver any enemy that comes at you. This is due to the fact that enemies can’t move as fast as you, and they will stand in place as long as you do. Thus, if you wanted to, you could avoid combat entirely and just rush to your quest objective in a dungeon – and this is something I found myself doing a lot, unfortunately, namely because battles aren’t very rewarding either. Beating an enemy gives a small amount of gold and experience points (XP), but it’s much, much more efficient to simply get your quests done as fast as you can, making combat feel more like a punishment for not paying attention to that Crazy Chris running at you.
Perhaps the biggest shame in Planet Crashers’ gameplay is the inclusion of the multiplayer mode. The game’s description for the iPhone mentions a GPS feature, allowing players to team up with others and adventure together, receiving special bonuses for playing with others in their area. There is no such mention of that feature in the 3DS version of the game. In fact, the only multiplayer option available is 1-on-1 battling with other players
To sum it up, Planet Crashers’ gameplay feels like similar browser-based RPGs, and definitely takes a back-seat to the game’s story and art direction, somewhere where the game excels. The art direction is cute, artsy, and definitely lends itself to the game’s overall light-hearted, feel-good theme. The music is upbeat and simple, and the character interactions are downright laugh-worthy – there’s nothing like a sign at a dungeon entrance calling you a chicken for choosing not to enter, and if a wooden post can evoke that kind of personality, wait until you meet some of the other characters in the game’s universe. Characters also skip and bustle around the screen, and combat is totally ridiculous – hearing stock “bashing” sounds while your character is spun and tossed by the enemy is surprisingly humorous. It’s small charms like this that make Planet Crashers a cute, charming experience. The 3D functionality is well-used too, and really works in conjunction with Planet Crashers’ rotating planet levels to provide a real sense of depth.
In closing, Planet Crashers isn’t for everyone. Those of you looking for a hardcore RPG experience should avoid Planet Crashers, as you’ll probably be more frustrated than engaged. However, those looking for a more casual, pick-up-and-play experience with a whimsical style might find Planet Crashers more their speed.
FINAL VERDICT: 5.0 / 10 = Wait for Price Drop
Special thanks to UTV Ignition Entertainment for providing us with a review copy of Planet Crashers!