Saturday, July 26, 2014

+5 AWESOME! - Freedom Planet

Retro 2D Platformer. Three words that a lot of indie developers seem to be in love with. There are a LOT of retro 2d platform games out there, and more are cropping up all the time. For the more jaded amongst us it's pretty easy to dismiss all of them as not worth playing, and even for the more forgiving amongst us, a game really needs to be something special to catch our attention.

With that in mind, Freedom planet is a 2D platform game with some very heavy 90's influences. Sonic the hedgehog being the most obvious, but for older gamers who grew up with a Sega Genesis/Megadrive, you'll readily find bits of rocket Knight Adventures, Ristar, even a little Gunstar Heroes for good measure. While it may initially sound like pandering to the retro crowd. In playing the game, it's clear the Developers know their stuff, and this game comes off as more a labor of love than cheap nostalgia.
Carol is capable of throwing out some rapid fire attacks
The game sees you playing as one of three characters: Lilac, Carol or Milla, as they travel through various locations in an attempt to save their planet  from an alien invasion. There is actually a story, told through multiple somewhat lengthy cutscenes. I'm not going to devote much time to talking about the story, but I will say that while it does dip into the cheesy at points, It was fun, and given the game's heavy 90s roots said cheesyness comes off as more fitting than annoying. Still, for those who'd rather skip the talking and just get to the action. cutscenes are skippable and The game has the option for a Classic mode, which cuts it out almost completely and lets you run through the stages with minimal interruption.

One thing that quickly becomes obvious with the gameplay is that it's not as fast as you might think. While the game looks a lot like a Sonic game and there are points where you can really speed up to run through some loops or up walls. The Gameplay overall is somewhat slower, with levels somewhat more open to exploration and combat, and that's not a bad thing. In fact, the game goes to decent lengths to avoid being a Sonic knock off, even Lilac, who's very obviously inspired by Sega's speedy blue mascot, has several moves to distance herself from being a simple clone, such as her dragon boost. A single burst of speed that can send her skyward and bounce her off walls. The end result is something that feels as much a game in it's own right as it is a throwback to older titles.
Lilac's dragon boost is defiantly not a simple spindash
Stages in the game are pretty decently sized and broken into several segments. The game does a great job on level design, even in the later stages you'll be coming across new stage gimmicks, traps and enemies to deal with. There's also a good amount of variety within stages, rather than given each stage a single distinct theme, the later half of each stage takes place in a different, but related environment from the earlier parts, such as old ruins that lead into a crystal mine. or a city stage that ends inside a mall. At times it can feel like each stage is really two and it keeps things feeling fresh throughout the game.

Then there's the bosses. There's plenty of bosses and mini-bosses throughout the game, and they're as varied as the stages themselves. The bosses themselves are suitably epic, giant foes that take some honest effort to take down, especially near the end of the game. The only drawback with the bosses is that some of the bosses can be rendered trivial due to the games various shield powerups, that grant immunity to certain types of attacks. However, setting up a situation like requires knowing what shield you need ahead of time, and at least some conscious effort to both find the shield and not loose it ahead of time. so you shouldn't readily break things unless you were deliberately trying to.
There's a lot of bosses in this game.
The graphics on the game are very nice. Everything's very bright and colorful and the game's rendered everything in a pixel art style. Interestingly, unlike most games, while Freedom planet does use pixel graphics they don't appear to have constrained the art to mimic an 8 or 16-bit system, the end result is despite the gameplay being heavily influenced by genesis titles, the game's graphics look more like an old Playstation 1 or Sega Saturn game: Pixelated, but with more detail then what you normally get from "retro" graphics. It's honestly a nice change of pace and I wish more indy games would do something like this. Annoyingly however, the game runs at a fixed resolution, you can double or triple the window size, but full screen simply makes everything around it black. Depending on your monitor and screen resolution. you might have to play windowed or deal with a potentially large amount of letterboxing.

The music is catchy and upbeat and fits the graphics quite nicely, interestingly, like the graphics while it has the feel of an older game, they didn't try to mimic older systems by using chiptunes. The end result is much like the graphics: the soundtrack feels like something from a PS1 or Saturn game, the only really bad thing I can say about it is the soundtrack doesn't seem to be available for download or purchase anywhere (EDIT: A soundtrack has been made available since this review was posted, the link has been added below). The game's sound is also pretty solid, with special mention going to the voice acting, which is surprisingly solid given the game's indy background. It's rare that an indy game bothers with voice work and most only voice a narrator, or one or two characters if not that, for the developers to do full voice acting with a decently sized cast and still have it come out as well as it does like this is honestly quite impressive. Hats off to GalaxyTrail for pulling it off.
Milla has a shorter health bar, but can make shields and blocks to fight with.
While the game is mostly pretty solid, it does have a few flaws. I've encountered several minor bugs in the course of playing the game. nothing game breaking, but weird things like characters getting stuck in the level for a second or two, or some instance where the music suddenly stops. it's annoying at times, but nothing to get worked up over, and the developers are dedicated to patching these things out. The most obvious flaw however, would be the physics. Your characters are supposed to be fairly quick and will be running through loops and up walls and doing other gravity defying stunts throughout the game, however, the game is weirdly lenient with how fast you need to be going and you can readily do all of that despite not moving very fast at all. It's not a major problem, but it can be somewhat awkward to see your character almost casually jogging through a loop or along the ceiling rather than blazing along at full speed like you'd expect.

Overall, This game manages to pull off an incredible feat in being both a sendup to classic 90's platformers and a perfectly solid game in it's own right. There's plenty to see and do and while the game is released and not in any way early access, the developers aren't finished with it yet. Thanks to the booming success of the game's kickstarter campaign, they actually plan on expanding the game with a few more playable characters, including making Milla, currently playable in classic mode only as of this writing, playable in adventure mode. All as free DLC. you're definitely getting your money's worth with this, and I can't recommend the game enough.

Freedom Planet was developed by GalaxyTrail. It's available on Steam and GoG. It's homepage, along with a downloadable demo, is available here. The game's soundtrack is available on Steam and Bandcamp.

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