Lovely Planet Review

2014-11-12_00008The First Person Shooter genre sometimes gets flack for being stuck in a Modern Warfare mire, but there has been a fair share of stylistic experimentation under the umbrella, from the gothic hellscape of Doom to the cartoony 60’s pastiche of Team Fortress 2. What’s common with most, however, is that they are usually not appropriate for children.

Violence can be handled to greater or lesser extents, humorously or seriously, but it seems more inherent to FPS than other genres thanks to the basic interaction being shooting people. Lovely Planet is here to show you that it can be done. With visuals like a nursery display, a feel-good soundtrack and a complete absence of blood, Lovely Planet is a shooter that won’t look out of place in the kid’s section. Well, aesthetically, anyway. Despite its sugary exterior, Lovely Planet’s tough-as-nails gameplay is certainly adults only.

The mechanics are as simple as the style. You can walk, jump and shoot purple cubes, that’s it. Your objective is to kill all the enemies and reach the goal in the shortest time possible. Levels are short- none take longer than 30 seconds to complete. In theory. However, the game slowly ramps up the difficulty by adding new hazards, enemies and objects. Death is instant, but replay is quick and encouraged. This is to FPS what Super Meat Boy was to platformers. The focus here is speed and level memorization.

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The levels aren’t timed per se, but as the game progresses, many hazards positively force the player to keep constant motion. Enemies that shoot homing bullets, platforms that disappear after being jumped on, apples that cause instant failure if they are not destroyed before they hit the ground. Lovely Planet doesn’t just reward constant vigilance and breakneck reactions, it requires them. The game hits a sweet spot right around the middle. The first of its five worlds is essentially a tutorial world with little challenge. Worlds 2-3 are where the real fun begins. World 4, however, adds a terrible fog effect that limits the player’s vision. It adds difficulty, sure, but in the wrong way. Often you will be tasked with shooting targets you can’t even see, and in Lovely Planet, all failure is instant and total. In a game that already tempts one towards memorization, this feels over the line. It’s a test of trial and error, not skill. To be fair, there is a “Look Forward” feature that allows one to survey a level’s layout before playing it, but then one wonders why they bothered adding the fog at all. Thankfully, World 5 drops this and offers the most infuriatingly challenging- but at least somewhat fair- levels in the game.

The graphics are purposefully simple and bubblegum sweet. That coupled with the strong Japanese feel puts one in mind of Katamari Damacy, a clear inspiration. However, Katamari had a utilitarian purpose behind its low-poly models: since the core game mechanic involved rolling up hundreds of objects into an ever-growing ball, things would get very visually messy (and not to mention hardware-taxing) if each object were rendered in high definition.

Lovely Planet’s first person perspective, on the other hand, never gives you the chance to zoom out and see the bigger picture. Though the palette is pleasing enough, there’s really no excuse for such a lack of detail. When enemies are nothing more than sticks and cubes with angry faces, the style designed to charm often ends up just feeling like dressed up laziness. On top of all that, there’s really no artistic variety between each of the five worlds. On paper, “City” and “Forest” ought to be pretty visually distinct, yet the latter is pretty much just the former with rain.

2014-11-12_00006The audio is also a mixed bag. The music is great. With the exception of the swamp, each world boasts high energy, positive, chippy tunes that are very catchy. Just be ready to get sick of them, as they don’t change until you reach the next world, and who knows how many retries that might take. The sound effects are not so great. As intentional as it is, matching incongruous noises to events is at best confusing and at worst irritating. The sound for falling down a pit, for example, is hearing a crowd chant “Yaaaay!” This is part of a bigger problem Lovely Planet has with communication. Unlike the previously mentioned Super Meat Boy, it’s not always clear what killed you. This is in part due to the perspective, but it doesn’t help that the art style is so abstract (you’re expected to know you can’t let apples touch the ground, you’re welcome), nor that death causes an instant and jarring return to the start of the level with little indication of what did you in. This lack of clarity extends playtime, but not in an enjoyable way.

There isn’t really all that much to say about Lovely Planet. It’s relatively short and doesn’t offer many surprises once you’ve acclimated to its oddness. It is true that its combination of colourful, welcoming style and twitchy, high-skill FPS gameplay is unique. But that’s really all that’s interesting about it, and considered in isolation, both aspects have been done better before. The core gameplay is as boiled down as it can be, and while the levels are engaging, the mechanical ideas are basic. At its best, it does offer some genuinely fun obstacle courses, and there’s a rush to cracking a particularly difficult run flawlessly. But don’t expect much more than that. Lovely Planet will appeal to the hardcore speedrunner type, but it fails to make the lasting impact one feels it was going for.

6

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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