A Love Letter to the 16-Bit Age
Freedom Planet is a game that I sadly missed out on when it was originally released on Steam back in July 2014, as well as the Wii U and PS4 ports later on down the line. I saw it talked about on 4chan’s Video Games board when it came out and I saw it heralded as a nice homage to the Sonic the Hedgehog series (you know when /v/ consistently likes something it HAS to be good). Now that I’ve had the opportunity to finally sit down and play the Nintendo Switch release of the game, I can see the praises were well founded. At its core, Freedom Planet is a 2D Platformer that harkens back to the 16-Bit age of gaming, with a little 32-Bit style flair thrown in for good measure. Originally planned as a Sonic the Hedgehog fangame, Freedom Planet became its own IP after GalaxyTrail decided pursuing the fangame route would hold it back. Instead of the Sonic-based mainstays such as rings and Eggman, players are treated to an alien world full of eastern Asian design with a host of gameplay changes and tweaks and it works surprisingly well.
I don’t think Torque is buying it, Carol.
Freedom Planet begins with the mantid-like alien warlord Brevon invading the world of Avalice in search of the Kingdom Stone, a powerful artifact that will empower his own army and ensure his world’s survival. Assassinating the king of Shuigang and taking over the prince’s mind, Brevon sets a plan in motion to get the three kingdoms of Avalice to fight one another and make it all the easier to get his hands on the Kingdom Stone. Enter Sasha Lilac and Carol Tea, the games primary protagonists of the game. Lilac – a purple dragon and Carol – a green wildcat, are former mercenaries who get wrapped up in the interplanetary plot after an otherworldly duck (unfortunately NOT named Howard) crash lands in their neighborhood. Setting out to stop the theft of the Kingdom Stone and ensuing destruction of their planet, the team also meets the orphaned dog Milla Basset (who is also the third playable character in the game).
Freedom Planet’s three playable characters all have their own unique controls as well as story segments and even levels. Lilac controls as you’d expect a Sonic character to, being able to spin dash and move at high speed. She also has some twists such as being able to spin dash up or down diagonally, which is essential for navigating some areas she’d otherwise be able to reach. Carol, while slower than Lilac, has multiple abilities that enable her to traverse levels easier than her partner. She has the ability to wall jump Megaman X style, jump along red jump pads, and even summon her motorcycle for extra combat options and faster movement (she needs to find gas canisters throughout the levels to use it, however). Milla, on the other hand, is weaker than both Lilac and Carol, and a bit slower than the two of them as well. She does have some magical abilities such as summoning a shield to block enemy shots and flapping her ears to float similar to Yoshi from Yoshi’s Island. Each of the characters offers something new, so even playing through the same level doesn’t end up feeling redundant as you might expect it to.
Pick Your (Cute) Poison
Freedom Planet has three leading ladies to choose from, each with their own special skills!
The graphics in Freedom Planet are picture perfect representations from the Genesis and 32X era of games. The colors are bright and vibrant, the characters are nicely animated, and the boss sprites are enormous. Ziyo Ling’s character designs are well designed, very cute and add to the eastern Asian aesthetic. You can instantly see the Sonic the Hedgehog inspirations from her work without them coming across as derivative. There are also some nice scaling and rotation effects at play in Freedom Planet, similar to what you would see on the Sega Genesis. The 2D aesthetic is brought to life in what makes the game feel more like an ACTUAL Genesis/32X game rather than an imitation or homage. GalaxyTrail’s work in this department is very impressive, to say the least.
Freedom Planet also has a ton of collectibles to find. Good luck finding them all!
The music in Freedom Planet is easily its strongest point for me. Music can make or break a game in my opinion, and Freedom Planet nails it across all fronts. Though there are a couple of moments the Sonic inspiration perhaps became a little TOO evident (I’m looking at you, 53 second mark in Sky Battalion) but the vast majority of the sound work is amazingly well done and makes the levels all the more engaging. The story segments in Freedom Planet are also fully voiced as well. Lending their voice talents are artists such as Michelle Dawn Bennet (Overlord, Fairy Tail, Yuri on Ice!) as Lilac and Sean Chiplock (Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Dragonball Super, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) as Spade to bring the characters to life. While some of the mastering seems off at points (some characters microphones seem to have had their gain turned up too high) the voice work is all amazingly well done and has a lot of emotion behind it.
“Heh, Nothin’ Personnel Kid”
*Teleports behind you, unsheaths katana*
Speaking of emotion, Freedom Planet’s story is a lot, well, DARKER than you’d expect a bright colorful platformer to be. While the characters are cute and even have some adorable moments together, the story quickly goes south and you see it affect the team as the game progresses. As mentioned earlier the king of Shuigang is assassinated at the very beginning of the game, the team gets into a stress-induced fight and breaks apart for a while, a character gets captured and tortured by Lord Brevon (which I might add was kind of hard to watch), and you even have to tragically fight a friend mutated into a monster late in the game. It may not be as emotionally captivating as moments from, say, the Yakuza series, but these sorts of things definitely catch you by surprise in Freedom Planet’s otherwise bright and vibrant world.
Being a Sonic-inspired game, controls are important as movement and speed are the basis behind those games. Thankfully, Freedom Planet mostly has the feel down. The controls are tight and responsive whether playing in tablet mode or with a Pro controller. The only thing that throws things off is the use of multiple buttons. Whereas a Sonic game keeps controls limited to movement and a jump button, Freedom Planet incorporates multiple attack buttons along with jump and movement. These can all be chained together to pull off some impressive attacks. It takes some getting used to, especially as your dash and special attacks are tied to a meter that has to recharge after a few uses, but once you get the hang of it the game plays just as smoothly as you’d expect a Sonic game to.
Must Move at Extremely High Velocity
Freedom Planet has plenty of options for getting around its markedly eastern Asian worlds.
Overall my time with Freedom Planet was very enjoyable. The homage to Sonic and other platformers of the 16/32-bit era is clearly evident, but Freedom Planet does a stellar job of establishing itself as its own IP. The characters are well designed and memorable, the music is fantastic, and the controls are tight and responsive. While there are some drawbacks that held the game back a bit, such as the camera being zoomed in a little too far, and being able to casually stroll up a steep incline or loop with no momentum. Additionally, the game can be pretty difficult. With the absence of rings, your lives are tied to a health meter. Some enemies and especially bosses are fairly tough to fight so staying alive isn’t as simple as it is in a Sonic game. Still, at the end of the day, these are very minor complaints. If you want more Sonic style goodness in your life, Freedom Planet should fill the slot nicely. There is also a sequel in the works that I will definitely be keeping a closer eye on this time around.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC, Mac OS X, Linux, Playstation 4, Wii U ; Publisher: XSEED Games ; Developer: GalaxyTrail ; Players: 1 ; Released: August 30th, 2018 (Nintendo Switch); ESRB: E10+ Everyone 10+ ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Freedom Planet given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher