My Happy Planet
| My Happy Planet

It's officially cool to be green. Smug celebrity X drives a Toyota Prius to the latest Hollywood premiere, and then sneaks out of the back to take their gas-guzzling Humvee for a spin. Celebrity Y earnestly extols the virtue of reducing one's carbon footprint, mere days before flying around the world to promote their latest film. It's easy to be cynical about such things, but the core message of looking after our planet is as sound as ever.

Ecologically conscious games aren't exactly ten-a-penny, and those that do crop up tend to turn you green with nausea rather than conservational awareness. I-Play is the latest publisher to try and mix a conscientious eco-message with decent gameplay. In My Happy Planet, it's opted for a series of light-hearted mini-games centred around a green theme.

So, for example, the Breakout clone Cloud Buster replaces the usual breakable blocks with clouds, the object being to clear the way for four solar panels to receive sufficient sunlight. Meanwhile, the whack-a-mole styled Hydro Healer has you blocking holes in a dam (using each of the number keys) in order to maintain clean hydro-power.

As you may have guessed from these examples, it's all fairly derivative in gameplay terms. To make matters worse, five of the eight mini-games involve simple button-matching, and come across as variations on a theme rather than distinct experiences.

That's not to detract from the quality of some of the games though. Cows In Space!!! (I-Play's exclamation marks, not ours) requires you to fire corks at a series of flatulent bovine astronauts. All in the name of cutting methane gas levels, of course. It looks and plays splendidly, and managed to raise a smile from this grumpy hack. Elsewhere, Commuter Chaos, whilst yet another number-matching game, requires a considerable degree of skill and multi-tasking to perfect.

Unfortunately, there are also a few duds. The aforementioned Cloud Buster is one of the poorest Breakout clones we've encountered in a while. And we've played a lot of them. A sluggish paddle and some iffy collision detection lead to too many unavoidable ball losses; a fault which the developer has all but admitted to by including a plentiful supply of health-restoring power-ups.

Regardless of the varying quality level, My Happy Planet is universally well presented, featuring bright and colourful graphics and a welcome twist of humour for each of the games. The big scribbly faced planet on the main menu changes his expression depending on how well you're doing overall, which is a lovely – if incidental – touch. The game is full of such moments.

Of course, the main feature of My Happy Planet is the green message, which is reaffirmed by the unlocking of various eco-facts as you progress through the game. These range from thought-provoking to stating-the-bleeding-obvious – 're-using items means sending less waste to landfills', for example.

As a standalone collection of mini-games, My Happy Planet is fairly average, boasting a decidedly hit-and-miss success rate. As a means for provoking green-awareness amongst casual gamers it's worthy of more praise. We're not sure if the mixture of silly games and dry facts will drive the point home, but it certainly beats listening to preachy celebrities. The only hot air being spouted here comes from the cows.

My Happy Planet

The mini-games vary in quality, but each is rendered with a healthy dose of humour, and there's certainly no arguing with the message they contain