The CD-player in my car is busted, the disc won't eject. So, imagine having to listen to Jamiroquai's "Traveling Without Moving" constantly. It's a good album though, came out in 1996, had classics like "Seven Days in Sunny June", "Canned Heat" and "Supersonic". Speaking of Super Sonic, the lack of a certain hedgehog on the Sega Saturn was very strange. There were a couple spin-offs and Sonic X-treme (which was never released), but no Sonic 4. In fact, Sega still hasn't released a Sonic 4, I can't understand it.
During the 16 and 32-bit days, the mascot-platformer was the most over-stuffed genre on store shelves. These games were mostly garbage like Bubsy & Awesome Possum. Anytime there was an actual hit (like Earthworm Jim), publishers would run it into the ground through a combination of uninspired sequels and marketing. Still, there were a lot of good games released during this time: Rocket Knight Adventures, Socket, Pulseman, High Seas Havoc, Adventures of Little Ralph, Keio Flying Squadron 2, Tryrush Deppy, Ristar, DoReMi Fantasy, Super Tempo Popful Mail, Astal, Clockwork Knight, etc.
It was a rough transitional period for the platformer. Due to the popularity of Mario 64, most developers went 3D (or at least 2.5D) with varying levels of success. The 2D platformers released around the time were by small teams, and unless you read Diehard GameFan, you didn't know of their existence. Freedom Planet could have been one of those games. If it had released in 1996, it would have toiled in obscurity for nearly a decade, until it was purchased by somebody in a random ebay auction. This guy played through the game, thought "Wow this is really good!", and told everyone in his gaming forum about it. I'd wager that by 2008, Freedom Planet achieved some mid/high-level of notoriety, and commanded about $80 per disc through online auctions.
Freedom Planet follows the adventures of Lilac, Carol, and Millia. Three heroines, three kingdoms, one war, an alien menace, and that's the short version. There are a lot of cut-scenes in this game, and the story takes some unexpectedly dark turns. Saying anything else is liable to turn this review into spoiler-central, but I'll say this much: there's at least one scene in this game that I'd be perfectly content with never seeing again.
But enough about that mess, let's talk about the actual game. There are three playable characters, and they have a variety of unique skills. This is a fast-moving platformer, not unlike the Sonic games, so expect loops, ramps, and so on. The stages are all fairly large, with numerous optional paths, secrets, traps. and enemy robots. This is also a combat-oriented platformer, and the later stages throw a lot of baddies at the player. Freedom Planet certainly isn't lacking in boss-fights either, you can expect two or more in every stage.
How you deal with adversity depends on the character. Lilac soars with her various aerial maneuvers (including a flying dash-attack & a shoryuken), Carol has her claws, Chun-Li kicks, and a motorcycle, while Millia creates blocks and shields to frustrate anything capable of firing bullets. These skills are also necessary for getting around the stages, whether it's flying over massive cliffs, driving up walls, or even subtle tricks such as using a phantom block shield blast to propel Millia a few feet. The controls are exceptionally fluid, and the mechanics are very solid. While the levels are fun to explore, they're even more entertaining, when using every ability to its fullest extent to speed through them. Also, unlike some platformers that emphasize speed, there's no worry over taking damage from simple enemy contact.
As I mentioned earlier, Freedom Planet has a lot of boss-fights, and they can be pretty tough. Most of the challenge is in reading their patterns. They move quickly, and while you might see this as a sign to move fast yourself, it's all a smokescreen. What's liable to happen is that you'll bump into their attacks and get yourself killed. Instead, you want to stop, wait, and see what happens. They'll jump from one of the screen to the next, present some opening, and that's when you attack. Each character has a move that gives them some invincibility, such as Lilac's flying, Carol's kicks, or Millia's shield. Using those moves, even in last-ditch situations, could save your life. All that said, even the easy setting will lead to some boss-related deaths. The most devastating attacks tend to juggle you, which eats through a ton of life. Also, Millia has half the health of the other heroines, but she tends to kill bosses faster so it balances out.
Where this game really excels is in level-design variety. All too often, variety is a double-edged sword. Yeah it's fun to see something new and different, but when you're flying from one set-piece to the next, you never really get a feel for how the game actually plays. You buy a game, expecting a third-person shooter, but every other level involves turrets, vehicles, flying, swimming, sex QTEs, and so on. Each stage in Freedom Planet is different from one another, but not so different that you feel like you're playing another game. It's also important to note that the level-design never completely shifts gears. One stage might feature more enemies, another probably has some extra puzzles, but it never feels like "this is a puzzle stage" or "this is the stage where you fight all the time". Everything comes together naturally, and you're always in complete control.
Although, yes there is a 2D shooter stage. Of course there would be a 2D shooter stage. I've been a platformer-fan for decades and this happens every time...EVERY SINGLE TIME. Apparently, there's always someone out there that thinks "Our game is too good, we should throw in a really weak section to give reviewers something to complain about". Towards the end of Freedom Planet, there is a 2D shooter stage. It's not particularly bad, but it's just...there. All told, I guess I can deal with a few minutes out of a 2+ hour game being merely passable.
Freedom Planet is a relic, and I mean that in the most affectionate way. It's a mid-90s platformer that has all the elements of a forgotten classic, but it was released in 2014. It's unfortunate that more games aren't released that emulate this style. It seems that for most indie-developers, their favorite system growing up was the NES. That's cool and all but eh, I prefer the days of the Genesis/SNES/Saturn/PSX. I'd rather see more games that prey upon my nostalgia, and if they turned out to be half as good as Freedom Planet, then I'd be in for a treat.