When I hear ‘Platformer’ I have flashbacks to the likes of Cuphead, Celeste and Rayman. Frustrating, annoying and rage inducing. I shuddered at the thought of Planet Alpha being the ‘Dark Souls of Platformers’. However, Team 17’s 100th game is something extremely special. When I loaded up this stunning sci-fi puzzler, I was met with one of the best feelings a gamer can get… excitement.
Developer: Planet Alpha ApS
Publisher: Team 17 Digital Limited
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure, Indie
Platforms: Windows PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and reviewed on PlayStation 4
Price: £15.99 (PS Store)
Planet Alpha spans across 8 chapters. Your journey begins as you awaken on a strange yet beautiful alien world with more environments than you can possibly imagine. You are injured, alone and seemingly stranded in this mysterious land. Survival is the key and you will traverse this planet with the sole intention to stay alive.
You will need to contend with robots wreaking havoc across the planet whilst avoiding hostile wildlife trying to eliminate you. Thankfully you discover you have a talent of manipulating night and day which is a valuable advantage.
I can’t express enough how visually stunning Planet Alpha is. I could go on and on for days. It reminds me so much of the likes of Abzu, Journey and Rime. Every environment whether it be desert, lush overgrowth or the interior of a grand building is colorful, vibrant and quirky. There is so much to look at and you will find yourself taking a million and one screenshots constantly and savoring your experience. Luckily the mobs aren’t at every turn so you do get that downtime to gaze upon your surroundings.
The intricate details are amazing. For example: when climbing up the carefully placed foliage, small glimmers will fall as if you have disturbed the delicate nature of the plant. The water in the streams has the perfect amount of foam as they run into rapids. From the tallest alien species to individual particles, the world will create surprises that will please your eyes.
The environment is dynamic as it can change in a heart beat. You need to constantly watch your step because one minute you’re having the time of your life, jumping with glee, and in the next breath the jump has caused the bridge you’re on to crumble. Furthermore, Planet Alpha will switch between day and night effortlessly as you go through the levels. Your surroundings take on a completely different life when it is dark with bright neon colors for the flowers which turns everything into a fluorescent light show.
One of the most impressive parts of the game is that even though it’s a 2D platformer it feels so much bigger. At one point you’re in an open field with native alien wildlife and although your path is linear, the world is created in such a way it feels like you could run around the entire expanse of land if you wanted to. It feels so much bigger than merely a platformer and I felt completely immersed.
My only criticism is that the world is so immersive that it isn’t always clear where you need to go or where you can jump to. Often in games, you will get a wall that’s a slightly different colour, a certain plant that is always the same so you know to jump on it, however, Planet Alpha doesn’t always follow this rule. It becomes a little bit of trial and error as you jump aimlessly and hope you’re going the right way but sometimes fall to your death. The camera can be quite restricting so you can’t always see what’s in front or below you before you make a decision.
Every alien species I came across was weird and wonderful. You could tell they were from another planet and by making some species extremely tall, you really felt like you were a small fish in a very big pond. The alien wildlife did nothing but amplify the sheer size of your environment. All species were diverse and would range from flying mobs to herbivores to hostile creatures and helped the world feel so much more realistic.
The wildlife would interact with the environment around you for example: The tall herbivore species would be eating a tree as you run past. I found these small intimate moments to be charming and I am not afraid to admit that it made me smile.
Forming this kind of bond in that way at the beginning of the game made it so much more emotional when things go pear shaped. I don’t want to spoil anything but I hope you can agree that things get pretty devastating when you’ve interacted with the wildlife so closely.
The animals are given to you as a useful tool sometimes to overcome puzzles. For example: you can lead enemies to a creature’s tail so they will be thrown out of the way with one swift stroke.
Hostile wildlife was an interesting and welcomed addition. Since there isn’t an attack mechanic and it is all based on stealth, learning a creature’s pattern in order to avoid them was very rewarding. I was sweating a bit every time one of the huge bugs spotted me because one false move and they would kill you on sight.
The main hostile mob came in the form of invading robots who were here to obliterate the planet and all that inhabited it. These robots made you hate them by attacking wildlife and patrolling the planet like sentinels.
There are two types that you will need to overcome with your stealth and cunning: smaller ‘Protectron’ like robots and bigger ‘War of the Worlds’ type robots with long legs. They were very easily startled and since their weapons were deadly it did make the stealth segments that much more challenging.
Furthermore, you will come across a much larger robot throughout who will test your powers of parkour under pressure.
The controls for Planet Alpha are blissfully simplistic. Using ‘X’ allows you to jump, ‘Square’ to Crouch with L2 and R2 being your main tools in controlling night and day. The game will give you button prompts where necessary and will even automatically climb or jump for you which can be a real life saver.
As with 2D platformers, you can only move left and right and using overgrowth as a stealthy tool merely requires you to hold ‘Square’ or it’ll be off with your head. For all you thrill seekers, never fear, the gameplay is not dominated by stealth. You will take place in chases where your reflexes will be put to the test and you’ll even get to use rubble as a surfboard to destroy enemies. This dynamic in the pacing of the gameplay made sure I never got bored.
Furthermore, a lot of the time there will be another way around enemies. Often these are tied with trophies if you are going for that 100%. Not only that, killing enemies themselves are a puzzle and you will need to use your environment around you. I don’t remember any repetition in terms of destroying robot foe which was fab. Although 9 times out of 10 it will be through trial and error. Thankfully, the check-pointing system is tremendous and is a key element in ensuring the player keeps their cool if they are continuously dying.
Puzzles are the right amount of challenging but with no hints, you can be stuck with them for a little while because they are very ‘out of the box’. Luckily, any objects that you can move are always indicated with a diamond whether it be a piece of rubble or an egg. In darker areas, you will have a torch shining from your astronaut helmet so you can still see what you are doing.
Finally, an interesting addition is balls of light which send your character into another area. These areas use zero gravity and are a lot of fun. You will need to overcome an obstacle course of sorts to get to the end and back into the colourful world. Aspects like this made sure the game did not become repetitive due to the Chapters being pretty long.
Music and Sound Effects
The music is relaxing and fits the sci-fi genre perfectly. It is perfect exploration music with an intense twist at appropriate points in the game. The only problem I found is that the music can cut out and end abruptly when switching to a different music score. This breaks up the immersion slightly but only for a moment.
The sound effects from the alien wildlife and our robotic foe were very appropriate and realistic. Each species of animal sounded different and this all added to the immersion.
Overall, I found Planet Alpha to be an absolute delight and would urge any fan of 2D platformers to give this game a go. I enjoyed every second of my journey and although the story is simplistic, the content is there to give you hours of fun. Puzzles, evil robots, killer bugs, cute alien animals… what more could you want?