The Doctor and Amy Pond discover an odd signal coming from (according to the game manual) the edge of the solar system – Jupiter. The investigation brings them to a human colony ship – the SS Lucy Gray. It’s damaged and deserted, and before they can find out what’s going on, The Doctor and Amy get separated. It’s up to you to guide The Doctor and Amy to discover what happened on the SS Lucy Gray – and it’s more than just the ship that is at stake.
The premise of the plot is worthy of a TV episode, especially when combined with the DS game Evacuation Earth, which is set a few hundred years before, and slightly after, Return to Earth. The execution of the plot, however, is a very different story altogether. Matt Smith and Karen Gillian both sound as if they were simply given a list of lines with no context, and the almost complete lack of animation during cut-scenes doesn’t suit a character as eccentric as Matt Smith’s Doctor.
Even so, the execution of the story is near perfection compared to the execution of the game itself. The main game is based around shooting coloured crystals at similar coloured orbs. Green crystals open locked doors, yellow ones activate a distraction, red ones are essentially an “action” button, orange ones are for opening bonus areas, purple ones activates machinery and blue ones trigger the end-of-level mini-game. These crystals need to be collected from dispensers called “brothers” and in order to collect the crystal you need to avoid their cone of vision – you can also hold a total of six crystals at a time. To fire a crystal you need to stand still, hold A to go into aiming mode, aim with the pointer, hold B to charge up the crystal and release to fire. The orbs that you need to shoot don’t stay still, instead they wriggle around. As the crystal, shot from the Sonic Screwdriver, takes a few seconds to travel do it’s destination, these orbs can be incredibly tricky to hit. One pesky blighter took me over twenty shots to hit, and I had to complete a puzzle to get back to the dispenser each time I ran out.
Similar to the brothers, enemies also have a cone of vision. Enemies that spot you will head in your general direction, and if you stay in their vision for a few seconds they will open fire. Head out of their vision for a few seconds and they’ll forget about you. If this sounds eerily familiar then you’ve probably played Doctor Who: The Adventure Games (coincidentally, developers Sumo Digital are mentioned in the credits). Some enemies need to be snuck past, while others need destroying. You’ll need to lure them into traps and activate them. Which would be fun if it wasn’t for the fact that you were shooting coloured icons – they just completely take all feeling out of moments that should be rewarding. It never feels like you’re actually interacting with the environment.
At the end of each level you’ll need to complete a minigame, of which there are two. The first you’ll encounter involves maneuvering an electrified ball around a circuit board maze. While moving through the maze you’ll need to use the Pointer to activate slow-down switches so you can make your way past various obstacles, such as sliding doors, fans and laser grids. As strange as it sounds, more effort appears to have gone into this minigame than anything else. On their own they may be incredibly dull and frustrating but after going through a level of the main game, it feels like a masterpiece. The second minigame involves using a repulsion beam to push away approaching asteroids while using a tractor beam to bring in the object you need. It’s easy, dull and forgettable.
The graphics of Return to Earth are downright insulting to the Wii. The Doctor and Amy’s models look like they were designed for a cel-shame with disproportionate features and everything else is just incredibly basic. When you destroy an enemy nothing about them changes – they just stay still for five seconds then simply vanish and developers Asylum have attempted to add detail by putting random scenery in random places. There was one room with lots of hovering platforms and some kind of liquid pouring into a non-existent pool at the bottom. In one corner was a few desks, with random objects such as a bag of golf clubs. Furthermore, the camera angles make maneuvering ten times harder than it should be – which is rather frustrating when you need to move precisely across those hovering platforms. If you have a modern TV then make sure to change the settings: Return to Earth lacks a widescreen option.
Doctor Who: Return to Earth is not fun to play at all. It’s incredibly basic and yet frustratingly difficult for all the wrong reasons. The entire crystal/orb system is incredibly out-of-place and removes any feeling that you’re interacting with the environment. If I had to describe Return to Earth in one word it would be “evil”. Parents will likely see this game and, due to the fact that Doctor Who is on the box, will buy this for their kids as a Christmas present. It certainly feels as though Asylum knows this, and have churned out any old rubbish as working hard on it won’t be much more profitable. Just think of all the kids that will be over the moon when they open this on Christmas day, only to have their hearts completely destroyed when they start plating it.
- Some great music.
- Everything. Except the music.
Churned out simply as a cheap product to make money this Christmas. No love has gone into this game, only greed. Avoid.