Last weekend, more than 63 million people flocked to see the movie "WALL-E," an animated love story from Disney (the parent company of ABC) and Pixar starring a clunky but endearing robot that was left alone on Earth for 700 years when humans abandoned the planet after their waste made uninhabitable. When a sleek, modern robot named EVE is sent back to Earth to look for plant growth, WALL-E and EVE meet and fall in love.
As Hollywood's new robotic darling, WALL-E makes his video game debut in numerous games across multiple platforms. Since the "WALL-E" movie appeals to fans as young as 5 and as old as 99, the games vary in difficulty depending on the platform.
For the youngest fans, those between ages 4 and 7, the "WALL-E" video game on the Leapster (a handheld educational gaming system) is the best. This game offers five educational games featuring WALL-E and EVE and is set in the movie's universe.
As in the movie, WALL-E likes to collect cool human gadgets and toys in the game, which he finds by sifting through trash before compacting it into cubes. Kids help WALL-E to find these treasures by playing games that teach math and reading skills. In one, they can help WALL-E locate constellations in the sky by identifying numbers or adding and subtracting. In another, kids sort garbage by tapping on two or more squares of the same color in a grid of trash cubes.
As kids play, they not only practice classroom skills but also learn about space and environmental issues.
RATING: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
$19.99 for all Leapsters, including the new Leapster 2
Best for ages 4 to 7
For kids ages 7 and 8, the Nintendo DS version of "WALL-E" from THQ is the way to go. This version is simpler than the console version and consists of a series of puzzles where the objective is to get WALL-E or EVE through an environment by manipulating things in their surroundings.
For example, after WALL-E compacts garbage into a cube, if he then throws that cube across a chasm to hit a button, a bridge appears that allows him to wheel across into a new area.
While some of WALL-E's charm is lost in this small-screen format, and you must play through a series of similar puzzles before you reach the end of a level, the game does provide an interesting and mobile way of playing within the WALL-E universe.
RATING: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
$29.99 for Nintendo DS
Best for ages 7 to 12.
For a more robust experience, turn to the console version of "WALL-E" for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
Players control WALL-E and occasionally his female love interest, EVE, in nine levels of gameplay. The game re-creates and expands upon the environments featured in the movie, including the wasteland of Earth as well as the gigantic spaceship called Axiom. Players relive the movie's story through video cut scenes, shown between the levels of play.
Since each level explores a different location, the gameplay remains exciting. Most of the gameplay is puzzle-based, with your objective to find ways to navigate through the terrain.
As in the DS version, WALL-E, being a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class robot, has the unique ability to compact trash and form it into useful cubes. Some cubes have weight so that they can be used to push down on levers. Others carry an electrical charge that can power up objects; and some are magnetic, which will affect metal objects in the scene.
WALL-E can even bend into a cube shape himself and roll around so that he won't suffer damage. EVE, being an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, can fly and shoot with a laser. She also can lift up WALL-E and fly him to places he can't reach on his own.
These special abilities of WALL-E and EVE create intriguing gameplay, particularly as they interact with environments full of moving platforms, explosive containers, magnetic ceilings, electrified floors, and other robots and humans. Some of these puzzles are unique, including one where WALL-E folds into a box shape and then dislodges explosive barrels, which roll into a giant robot blocking the way.
Taking control of EVE to fly through tunnels produces an adrenaline rush because you are moving so fast. Multiplayer games also create some fun split-screen competitions for up to four players.
While engaging to play, this console version is too challenging for most kids under age 9. The first level of the game seems pretty easy, but the subsequent eight levels ratchet up the difficulty fairly quickly.
Plus, the game has infrequent save points between long series of puzzles, so if you fail after about 15 minutes of concentrated play, the level resets and you have to start all over again. And at times, the camera angles are wonky, making it hard to figure out how to jump on platforms. Some of the instructions were insufficient or flashed onscreen for too short a time, which caused our testers to have to guess or experiment with certain levels.
While not perfect, the "WALL-E" console game does a good job of capturing the charm of this little robot, and that creates a big part of the game's fun. Plus, kids will like exploring an expanded version of the world presented in the film. And the puzzles are clever, challenging and varied.
RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)
$49.99 for Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PS3. Versions also available for PS2, Win/Mac, and PSP
Best for ages 9 and up
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine.