PLANET ALPHA is Team17’s 100th released game, which is an incredible achievement for the publisher. The tiny team of three Danish developers behind the game have created a title truly worthy of this accolade.
PLANET ALPHA plays incredibly similar to Playdead’s rather excellent titles Limbo and Inside as a 2D side-scrolling puzzle-platformer where you traverse environments avoiding enemies and pitfalls whilst solving puzzles along the way. Again, similar to both those titles, there is a distinct lack of written narrative and rather the story is told cleverly through actions and set-pieces that take place within the scenery and environments. This might be a little off-putting to some that enjoy a high story-driven experience but it definitely suits this game and enhances the experience of showcasing its stunning world.
In PLANET ALPHA, you are a spaceman that heavily depicts retro B-movie style spacemen with the fishbowl helmet and bold white spacesuit. You awake noticeable injured on what initially appears to be a barren planet that highly resembles Mars with the red sand and rocks and orange skyline. It’s deliberately vague as to how you came to be on this planet and it’s this air of mystery that instantly drew me to want to move forward to discover more about my surroundings and how I came to end up being here. This mystery is further heightened as you slowly limp through this wasteland until you eventually pass out only to awake in a cave with torches lit, seemingly completely healed.
As you progress through the game, you come across ancient-looking advanced technological structures, giant gold humanoid statues and ruined temples which showcase that there must have been an advanced civilisation on the planet at some point. This could be linked to the current robot army invasion that you witness on your travels. These robots, once again, heavily resemble classic sci-fi tropes by having antennas which have green electricity zapping between them and War of the World style tri-pedal robots sporting death inducing lasers.
It’s not just robots which impede your progression through the lush environments but you will come across a variety of native creatures that don’t take kindly of you trespassing on their world. These range from gigantic dinosaur-like tetra-pods who will crush you like a bug, to actual bugs that will douse you in poison if they catch you moving through their lair. What I loved was the interactions between the native creatures and the robots themselves. In the beautifully detailed scenery, you can witness the war raging on with the robots battling it out with the creatures. This interaction doesn’t only happen in the background but also within some of the puzzle elements where you will sometimes make use of a native creature to help destroy a robot causing an obstacle in your path.
This moves nicely on to the games puzzles which largely revolve around manipulating the time of the day by having the power to rise and set the sun. At the beginning of the game, you only have this ability through interacting with the ancient technical structures. This would usually lead to a platform being moved or gate opening so you can progress. Through mid to late game, you gain this ability at whim and its use is much more interesting as certain plants will only appear at night, whilst some plants will display their fruits in the daytime which attracts killer insects to them and hence you can avoid them to continue your journey. Not once did I get stuck with any puzzle, it’s all very simplistic. If you come to an edge of a platform which you can’t see a way to get across, you generally just changed the time of the day and something would appear to help you on your way.
The rest of the game is what you expect from a platformer with you having to jump between rocky ledges, climb vines, push blocks and avoid enemies through stealthy situations. Some of the set-pieces, where you are being chased or having to dart across crumbling platforms, rely on quick reflexes but there is nothing too challenging about it as a whole. You will die fairly often but it only takes a bit of trial and error to work out how to proceed and thankfully the checkpoints are incredibly close together so there is no frustration with having to replay large sections of the game. The game feels incredibly responsive and all my deaths were from my own clumsiness rather than from a mechanical standpoint. Some people might find the game and its puzzles too simplistic but for me, it was an easy game to just pick up and play and allowed me to just absorb the beauty of it all. Unlike Limbo and Inside, which instil a sense of dread and tension, PLANET ALPHA doesn’t feel haunting or oppressive, even in it’s most harrowing situations and harsh terrains. It may sound strange calling it a much more pleasant experience when there is a robot invasion taking place, but that’s really how it feels.
As you can probably gather already my biggest highlight of the game and what makes it so compelling is its beautiful alien landscapes and creatures that make the planet feel alive and lived in. Throughout the 10 chapters and many distinct ecosystems that you will discover, the environments are exquisitely detailed with a variety of highly imaginative fauna and flora. You find yourself trekking through dense jungles, hopping across floating islands with waterfalls raining down from them and creeping through bug ridden caves to name but a few. It feels like a lot of inspiration was taken from the movie Avatar, especially once the sun has set, as the game makes use of startling bioluminescence within the plant life and glowing stingray-like flying critters and fungi.
This really makes playing on a 4K TV an absolute treat. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game which is so vibrant and almost psychedelic at times. Honestly, when you witness pink and blue whales flying through the sky in between the floating platforms that you are jumping between whilst robots are firing laser bolts at you or even attacking the whales, it truly is a sight to behold. There were even times I just stopped what I was doing purely to take in the scenery and watch what was happening in the background. Thankfully, the game does an excellent job of slowing things down a little as you discover new areas so that you are able to soak it all up and enjoy what’s on the screen in front of you.
With such a stunning visual style I was expecting a bold soundtrack to compliment it. While the music is pleasant enough, it’s not very memorable. It has that spacy feel to it as you would come to expect from a title where a spaceman is the main character but its all fairly subtle and is missing having big score beats at what would be natural and significant moments in the game.
For trophy hunters, it’s somewhat disappointing as there is no Platinum trophy. The game consists of 15 Bronze trophies and a single Gold of which all of them can be found during a single playthrough – but most are easily missed unless you do a little bit of exploring off the beaten track. There is a chapter select which makes finding the ones you missed a lot easier to pick up but without that valuable Platinum, the impetus to collect them all really is hindered.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with PLANET ALPHA. The vibrancy within the art style and level of the detail, not only in the background environments but the foreground too, makes for a very gorgeous experience. Over the course of my 5-hour playthrough, I didn’t necessarily see anything new or inventive within its platforming elements but the manipulation of time felt fresh and worked incredibly well as a puzzle mechanic. It’s a remarkable little game with a story that has a very satisfying sense of mystery and discovery even if the ending was a little predictable.
Team17 have added yet another great game to their catalogue with PLANET ALPHA and I look forward to the next 100 games they publish!
- Visually gorgeous interactive alien world, with highly imaginative landscapes and creature designs
- Intriguing use of storytelling through discovery and actions rather than narrative
- Simplistic puzzles and platforming makes for a stress-free enjoyable experience
- Clever day-night puzzle elements
- A fairly short experience
- Unmemorable soundtrack
- No Platinum trophy