Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
I won’t be going back into the past to review a game this time, but Freedom Planet does its best to take and improve on the architecture of a gaming staple as it embraces everything retro from the 16-bit era. This was a project that began by trying to make the next awesome 2D Sonic the Hedgehog (fan) game, but was soon turned into Galaxy Trail’s own creation—after trips to Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight—which kept the feel of everything that inspired its development.
Released in July of 2014, this action platformer had a trailer and demo that hooked me quickly. The game revolves around the story of three female characters that quickly become besties and need to join forces with a duck to save their planet. The dragon, Lilac, is a speedster and was originally supposed to be the Sonic style character, but her partner Carol, the wildcat, is a skilled brawler with a sick motorcycle. Eventually the duo picks up a basset hound, named Milla, who plays more to the puzzle platformer style and has a range of varied attacks, as well as getting her own set of levels. These three cool anthropomorphic characters all play differently as well as having their own distinct personalities and animations. The Sonic-style impatient foot tapping when the player waited too long really made me smirk.
The game plays well, not perfectly mind you, but I found myself loving the movements and attacks once I got used to them. There may be a lack of speed at first for Sonic fans, but after some time it is evident that the pacing fits the adjusted play style well. Rings have been replaced by a stern but fair health system to go along with the shields, but I felt like a set of upgrade mechanics would have helped. Not all of the physics work well together, and there are things that I don’t like about the collision and momentum physics, but what playing Freedom Planet really pointed out to me was some annoyances I had with games featuring the infamous hedgehog and platformers in general. There are a good number of levels with multiple parts each, but be careful because it is easy to get lost in some sections. There are some fun and diverse boss fights that require more skill than just button mashing, though a little luck doesn’t hurt when speeding across the board. I did find a couple of them to be tedious and a bit overpowered with certain attacks. The game does get harder as it progresses, with some interesting new mechanics—like a random SHMUP section—and a final boss that took me a while to beat.
The visual presentation in Freedom Planet is exquisite. The bright and vibrant colors make each level look interesting and full, most containing an Asian or science fiction type aesthetic that looks good with the characters moving across it. The soundtrack impressed me a bit though, as no song ever felt stale and the music assists to establish the pacing and tone for each stage and scene without being overbearing. This is a track list I would listen to outside of the game.
That is why it makes me a bit sad to talk about the story. Everything seemed fine at first. I was totally in on this premise of helping the annoying duck stop the evil Lord Brevon from screwing up the planet, but the plot was quickly becoming a lot more intricate than that. Many games from the period Freedom Planet is attempting to mimic had too little story, but this overkill might have actually hurt it. Not only does the plot become convoluted and throw in a MacGuffin for good measure, but the cutscenes are just way too long in some parts. This isn’t Metal Gear Solid 4 level here, but several of the scenes clock in at ten plus minutes and could have easily been cut down. I am just glad there is an option to skip them. The story isn’t horrible, and it has small bits of good character moments, but the writing is just bad in some places, especially with the dialogue. Don’t let the cuteness, colors, or humorous moments fool anyone, because there are some adult themes, violence, and emotional moments as things go on. There is a sense of futility and defeat that is expressed better here than in some of the anime I watch. Overall the game feels a bit incomplete in places though. More time could have been spent on the writing, some characters seem to have had more time put into their animations than others, and the menus seem to be missing a lot of options (especially audio and visual ones).
This doesn’t change the fact that I felt great after beating the game though, even if I did not like the way the end of the story was handled. I’ll spare the spoilers though and let the readers draw their own conclusions. I did my first playthrough as Lilac and would recommend that, but that isn’t to take anything away from the other characters. Freedom Planet is certainly not perfect or without its fair set of problems, but a title that I plan on revisiting at least two more times in the near future. In a sea of bad Sonic games though, this underdog looks like the messiah come to rescue fans from the horrors Sonic Team is trying to inflict upon us all. I am happy to have played the game and moved this review up in my queue so that I could tell more people about it, and I was stoked to find out about a week ago that there is DLC coming to add in more playable characters, giving me another reason to go back. The game is available on the PC (where I played it) and the Wii U (eShop) for about $15, but there are talks of trying to get it on the PlayStation Vita as well. I’m looking forward to seeing what Galaxy Trail creates next, as long as they get a bigger budget and takes some more time with the project. I am a bit sad though that there is not a physical copy to put in the Wilds Collection.