Wow! I mean, well… wow! Rarely have I encountered a game that makes me look forward to my next root canal, but Doctor Who: Return To Earth can be happy in its achievement of making me want to endure physical pain just to get away from it. Yes, folks, if you didn’t guess, this game is bad, and by bad, I mean the kind of bad that would be funny, if you didn’t spend £25-35 on it to find out, in which case, it’s far from amusing.
Nintendo reportedly forked over around ten million pounds for the exclusive rights to Doctor Who for its formats, and I would imagine there are executives getting ready to write their resignations right now. But I digress. I should explain just why this game is so shockingly poor.
Looking like a pre-release tech demo for the original PlayStation, Return To Earth lets you play as both the Doctor and Amy Pond, and begins as they arrive on the Starship Lucy Grey, which is apparently abandoned and severely damaged, being bombarded by a meteor storm.
Soon the duo discovers that all isn’t as it seems, and as they roam through the ship, they uncover a more sinister plot. Sound good? Well, yeah. It’s simple, sure, but it’s pretty standard Doctor Who stuff, so you can’t complain. The story is helped along by decent vocal performances from Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, and the game does try to use some Wii controller gestures, but that’s about as good and things get. From here, it’s all downhill, a very steep downhill at that.
Colours of the rainbow
The core of the game revolves around stealth and the use of coloured crystals. These crystals each perform different tasks, and are used by firing at floating targets in first person. Red crystals are used to avoid hazards, purple crystals fix things, green crystals open doors, and so on.
To get a crystal, you need to take it from a robot dispenser, but to do so you have to sneak up to it, avoiding its cone-shaped point of view. Quite why this approach is needed isn’t clear, and it certainly doesn’t lend anything to the gameplay, save to annoy the player. Still, I suppose it adds to the challenge.
Once you have the right crystals, you then need to use the Wii controller to aim and shoot the correct coloured crystal at the corresponding coloured icon floating around the obstacle you need to pass. This act should be simple, but, as you’ll find happens a lot in the game, it’s needlessly irritating.
To fire you have to hold down a button to aim, and hold down another to charge the shot. Once you’re ready, you can fire. Oh, and if you’re not ready to fire, tough. It’ll fire anyway, as charging for a while causes the crystal to fire regardless.
This is downright stupid, and in later missions, where crystal dispensers are few and far between, it simply results in tedious backtracking to grab more crystals after a missed shot, all because the developers thought it was a good idea to force your hand if you have the gall to take your time aiming. And aim you’ll have to, as the icons you need to hit move around, making the shot harder, which means you’ll need to aim for longer, risking the premature shot.
It’s not too difficult to be honest, but I can see a lot of younger players becoming frustrated very quickly, and it’s a design choice that’s just plain ridiculous, and only serves to further punish the player for no real reason.
When you’re not shooting crystals to solve basic puzzles, you’ll also be avoiding robots and other hazards. To do this you need to stay out of the cone-like field of view of patrolling robots, and you’ll also have to use the crouch mode to hide behind objects. Even this relatively simple gaming mechanic that’s been used in so many games is broken, though, and crouching is so slow and ponderous, it’s just painful. Add to this the inability to fight back if you’re discovered (well, the Doctor is a pacifist) and it adds up to more frustration, and inevitable retries from the last checkpoint.
At the end of most sections you’ll encounter a simple mini-game where you have to roll a photonic ball of energy through a circuit without touching the sides or hitting obstacles. You can use the Sonic Screwdriver to fix some obstacles, but the whole thing, although simple, is also clunky and awkward at times. For example, getting stuck on obstacles can spell instant doom as your photon gets stuck within them, draining energy quickly. It’s simply not fun, pure and simple.
To add to all of this misery, the game runs so painfully slowly, it’s as though the devs were asking the Wii to handle Crysis at full detail. And let me tell you, this certainly isn’t Crysis!
As I mentioned earlier, visually the game is a car wreck, with horrible animation, and terrible low-res textures. Yes, the Wii is no powerhouse, but this is just embarrassing for all concerned, and Nintendo’s console can do so much better. There’s just no excuse for presentation like this.
Make it stop!
I really do find this game painful to play. Horrible aesthetics and design choices aside, the game handles badly due to ropey and poorly implemented controls made worse by crappy frame rates. The levels and tasks are all amazingly tedious and awkward, and the soul of the Doctor Who universe is missing, even with the respectable attempts of both Smith and Gillan. Hell, even the iconic opening sequence looks like a ropey YouTube clip.
I can’t emphasise enough that this game should be avoided. It’s a shockingly poor release in almost every way, and it’s truly astonishing that Nintendo gave this a green light. If ever there was a clearer example of shitting out a prize turkey just to cash in on a big name, this is certainly it.
If you’re looking for a decent Doctor Who game, try the free downloadable adventures the BBC released earlier this year. They may not be great, but they’re free, and if you can believe it, they’re better than this.