You know that old trope of the “cutesy” character that everyone underestimates until it is revealed that they can totally kick ass? Think Unikitty from The LEGO Movie–a character based on cuteness who showed occasional flashes of underlying uneasiness until the explosive finale. That’s pretty much how Lovely Planet is. It entices you in with its charming Katamari-style visuals and music, slowly gets weird, and then totally beats you down at the end.
Lovely Planet (PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux)
Release Date: July 31st 2014
Lovely Planet doesn’t begin with narration or world-building text. No, the game begins by throwing you right into the action without context, which works to the game’s credit. It’s essentially a sequence of 100+ time trials separated into 5 worlds, each of which features some sort of new obstacle or visual component. Story would just get in the way.
At the outset, you’ll notice that you don’t have an aiming reticle. This threw me off at first, but soon I realized the genius of it. By the time you get to the third world, you’ll be forced to move so fast that “aiming” in the common sense becomes unnecessary. You have to train yourself to know precisely where to shoot. Aiming would just be a waste of precious milliseconds.
So yes, it’s that kind of game. Conventions that we are used to by now are phased out in favor of simplicity. The longest levels rarely take more than 20 seconds to complete, but you’ll likely take 20 minutes getting to the point where you can even finish it. Lovely Planet basically does for the twitch shooter genre what Super Meat Boy did for platformers years ago.
It accomplishes this through smart level layout and use of obstacles. At the beginning, your only enemies are red squares that shoot at you, tall red triangles that do nothing, and stationary red blobs that kill you on touch. As you move on, the red squares will acquire homing missiles, the tall red triangles will become time bombs, and those stationary red blobs will start to chase you. The only rule is that you can’t shoot the blue squares. But once you get to world 5, even the blue squares start to shoot at you… but you still can’t shoot back.
If this all sounds unmanageable, well, that’s kind of true. But since levels are so short, it’s only a matter of practicing until you know what to expect. The only obstacle I feel is unbalanced is the apple, though. In most levels from world 2 onward, there are places in levels where apples will be launched into the air and you have to shoot them before they hit the ground. Only trouble is, they’re frequently launched offscreen, so not only do you have to balance staying alive and clearing out enemies, but you also have to do it quickly in order to find the apple and shoot it.
There is a “look ahead” button at the beginning of every level that should theoretically make this simpler, but I encountered more problems with the apples. For one, they’re incredibly hard to shoot out of the air, especially from a distance. Apple levels are the only instances where having an aiming reticle would be more beneficial. Another problem is that some apples have to be shot from a distance, but in world 4 a fog effect is utilized, so you can’t even see some of the apples you have to shoot. It’s a matter of spam shooting and hoping you hit it.
It’s a shame that apples cart you through most of the levels, because it doesn’t even give you a second to catch your breath. I prefer in games when the “speedy way” is an option that provides bonuses, but here it’s required.
One suggestion I have to make (that the developers suggest themselves) is to use keyboard and mouse controls. There is controller support, but you just can’t get the precision you need. The look sensitivity is also set incredibly low at first, so you should definitely get around to changing that.
Despite my minor complaints, I definitely recommend Lovely Planet. It’s inexpensive and features some really gorgeous visuals and music. The core gameplay is smooth as whipping cream, and intensely gratifying when you finish a level. The abstract design is great for setting a tone and allows the player to make their own conclusions about the setting. Personally, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s about escaping from a Vietnam POW camp, but maybe that’s just my brain being crazy.
Lovely Planet is like if Katamari Damacy was a first person shooter that hated you and kicked your ass every time you played it. And that’s a wonderful thing.