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Planet Alpha

Posted by GG Goblin On September - 17 - 2018

Simple platforming without a word.

Team17, until recently, had a stable of worms. By this, I mean that the company had become the Worms company, and was continually pouring out new versions, and experimental spin offs, of the excellent Worms multiplayer games. However, in the last few years, the stable has been growing with a slow and steady release of new titles from small, indie developers. The latest, although perhaps not the best, is the frustratingly mysterious platformer Planet Alpha.

pa2 (Copy)

Planet Alpha is frustratingly mysterious in its complete lack of explanation. The player begins as an injured space explorer who has presumably crashed onto an alien planet, although there is nothing about this explained. For all we know, the character could be an alien gardener who has injured himself while pruning the hedge. Anyway, the character quickly becomes healed and is able to fully explore his environment. Not that any form of exploration will fill the gaps in what is actually going on. There is a lot implied, and the player can make their own guesses at the back story here, but it feels like a missed opportunity to come up with some kind of magical narrative. Still, in the absence of any form of story, the only option is to keep moving and surviving.

Once the explorer, or whatever, is fully healed, traversing the landscapes becomes that little bit easier. There is no real form of offence in the game, with no weapons or killer moves available to the explorer, and so surviving will be a matter of running away or hiding, for the most part. Occasionally, the player will be able to use their environment to take care of any threat, or even pair threats off against each other.

pa1 (Copy)

For the most part though, the player will be running through the environment, making daring jumps from one platform to another, or hiding in long grass to avoid being seen by robots or annoying bugs. There will be rocks and the like to move in order to reach platforms, and block pushing raises its head for the odd puzzle here or there. However, the most interesting idea is that the player can essentially fast forward time, spinning the planet and turning day to night and vice versa. By doing this, the player is able to take advantage of the differences in the flora and fauna during different times of the day, such as flowers opening and distracting flying beetles, or leaves opening and creating platforms to jump on. This ability to change the time of day is even used in a couple of the puzzles in the game. It’s a very cool mechanic, even without any explanation of where the ability came from. But it does feel like the mechanic is not used to its full potential in Planet Alpha, which is a missed opportunity.

One thing that really stands out about Planet Alpha is just how great the game looks. I would say that the developers have put most of their creativity into this mesmerising, often breath taking alien world. Often bursting with colour and packed with the sort of strange and surreal sights that could only exist in an alien environment, Planet Alpha really is something to experience. The game world has a real sense of size and mystery, and the level of detail is just impressive. The use of sound, which seems to be of an equally high quality, just further enhances the whole game.

Which is why it’s a shame that the gameplay feels so lacklustre. There is a lack of variety to the gameplay, leading to repetition setting in early. Mechanically, there is a certain floatiness to the explorers jumping, making it much less precise than some of the platforming would demand. This could be an intentional choice on the part of the developers, harnessing certain platform games of old, but it still feels out of place and makes the game unnecessarily more frustrating.

pa3 (Copy)

At the end of the day, Planet Alpha is a mixed bag. The gameplay is simple and lacks variety, while the visuals are absolutely stunning and enjoyable to look at. Then you have the lack of story, which could be a curse or blessing depending on how the player feels about filling in the gaps and making assumptions. If you want a gorgeous, but simple platformer with some fun puzzles and to die for visuals, then a trip to Planet Alpha may be on the cards.




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