"Do you shoot anything?" was my son's pressing question when we first loaded Disney's "Planes" game for Nintendo platforms.
"Probably not," I told my disappointed boy, but I was wrong. Anticipating the target demographic, the game finds every excuse to give its animated aircraft plenty of opportunities to shoot paint, vortex cannons and flares, but never anything violent, sending me back to childhood days chasing sisters with toy planes, shouting "Pew! Pew!"
Most missions in "Planes" involve piloting a crash-proof plane around an often cramped setting, fetching devices or plowing through piles of sand, snow or hay. The freedom to fly without much constraint is initially exhilarating, but soon monotony batters satisfaction, and you'll get airsick flying around Propwash Junction the fifth time, although having a second player gracefully join helps ease the stagnation.
When a timed mission roused me from my growing indifference, racing at speeds only briefly tasted, I moved to the edge of my seat and, eyes glued to the screen, navigated a twisting course around the beaches and islands of Dubai. With renewed vigor, I proceeded to the next mission, only to have another fetch quest demoralize me anew.
My son had a similar love-hate relationship with "Planes," but opposite my own. There was a steep learning curve for him to get used to controlling a plane with the Wii remote, but eventually he was soaring over mountains and under bridges like a pro. The simpler and slower missions were his favorite parts, but the eclectic races and timed flights frustrated him almost to the point of tears.
In a spirit of piloting teamwork to make Han and Chewie proud, he piloted joyrides around countrysides, and the races became my domain as we cheered each other.
After completing the story, a wealth of unlocked content greeted us. We now had the liberty of free-flying the maps, racing in air rallies or playing an unexpectedly demanding balloon-popping mini-game. Free-flying around the levels, I expected lethargy to strike again, but with 10 deviously hidden puzzle pieces to hunt down in each map, we hit more than a few high-fives when we found each piece.
The air rallies, with the added chaos of power-ups, are where I enjoyed hefty entertainment value. These power-ups constitute unique racing weapons, such as a tornado, paint globs or lullaby music, bringing to the skies the element of tactical banana peels and turtle shells used by a certain famous, mustachioed plumber and his horde of go-karting friends.
Disney's "Planes" hits the family-friendly target with aplomb. Flying Disney aircraft is an entertaining, but not engrossing, experience for those young children patient enough to acclimate themselves to the controls, and it even has moments of challenging game play for the adults, but the intersection of the two is nonexistent.
Treat the controller like a racing baton and pass it to the appropriately aged player for the mission at hand, or play just enough of the schizophrenic story mode to unlock free flight maps and air rallies, and then tailor your experience accordingly.
Platforms: Wii U, Wii, 3DS, DS, PC
ESRB rating: E