One of my very favourite games of all time is Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. The biggest compliment I can pay Planet Alpha is that it reminds me hugely of that game. But like that adventure of Abe’s, this puzzling platformer falls just short of utter greatness.
Planet Alpha is Team17’s 100th game, and just by sitting back and admiring the visuals, it’s easy to see why it has been deemed good enough to hold that crown. Developed by Danish indie developer Adrian Lazar of Planet Alpha ApS game studio, Planet Alpha drops you head first into a strange alien world, before tasking you with making your way through its puzzling beauty and popping out again on the other side.
This is done very much in the same vein as the likes of the critically acclaimed Limbo and Inside, and if you liked either of those games then chances are you’ll get on just fine with Planet Alpha. For at the end of the day, this runs along the same lines as those two behemoths – just it comes with included colour for added measure. It is those visuals which deliver the standout moments throughout.
In fact, the visuals don’t just bring a few moments of wow, and instead with every step you take on this journey you’ll be left open mouthed at just how beautiful one game can be. With a huge amount of detail found in not just the main character, but each and every foe that he will come across and every single background pane and foreground addition, this is one game that should be dragged out when it’s time to show exactly what a modern day console can do. It’s bright, it’s beautiful and the eye candy alone immerses you in to a wonderful living and breathing world; one that you can manipulate.
Yep, that’s right, this isn’t just your standard platformer… you need to think about what is going on at all times. By harnessing your super special mind powers, manipulating the land the way you want to will be the only way you’re ever going to find any success in Planet Alpha. This is done by holding down the trigger buttons and becoming at one with the solar cycle, fast forwarding time so that the sun shines when you desire, and seeing the moon glow high in the sky in times of need. You may think that this just affects shadow and light, but you’d be wrong as nearly everything that is found living on this alien planet can be affected by this cycle. Plants will grow high when the sun beams, giving you the chance to hide in the undergrowth so that you can sneak by any invasive robots that are out to hunt you down. But these plants can also be used as platforms and to distract the likes of alien bees and moths, with them moving away from your line of escape in order to suck up the nectar that the sun loving flora brings.
Moving through this solar cycle doesn’t just affect the plant life though and Planet Alpha is a world of two halves. See, whilst the living breathing side of things is full of colour and love, the robots that have invaded are just all about death and destruction. You’ll find lasers and bullets coming your way should you even dare step foot near these bad guys and if you cannot find a way safely past them, you will again have to manipulate the time of day to see the planet be able to fight back. Spinning some huge hulking robotic structures into play in order to smash a robot to smithereens is always enjoyable.
For the most part, Planet Alpha is a left to right scroller that runs fairly damn smoothly. Fast paced at times, as you go slipping and sliding down slopes or utilising gravitational forces, the vast majority of the action found can be taken at your own pace. Thankfully too, as whether that is because you are left gawping at the visuals or are just trying to work out the best way through a simple puzzle, time and patience more often than not sees success. With your character’s movement speed nigh on spot on, and his jumping and climbing actions reasonably tight and well suited to the environment, Planet Alpha is a joyous romp through a wonderfully unique land.
But it doesn’t all come up smelling of galactic roses and there are some fairly minor, but strangely annoying, issues that constantly crop up. It is these which stop T17’s centurion from being right at the top of its genre.
Most of these problems revolve around the randomness that is included and even though you are rarely left to really worry about what you are doing, or where you are going – just happy to let Planet Alpha deliver you an experience – there are times when things blend together a bit too much, with the all important platforms hidden away either by the the vibrant foregrounds, or, later on, in the darkest caverns. Leaps of faith are very much par for the course here and that sees plenty of death occurring. Thankfully checkpoint spacing is great and regular so when those deaths do occur, you’ll rarely have to redo the same old bits time and time again. It is though hugely confusing at times and for all the stunning visuals in the world, there is a constant struggle to really be able to differentiate between the platforms you are looking to clambour around on, and the intricately detailed environments. That’s fine when you are able to take your time – but when the pace ups it’s all a bit too much.
It’s also slightly disappointing that the enemy AI isn’t always the best, preferring instead to either play the role of sharpshooter, picking you off from afar, or going to the other end of the spectrum and struggling to notice a strange alien man at their feet. In a world that has been put together with so much love and care, it’s unfortunate to find moments that allow you to crawl through the legs of a dozing laser toting robot, before legging it across a plane or two just like that Mudokon slave used to in the ‘90s. Whilst that is fine for my own sanity, I’m not sure it’s something that should be going on.
But other than those worries, Planet Alpha is a rather brilliant game. As mentioned multiple times the visuals are the headline grabbers, but that is only one side of the equation and the audio that has been put in to accompany this journey is equally as good. Combined they immerse you into this weird world of Planet Alpha from the very first instance, right up to its conclusion – and there aren’t many games that can do that.
For those reasons alone, should you be in the market for a puzzling platformer then you’ll struggle to find one any more delightful than Planet Alpha. The odd mechanical issue aside, it comes across as a stunning journey that will draw you in from the start and very rarely ever lets go, especially once you really get to grips with how the brilliant solar cycle mechanics work. If you like Inside, Limbo, or, like me, adore Abe’s Oddysee from back in the day, then you will love this super colourful, highly intricate platform affair.
Team17 have pulled one out of the bag with their 100th game.