‘Planet Alpha‘ is the latest 2D indie side-scrolling platformer, this time from the minds of some former IO developers (the Hitman team). Does this sci-fi adventure, made by a tiny team from Denmark, do enough to tickle my taste-buds?
Despite the small team, Team 17 have chosen this to be their 100th game, so were probably pretty confident in it? Planet Alpha is one of those games like Limbo or Journey, where there’s no actual cut-scenes, no text, no ‘story’ in the traditional sense, just a narrative that unfolds as you continue to play.
You start on a (presumably) alien planet, having suffered some kind of crash. As you explore the beautiful land, you soon find that some kind of robotic race is trying to invade the planet for reasons unknown, which adds an extra layer of tension and danger as you have to try to escape from these mechanical invaders as well as the natural dangers of the indigenous lifeforms on the planet.
But whilst the wordless story is excellent, the game is somewhat let down by the controls and some of the core mechanics. The beauty of Journey and Limbo is that their controls were as sharp as their visuals. Here, the same cannot be said for Planet Alpha.
The jumping is floaty and imprecise, and the controls aren’t quite as responsive as would be ideal. If the game was a breeze, and the narrative was the main draw, then this wouldn’t be a problem. However, you have very limited health, and the platforming certainly requires a fair bit of skill, particularly if you want to grab the achievements which involve hunting out secret areas.
The same goes for the puzzles. A number of them are relatively simple and help highlight the amazing visuals as you get the power to speed up the day/night cycle. Changing the time will make flowers bloom, which can act as cover or jump pads, or even change the position of a platform. It’s a neat mechanic, which works well, but other puzzles involving moving blocks or manipulating objects can be far, far more frustrating, and I had to turn to YouTube walkthroughs on more than one occasion.
Planet Alpha is not a long game by any regards, and with a 14 euro price tag, is not the greatest value. The ten chapters will take only 3-6 hours to go through, depending on your skill and how often you pause to gape at the scenery.
By far and away the best aspect of the game is the absolutely stunning art direction. The planet has huge visual variety, whilst the whale-like creatures that glide through the sky are graceful, eerie and beautiful. The day/night cycle is particularly profound, highlighting the vibrant and playful colour palette that’s been used, with lighting used to spectacular effect throughout. Whether it’s an enclosed area or a huge open vista, there’s always something interesting or intriguing to look at.
There’s no speech in Planet Alpha, but that’s not needed – the beautiful flow of the ambient noises and the delightful, mellow music that accompany your progress are a relaxing and perfect accompaniment to your journey.
‘Planet Alpha‘ is a nice, pleasant game to breeze through over the course of a weekend. I would probably have actually preferred it to have been a bit easier, or the platforming to have been a bit tighter, so I could have spent more time admiring the scenery, and less worrying about my next death.
Still, this is a fine effort from a small team, and I’m glad I got to explore this bizarre, but beautiful and charming world.