While Cars was a massive success for Disney, its similar vehicular adventure, Planes, seems to have not caught on quite as well. With a similar concept - stick some goofy eyes on some kind-of-based-on-real-life-planes aircraft, and watch the adventure unfold - the second film in the series, Fire and Rescue, took things in a slightly different direction. Centring around the story of Dusty Crophopper - one plane in a multi vehicle fire and rescue squad - it was a tale of fighting fires, rescuing "deer", and generally tending to emergencies whenever they may happen. And as chance may have it, that's exactly what you'll be doing in Planes: Fire and Rescue, the tie in game.
First things first though - if anyone's ever told you that kids games are always a little bit rubbish, then Planes Fire and Rescue should be the game that proves them wrong. With slick menus, a great soundtrack (taken from the film), and, most importantly, simple, solid, yet really fun gameplay, this is something special - and something the six year old inside us all will love.
As with all good kids games, there's a pretty hefty tutorial here to get things going - only rather than being a basic "skip through the instructions affair", here, you'll undertake a long series of "training" missions - much like in the film itself - in order to prep you for a life of rapid response. Here, you'll learn how to make use of the dozens of vehicles on your team, and their special abilities - which are much more varied and diverse than you'd imagine.
Dusty Crophopper himself has been converted into a firefighting plane, and can drop water on forest fires to put them out. Windlifter is a big, green helicopter that can be used to winch things out of the way (think boulders blocking roads, trees that have fallen over, and "deer" (tractors with antlers strapped on) that have wondered into the wrong part of the forest), Blade Ranger is a red chopper that can drop both water on fires, and fire retardant on the trees around them to stop them catching fire too quickly, while Lil Dipper is designed for putting out fires - she can hold the most water out of the lot of them. With the whole team having to work together to put out the fires - and there being just enough realism to it to pull kids (and big kids) in, while not being too complex to understand, this is a lot of fun.
It's not just in the air, either. One of the cooler friends you can call on in the levels is Cabbie, a cargo plane that can air drop a quartet of lifting, sawing, dragging and bulldozing vehicles in to help clear things up on the ground. All you have to do is drop a flare (by pressing A), and then line up the cross-hairs on a little pop-up map that appears to continue the fight (against fires) on the ground.
And there's loads to do. With an array of emergency vehicles on offer, there's a huge number of missions for you to conquer here, with 30 "training" missions to cut your teeth on, and a similar number of full, multi unit rescue missions where your skills will be put to the test. Whether it's taking to the skies in the middle of a thunderstorm, desperately trying to contain the fires the lightning strikes cause, clearing some stray boulders off the road so the campers can get to their meeting, or trying to save an, er, "family" of "deer" tractors from an encroaching fire, there's a load of variety here - and a decent amount of replay value too. Each mission you complete will earn you a bronze, silver or gold medal, depending on how quickly you finish it - and on the later missions, getting a gold is very hard indeed.
Still, it's not all smooth flying for the planes crew. While for the most part, the game's rather slick, there are a few weird glitches every now and then. Perhaps the most significant is how sensitive the drop zones are, when you have to move something from A to B. If you need to drop a deer off somewhere safe, you'll need to place it exactly on the red marker. Press it slightly too soon, and drop it a little bit off, and you'll need to pick it up, move ever so slightly, and drop it again. Weirdly, the markers that pop up showing you where the nearest stretch of water is, should you run out, so you can go and top up again, sometimes simply don't show up - with objective markers occasionally playing a similar disappearing act. When you're working against the clock, that isn't the most helpful thing.
But perhaps the biggest issue, especially for its younger audience, is that it doesn't tell you which fires are the most pressing to tackle. In the top left of the screen, every fire that's burning will have a little meter that fills up, telling you how urgent it is to tackle it. Should the meter fill up, you'll lose a life at the very least, or sometimes end up with a game over, and have to restart the level - but there's no way of telling which fire is which. While having meters on screen is a nice idea, they don't actually serve a purpose if you can't tell which fire they relate to on the ground.
Still, these are mostly minor niggles for a game that goes above and beyond its budget price tag. With the perfect blend of fantasy and reality, kids will love stepping into the cockpit of Dusty Crophopper to do the right thing, keep the people safe, and put out the forest fires - and this is easy enough to control that they'll be able to do it. With a medal system to keep them coming back for more, and charm in spades, if you have kids, and you have a Wii U, this is well worth picking up.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS