Pixar's adorable 'WALL-E' rolls into gaming universe

This summer's mechanical darling, the robotic star of Disney/Pixar's WALL-E, makes his video game debut across all platforms including LeapFrog's Leapster, the educational gaming system for little kids. All of the versions are fun to play, but some are harder than others. Here's the scoop on which game would work best for your WALL-E enthusiast.

For your younger gamer

WALL-E for the Leapster is the go-to game if your fan is 4 to 7 years old. The console version of the game (reviewed below) is just too challenging for this age range.

With the Leapster game, kids help WALL-E find cool human gadgets to play with by playing five educational games. In one, while kids stargaze with WALL-E, they practice number identification, addition and subtraction to find star patterns in the sky. Then they connect the stars to learn about famous constellations.

The games, which teach letter recognition, spelling skills and math, can be played on three levels of difficulty. In addition, kids will learn facts about recycling by helping WALL-E recycle trash.

The visuals on this system do a great job of capturing the charm that is WALL-E. As in the movie, kids will love watching his antics.

For your older gamer

WALL-E is available on all gaming platforms, but the games vary depending on the system and which company developed the game for THQ. We played the Nintendo Wii version developed by Heavy Iron, which also offers versions for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and the Sony PlayStation 3.

By controlling WALL-E and his love interest EVE, you get to explore the worlds presented in the movie. The storyline of the movie is retold through video cut scenes that are sprinkled throughout the game's nine levels.

WALL-E, a little waste-compacting robot, was left on Earth 700 years ago when the planet became inhabitable because of excessive waste created by humans. Most of the puzzle-based game play on Earth revolves around WALL-E's ability to compact garbage into useful cubes.

As he tries to navigate ever-changing landscapes, he must use the waste that he compacts to help him control his environment. Depending on the source of the waste, the cubes have different properties that WALL-E can use. For example, some are heavy and when thrown at targets, can trigger buttons that control ramps and bridges. Others are charged with electricity and can turn on devices. Some are even magnetic and will attract or repel metal objects. Plus WALL-E can fold himself into a box shape and roll to avoid danger.

When EVE, an Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, arrives on Earth, you get to control her as well. Because she flies, some of the game play involves zipping through tunnels and the air at breakneck speeds. EVE also has the ability to pick up and carry WALL-E for short bursts. She can take him places he would never be able to go on his own.

When the two robots are transported to the gigantic Axiom spaceship, the opportunity for new landscapes and new puzzles expands. This space world has so many new mechanical challenges, such as magnetic ceilings, electrified floors and other robots, that the puzzle play is very different from the earlier levels.

This game is fascinating to explore because it features big environments that are constantly changing. And the game play is inventive, frequently presenting puzzles even seasoned gamers will not have seen before. Plus the character of WALL-E is so cute that you would have to have a heart of lead not to fall in love with him. The game even offers multiplayer minigames.

But this Wii version of the WALL-E game is quite challenging to play, and too hard for the youngest members of the movie's targeted audience. This version is best played by kids 9 and up, but even they may experience some frustration with the infrequent save points, which will cause them to replay portions of the game over and over again. And the instructions can be incomplete and not shown on the screen for long, so be prepared to experiment. At times, the camera angles can be frustrating as you try to gauge if a platform is close enough for EVE to pick up WALL-E and carry him before her power runs out.

While not as creative and charming as the Wii version, the Nintendo DS version is easier to play. If you have a child who is too old for the Leapster, but not quite ready for the challenge of the Wii, Xbox 360 or PS3, pick up the DS game. As in the console versions, the DS version of WALL-E uses the compacted trash cubes to trigger events within the game.

Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine (www.ComputingWithKids.com). Contact her at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.