Great first-person shooters often involve a number of incredibly important ingredients to really stand out from the crowded marketplace of me-too shooters; meticulously designed maps, clever enemies, interesting and fluid movement, awesome guns and a more-ish and satisfying multiplayer component are all very much the essential building blocks of today’s shooters. It’s only until I played Lovely Planet that I’ve realised why all those disparate ingredients are so important for a developer to get right. Lovely Planet is a really cute FPS that, unfortunately gets most of those ingredients wrong, but it does have its heart in the right place.
Lovely Planet is a fast-paced, score-chaser FPS where you have to overcome mindless enemies and maneuver your character across colourful, pastel platforms to reach your end-goal; a tall purple post that is reminiscent of the flag-poles in the Super Mario Bros series. It’s essentially a speed-runner’s wet-dream; the stages are, more often than not, really short, bite-sized moments of frantic shooting, dodging and platforming that is usually over in about thirty to forty seconds. On some of the levels you may die only three times and some of the longer levels you may die three hundred times… yeah, Lovely Planet can get rather tricky, particularly in the later, more complicated levels. Thankfully, load times happen in an instant, which really encourages that ‘one more go’ mentality a ‘la Hotline Miami or Super Meat Boy. It’s just an unfortunate shame that the game is hamstrung by a myriad of frustrating issues that dampens the fun that the game so ardently strives for.
Firstly, Lovely Planet can be unforgivably difficult. That’s fine, I love hardcore, challenging games as much as the next person, but the real problem is that a big portion of your failures often stem from cheap deaths; it often feels that the the game really wants you to learn each nook and cranny of every level layout by rote. I’m pretty sure, developer Quick Tequila aimed for a sort’ve gun ballet style shooter, but regrettably Lovely Planet comes off as more of a game of ‘Simon Says’, where the player has to die a ton of times and re-try each level ad nauseam until you finally find out where that little box-shaped sod shot you.
There are so many moments in Lovely Planet, where the enemies are placed in such a way, that it is literally impossible to see them on your first run. The amount of enemies hidden behind walls, waiting for you to walk straight into their bullets is downright irritating. Making matters worse is the fact that you can sometimes die without knowing what the heck killed you. Basically, the game expects you to learn each level often through repetition and trial-and-error, which is just as frustrating as it sounds. There’s a vast disconnect between Lovely Planet’s cuddly, cute aesthetic and its dastardly, unforgiving gameplay. After grinding my way to the end of each tricky stage, I had no incentive to ever go back and do it again.
Next up is the shooting, which is just bland. You carry some sort’ve daisy gun, which shoots out flowers for some reason. There is no cross-hair or iron-sights, which takes a little getting used to. Most of the enemies are immobile, except for the super annoying purple bomb-things that will kill you. The purple bomb-things (for want of a better word) are a prevalent menace in Lovely Planet and are a total pain in the backside. At the most inopportune times, the game will throw these nasty purple bombs into the air and if they hit the ground before you shoot them then its back to the start for you. As you progress, Lovely Planet finds more and more ways to do this and often throws two or three at you in the space of a few seconds. Essentially, most of the enemies are pretty damn annoying.
The controls are also a little too floaty for my tastes and it also took me a while to get the sensitivity settings just right. And even after finding the ‘sweet spot’, the controls still felt a little off. But, these weren’t the major dealbreakers, to be honest.
Now, it would be remiss of me not to mention the positives I found in Lovely Planet. The twee, catchy J-pop tunes are a highlight, but its Lovely Planet‘s marvellous art design that really stands out. The art-style is eye-catchingly gorgeous stuff and looks like its been pilfered straight out of a stoner’s paradise. All the bold, pastel colours and shapes reminds me a lot of Keita Takahashi’s Katamari Damacy, which is a very good thing indeed. Lovely Planet‘s impressive minimalist aesthetic is a very strong example of how less is indeed more.
With its unique aesthetic, welded to a speed-runner style blueprint, I can totally see the allure of Lovely Planet. Unfortunately, my memories of Lovely Planet are mostly frustrating ones: cheap enemies, bland shooting and floaty controls really drag Lovely Planet down. The ingredients for a great shooter maybe there somewhere in Lovely Planet, but like the cheap, nasty enemies that the game throws at you, they seem to be hidden behind a wall somewhere, completely out of sight. It is cute, though. I’ll give it that.
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